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On August 14, 2011, approximately 1225 central daylight time, N2515G, a Cessna 400(LC41-550FG), sustained substantial damage after it made a forced landing to a clearing after a reported loss of engine power shortly after takeoff from Eastland Municipal Airport (ETN), Eastland, Texas. The airplane was registered to and operated by a private company. The airline transport rated pilot sustained minor injuries and the passenger was not injured. An instrument flight rules flight plan was filed for the flight that was destined for Northwest Regional Airport (52F), Roanoke, Texas. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the personal flight conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
According to the pilot, there were no problems with the engine prior to the flight. However, on takeoff, just as the airplane was beginning to rotate, he noticed the FUEL annunciator light flicker. The pilot continued with the takeoff and confirmed the the BACKUP fuel pump was armed. Shortly after, the FUEL annunciator light fully illuminated. Since the engine continued to operate normally and there were no other indications of a fuel pump failure, the pilot continued with the flight thinking there was a fault with the annunciator light. Just after he turned cross wind, he elected to return to the airport because the engine did not "feel" right. Shortly thereafter, engine power "simply declined to zero." The pilot said he turned on the vapor supression switch and then depressed the primer switch in an attempt to restart the engine. He was unable to make it back to the airport and made a forced landing to a small clearing next to a busy interstate. The airplane landed hard, and struck a tree with the left wing. The engine remained securely attached to the airframe and was not damaged. The three-bladed propeller remained on the engine. One blade was straight and exhibited some aft curling and gouging at the tip. The other two blades were bent aft under the engine. The pilot said there was a total of 84 gallons of fuel onboard when he departed.
Engine data downloaded from the Avidyne multi-function display (MFD) indicated that the engine was operating during the six minute flight, but the exhaust gas temperature (EGT) and turbine inlet temperature (TIT) went to zero while the fuel flow, RPM, cylinder head temperature (CHT) and manifold pressure did not.
The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land and sea, and instrument airplane. He also held an airline transport pilot rating for airplane multi-engine land. In addition, the pilot was a certified flight instructor for airplane single and multi-engine land, and instrument airplane. He reported a total of 49,800 flight hours, of which 500 were in the accident airplane. His last Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) second-class medical was issued on September 13, 2010, without limitations/waivers.
The airplane was moved to a secure facility where an examination of the fuel system was conducted on August 23, 2011, under the supervision of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Investigator-in-Charge (IIC).
According to the Cessna 400 LC41-550FG) Information Manual, the FUEL annunciator light will illuminate when fuel pressure drops below 5.5 psi. A latching relay controls the logic of the fuel system. It will turn the BACKUP pump on, when the BACKUP pump fuel switch is in the ARMED position and the fuel pressure drops below 5.5 psi. The latching switch maintains the backup pump's operation until the pilot switches the “BACKUP PUMP” to the “OFF” position. The FUEL annunciator light illuminates while the backup pump is operating. The BEFORE TAKEOFF checklist calls for this switch to be "ARMED" prior to takeoff. If the BACKUP pump automatically turns on while the vapor supression is on, it would suspend operation of the vapor supression system. Since most of the fuel system functions are integrated through the latching relay, failure of this relay would result in failure of the system. However, the FUEL annunciator light is independant of this system and will operate anytime the fuel pressure is less than 5.5 psi. Since the primer and backup fuel pump are one in the same, the pilot can bypass the latching relay by holding the primer switch in the depressed position. The “VAPOR SUPPRESSION” switch which has an “ON” position and an “OFF” indicator, provides fuel to the engine from the BACKUP pump at low pressure.
The backup fuel pump, FUEL annunciator light, latching relay and the vapor suppression system were functionally tested on the airframe and no anomalies were noted. Shop air was blown through the fuel lines and no blockages were noted.
The engine was removed and sent to Continental Motors, Incorporated, Mobile, Alabama, where a test-run was conducted on October 20, 2011, under the supervision of the NTSB IIC. The engine started immediately and ran through its full power band without interruption. No anomalies were noted.
The engine driven fuel pump, throttle body, fuel distribution valve and the injectors were removed from the engine and bench tested. Each of the components passed their functional test criteria.
The backup fuel pump was removed from the airplane and sent to Cessna Aircraft Company for further testing. The unit was tested on November 15, 2011, under the supervision of the FAA. The pump functioned within all test specifications and no anomalies were noted. The pump was then sent to Continental Motors, Incorporated, where it was tested on the engine on December 5, 2011, under NTSB supervision. The engine started normally and was stabilized at full power, 2,700 RPM. The backup pump was then turned on and the un-metered fuel pressure went from 24.87 psi to 26.62 psi and the engine died immediately. There was no sputtering or popping and the engine could not be restarted as the RPM fell to zero. According to CMI, the un-metered fuel pressure produced by the back-up fuel pump was within the operating parameters of the engine.