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On April 17, 2011, approximately 1615 central daylight time, a Claus Christen Eagle II experimental amateur-built airplane, N38RC, was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain near San Angelo, Texas. The commercial pilot and pilot-rated passenger sustained fatal injuries. The airplane was co-registered to and operated by the pilot. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan was not filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91 personal flight. The local flight departed the San Angelo Regional Airport (SJT), San Angelo, Texas, approximately 1600.
According to local authorities and air traffic control information, the airplane departed SJT from runway 18 and executed a left turn to the east-northeast. The airplane then executed a turn to the northwest. Approximately 8 nautical miles (nm) northwest of SJT, radar data showed the airplane maneuvering at altitudes between 3,100 and 4,500 feet mean sea level (msl) for approximately 5 minutes before radar contact was lost. The last recorded radar target was at 2,400 feet msl. No communications were received from the airplane after it departed SJT airspace, and there were no witnesses to the accident.
The airplane was reported missing on April 18th, approximately 1300, after one of the occupants did not report for duty at a local military base. A search was initiated and the airplane was located approximately 1530 by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with single-engine land and instrument airplane ratings. The pilot's most recent third-class medical certificate was issued on April 14, 2006, with no restrictions or limitations.
According to the pilot's personal flight logbook, he had 606 total flight hours, with approximately 44 hours in the accident airplane. According to an aerobatic flight instructor, the pilot had received 0.9 hours of dual aerobatic instruction with him in a Pitts S-2B airplane in 2009. No additional aerobatic instruction was noted in the pilot's logbook.
The passenger held a commercial pilot certificate with single-engine land, multi-engine land, and instrument airplane ratings. The passenger's most recent third-class medical certificate was issued on March 29, 2007, with no restrictions or limitations.
No personal flight records were obtained for the passenger. On the application for his last medical certificate, the passenger reported that his total civilian flight experience was 177 hours.
The pilot and pilot-rated passenger were both United States Air Force cadets. The pilot was positioned in the rear seat and the passenger in the front seat; both were secured with their respective 4-point restraint systems.
The accident airplane was an experimental amateur-built Claus Christian Eagle II, tandem-seat, bi-wing airplane, approved for aerobatic maneuvers. The airplane was powered by a 200-horsepower Lycoming IO-360-A1A engine, serial number L-14202-51A. The airplane was equipped with a two-bladed, constant speed metal propeller.
The airplane was issued a special airworthiness certificate on June 11, 1982. The airplane was registered to the pilot and a co-owner on November 20, 2009.
The airplane's most recent condition inspection was completed on March 5, 2011, at a total time of 829.1 hours. The engine was overhauled on March 9, 2010. At the time of the March 5, 2011, condition inspection, the engine had accumulated 30.7 hours since overhaul.
At 1551, the SJT automated surface observing system (ASOS) reported the wind from 190 degrees at 16 knots, gusting to 30 knots, sky clear, visibility 10 miles, temperature 32 degrees Celsius, dew point 8 degrees Celsius, and an altimeter setting of 29.72 inches of Mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The accident site was located approximately 8 nm northwest of SJT in scrub oak covered terrain, at a global positioning system (GPS) measured elevation of approximately 2,100 feet msl. The main wreckage, which consisted of the fuselage, wings, and empennage came to rest inverted approximately 30 feet from the initial impact point. The initial impact point contained separated sections of the propeller spinner. Airplane debris was scattered within a 100-foot diameter from the main wreckage.
Both lower and upper wings were deformed, crushed, and fragmented. The ailerons remained partially attached to the wing surfaces. The empennage was partially attached to the fuselage; however, it was removed by rescue personnel prior to the on-scene examination. The vertical and horizontal stabilizers were intact and the elevator and rudder control surfaces remained attached. Flight control continuity could not be established due to the damage; however, no evidence was noted of any preimpact anomalies with the connections hardware within the flight control system.
The cockpit was crushed and fragmented. The instrument panel was destroyed and several flight instruments were separated. The airspeed indicator displayed 195 knots, and the engine tachometer displayed 2,000 RPMs. The cockpit engine controls were in the full forward position.
The engine remained partially attached to the airframe. The propeller remained attached to the engine crankshaft. The engine crankshaft was rotated by hand and mechanical continuity was noted throughout the engine, including the cylinders and accessory gearbox. The throttle assembly was separated; however, the throttle and mixture linkage remained attached to their respective components. The fuel inlet and outlet connections were separated. Fuel was noted in the fuel manifold valve. One propeller blade was twisted forward and one propeller blade was twisted aft.
No evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures were noted during the examination.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
The Lubbock County Medical Examiner completed an autopsy on the pilot and passenger. Toxicology specimens of the pilot were retained for testing by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Toxicology and Accident Research Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The results of analysis of the specimens were negative for carbon monoxide, cyanide, and tested drugs. Ethanol was detected in the blood, muscle, and urine; N-Butanol was detected in the blood, and N-Propanol was detected in the blood and urine. The report noted the ethanol found was from sources other than ingestion.
No toxicology specimens of the pilot-rated passenger were submitted for testing.
TEST AND RESEARCH
A portable Garmin GPSMAP 295 was located at the accident site. The unit was sent to the NTSB Vehicle Recorder Laboratory for data extraction. Due to the damage and fragmented internal components, no accident data could be recovered from the unit.
The FAA defines aerobatic flight as an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft’s attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight.
FAA regulations (14 CFR Part 91) state that no person may operate an aircraft in aerobatic flight below an altitude of 1,500 feet above the surface.
In addition, in the Christen Flight Kit, page 5-3, the following warning is noted: Never attempt low-altitude aerobatic maneuvers. All aerobatic practice must be at a safe altitude to permit a wide safety margin for recovery from accidental spins. Safe maneuvering altitude for beginners: 5,000 feet above ground level (agl). After competence in basic aerobatic maneuvers and spin recovery: 3,000 to 5,000 feet agl.