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On August 20, 2011, about 1315 eastern daylight time, an amateur-built Lancair IV P, N71DM, and a Yakolev Yak-55M, N521BC, were substantially damaged when they collided near Hammonton Airport (N81), Hammonton, New Jersey. The certificated private pilot of the Lancair was fatally injured, and the certificated private pilot of the Yak, who parachuted from his airplane, was seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed for either flight. The Lancair departed South Jersey Regional Airport (VAY), Mount Holly, New Jersey, for an undetermined destination, and the Yak departed N81 on a local aerobatic flight. The personal flights were conducted under 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91.
Family members of the Lancair pilot stated that they knew he had gone to the airport, but did not know if he was even going to fly.
According to friends of the Yak pilot, he was performing maneuvers in an aerobatic practice area, also known as the "aerobatic box," while being watched by an observer/coach. The airspace in which the Yak was maneuvering, to the east of runway 3/21, was uncontrolled.
According to a witness on the ground, she saw the Yak take off and commence aerobatic maneuvers. After about 20 minutes, she saw the Yak make a steep climb, then enter a steep dive. As it did so, she saw a white airplane, traveling "really fast come out of nowhere" in level flight and collide with the Yak. Neither airplane appeared to have altered its course before the collision.
An observer was seated in a chair located across the runway (on the west side) from the fueling station (on the east side) with a hand-held radio on either side of him. According to the observer, one of the radios was tuned to the aerobatic box frequency, while the other was tuned to the CTAF. The observer thought the CTAF radio was functioning normally, as he had previously heard other pilots transmitting over the frequency during takeoffs.
The observer also stated that there was no pre-established sequence of maneuvers for the Yak pilot to perform. The Yak pilot would radio the maneuvers he intended to perform, and the observer would watch them in order to later provide a postflight critique. The maneuver during which the accident occurred was number six in a series, a hammerhead stall. The observer also noted that he had seen the Yak make clearing turns prior to the initiation of the maneuvers.
The observer further noted that as the Yak was about to commence the hammerhead maneuver, it was in the far right [southeast] corner of the aerobatic box. The Yak began a push up at what the observer estimated was between 2,400 and 2,500 feet, with the cockpit facing west, toward the runway, and the landing gear to the east. As the Yak was climbing, the observer heard the sound of another airplane south of the airport, then saw a blue and white Cessna at an altitude of about 1,000 feet. Although the observer felt it wouldn't be a factor, he called the Yak pilot to advise him of the Cessna's presence.
The observer also stated that he believed that the Yak had completed its turn at the top of the maneuver, and was headed down at a slow speed when the accident occurred. He didn't see the Lancair approach the Yak due to sun glare, but saw the Yak split into two pieces and begin to fall. At that point he also saw the Lancair still in level flight, but then it started to roll to the left, and about 4 feet of its wing came off. The Lancair continued to roll left, perhaps another 45 degrees, while descending at an increasing angle in the center of the aerobatic box. As the Lancair was descending, the observer was shouting over the radio for the Yak pilot to jump, and estimated that the majority of the Yak was about 1,600 to 1,700 feet above the ground when the pilot did so.
The observer further stated that he did not hear either the Cessna or the Lancair pilot transmit over the radio prior to the accident.
According to the pilot of a Cessna 172, he was returning to N81 after a departure earlier that morning, and was aware of the aerobatic activity. Approaching the airport from over the Atlantic City Expressway, he radioed on the CTAF that he was inbound to the airport, but heard no response. He continued inbound at a 45-degree angle for a "close" downwind for runway 21. His airplane was initially at an altitude of about 1,500 feet at the Expressway, but descended until it was about 1,200 to 1,000 feet, before turning onto the downwind leg.
As the Cessna neared the airport, the pilot saw the Yak climbing vertically and very rapidly, with a lot of smoke trailing it, which he assumed was airshow smoke. The Yak was climbing on the downwind side of the airport, but off to the Cessna pilot's right side (toward the east), and he guessed that it was between 2,000 and 3,000 feet when he saw it.
Because the Yak was maneuvering on the same side of the airport, the Cessna pilot decided to cross the airport runway to fly a downwind leg on the other (west) side. As he started turning the Cessna to the left, he saw the Yak again, coming at him and appearing larger, until it overflew the Cessna "very close," then headed straight down. After that, he saw an open parachute in front of him, which he avoided before crossing the airport to land on runway 21.
The Cessna pilot reiterated that he was sure his radio was on the airport CTAF, that no one responded to his call in, and that he never heard the Lancair pilot call in. A pilot-rated passenger in the Cessna was interviewed separately and related essentially the same observations.
The Yak pilot was briefly interviewed by a police officer after the accident, and according to the police report, stated that he was maneuvering the airplane when the control stick "suddenly went loose," and the airplane began to tumble. The pilot then parachuted into woods, walked to a nearby road, and was transported to a hospital.
On August 31, 2011, FAA personnel visited the Yak pilot in the hospital. An FAA inspector noted that due to his injuries, the pilot was still unable to speak, but wrote on a whiteboard that he thought his airplane was hit while it was in a climb. He had entered the hammerhead maneuver from inverted flight, climbed the airplane vertically, and planned to roll it into the wind. He didn't know until he was on the ground that a collision had occurred. He also noted that he completed a climbing clearing turn as the first of a two-part sequence to commence the hammerhead maneuver.
Radar data was provided by the FAA, both in data that was converted to radar plots, and in a moving display similar to a radar scope presentation. Radar plots and the moving display are included in the public docket for this accident.
The moving display did not include time marks, but did portray a number of targets in motion, along with some background information such as a stationary circle to denote the approximate position of N81. In addition to the moving targets, transponder altitudes were also presented, but were occasionally intermittent.
Radar tracks were correlated to all three airplanes, which were all utilizing transponder code 1200. However, as the tracks converged in the vicinity of N81, the lack of presentation fidelity made the Yak and the Lancair difficult to distinguish.
The track that correlated with the Cessna indicated that it arrived from the southwest, and gradually descended until it was at an altitude of about 1,100 feet at the time of the accident.
The track correlating to the Yak was mostly maintaining itself in an area just east of the runway, at varying altitudes and with numerous data points missing.
The track correlating to the Lancair was first observed west southwest of VAY. It then proceeded south, and about 8 miles west of N81, turned southeast before turning east. Near the end of the track, it turned northeast. Altitudes inbound toward N81 averaged about 3,500 feet, but dipped to 3,300 feet approaching N81 before climbing back up again to 3,500 feet.
Nearing the airport, the Lancair and Cessna tracks converged but did not overlap, with the Lancair about 2,300 feet above the Cessna. The Yak track then appeared northwest of the other two airplanes, but subsequently disappeared, and the entire display then briefly froze. The next return indicated a radar contact at 3,400 feet followed by another at 3,600 feet; however, it could not be determined whether the contacts were the Lancair or the Yak. A final contact then occurred to the northeast, also at 3,600 feet.
Radar plots revealed similar results, and were also hampered due to fidelity. One plot revealed the Lancair first appeared on radar west-southwest of VAY before it turned south towards N81.
A number of radar-plotted Lancair position points near N81 were re-plotted on Google Earth, and utilizing the distances between positions in relation to elapsed times, resulted in calculated approximate ground speeds of about 190 knots.
The Yak was equipped with an electronic flight information system (EFIS) that retained limited non-volatile memory with six recorded parameters every 10 seconds. Because of the length of time between recorded parameters, maximums and minimums were not necessarily recorded.
At recorded time 1311:50, the Yak was at a pressure altitude of 3,046 feet, pitch about 10 degrees nose up, left roll of about 43 degrees, heading about 115 degrees, airspeed 100 knots.
At recorded time 1312:00, the Yak was at a pressure altitude of 3,313 feet, pitch about 55 degrees nose up, right roll of about 3 degrees, heading about 141 degrees, airspeed 52 knots.
At recorded time 1312:10, the Yak was at a pressure altitude of 3,455 feet, pitch about 29 degrees nose low, right roll about 176 degrees, heading about 309 degrees, airspeed 102 knots.
At the last recorded time, at 1312:20, the Yak was at a pressure altitude of 2,314 feet, pitch 19 degrees nose up, right roll about 21 degrees, heading about 324 degrees, airspeed 42 knots.
The Lancair pilot, age 71, held a private pilot certificate, with airplane single-engine land, instrument airplane ratings. The pilot's most-recently filled logbook was not located; however, on his latest FAA third class medical application, the pilot indicated 4,280 hours of flight time.
According to the manager of Flying W Airport (N14), Lumberton, New Jersey, on the day of the accident, the pilot stopped by and bought a new pilot logbook [which was found in the wreckage.] The pilot also discussed with her that the son of a friend at N81 had recently been in an airplane accident, and that he was going to fly over to that airport to visit the friend. The manager further stated that the Lancair pilot clearly indicated to her that he was going to land at N81. The manager was not sure if the Lancair departed her airport for N81, or if the pilot subsequently drove to VAY, and took off from there for N81.
The manager at VAY saw the Lancair depart runway 26 sometime during the late morning of the accident.
The Lancair pilot's nephew, also a pilot and airplane owner, stated that he had flown with the Lancair pilot on many occasions, and that the Lancair pilot would normally fly a high pattern, perhaps about 1,500 feet above the airport. With the airplane's high sink rate, the Lancair pilot would also fly a high final approach, then, with the airplane's high sink rate, "drop it in" to the runway.
The Lancair pilot's nephew also noted that the pilot knew that aerobatic activity took place at N81, but that, at over 3,000 feet above the airport, the Lancair pilot was likely checking out the airfield, and perhaps looking to see if his friend's car was there.
The friend of the Lancair pilot stated that he wasn't at N81 on the day of the accident; he was visiting his son who had been in a recent airplane accident. The friend noted that the Lancair pilot would come to N81 to visit him about once a month, including during times when the aerobatic box was active. The friend also noted that the Lancair pilot was well aware of the aerobatic box.
The Yak pilot, age 37, also held a private pilot certificate with an airplane single-engine land rating. His latest FAA first class medical certificate was issued on April 7, 2011. The pilot reported 610 total flight hours, with 260 hours in make and model.
The Lancair was a four-place, low wing, retractable landing gear airplane. Its latest annual condition inspection was completed on October 13, 2010. The airplane was based at VAY.
The Yak was a single place, low wing, fixed landing gear aerobatic airplane. Its latest annual inspection was completed on March 10, 2011. The airplane was based at Old Bridge Airport (3N6), Old Bridge, New Jersey.
The airport included a single runway, 3/21, that was 3,601 feet long and 75 feet wide. Airport elevation was 65 feet.
There were no automatic weather reporting systems located at the airport. Automatic weather reporting systems can have the capability to transmit recorded traffic advisories.
Recorded weather information at an airport about 15 miles to the southeast, at 1254, included variable winds at 4 knots, 10 statute miles visibility, a few clouds at 8,000 feet, and an altimeter setting of 30.01 inches Hg.
U.S. Naval Observatory astronomical information revealed that, at 1315, sun bearing was about 200 degrees magnetic, and sun angle was about 62 degrees above the horizon.
The Lancair, with the exception of the left outboard wing section, impacted the ground about 070 degrees, 3,800 feet from the departure end of runway 21, in the vicinity of 39 degrees, 39.99 minutes north latitude, or about 030 degrees, 3,200 feet from the main Yak wreckage. Tree cuts, relative positions of the airplane's components, and the direction of wreckage movement were consistent with a nose down, slightly inverted ground impact on a 060-degree heading. Engine components and shattered composite propeller remnants extended about 4 feet into the ground. The extent of the ground impact damage precluded any determination of control continuity.
The main Yak wreckage, with the exception of its fuselage aft of the cockpit and its tail, impacted the ground about 115 degrees magnetic, 2,400 feet from the departure end of runway 21, in the vicinity of 39 degrees, 39.54 minutes north latitude, 074 degrees, 45.15 minutes west longitude.
The outboard 4 feet of the Lancair's left wing came to rest about 045 degrees, 115 feet from the main Yak wreckage, and the Yak aft fuselage/tail section came to rest about 060 degrees, 240 feet from the outboard Lancair wing section.
The main Yak wreckage came to rest nose-down, with the engine and shattered composite propeller remnants buried in the ground to about 3 feet. Both main wing leading edges exhibited significant aft crushing as did the majority of the cockpit. The fuselage, aft of the cockpit, was sheared off almost perpendicularly from top to bottom. Due to the extensive damage, flight control continuity could not be determined.
Neither the Lancair wing section nor the separated Yak fuselage ends displayed any paint transfers. The separated Yak aft fuselage/tail section, top aluminum skin, just forward of the communications antenna, was crushed downward to where it met the bottom of the fuselage. The bottom fuselage skin was also crushed downward, and the ends of all separations appeared torn, rather than cut. Concurrent with the downward crushing, the fuselage was crushed inward on its upper left (port) side and bent outward on its lower right (starboard) side.
MEDICAL AND TOXICOLOGICAL INFORMATION
According to the medical examiner report from the Atlantic County Department of Public Safety, Northfield, New Jersey, no autopsy was performed on the Lancair pilot. The cause of death was listed as "multiple devastating traumatic injuries."
Toxicological testing was subsequently performed only on muscle tissue by the FAA Forensic Toxicology Research Team, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, with no preexisting anomalies noted.
- Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR) Part 91.303 -
"No person may operate an aircraft in aerobatic flight –
(a) Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement;
(b) Over an open air assembly of persons;
(c) Within the lateral boundaries of the surface areas of Class B, Class C, Class D, or Class E airspace designated for an airport;
(d) Within 4 nautical miles of the center line of any Federal airway;
(e) Below an altitude of 1,500 feet above the surface; or
(f) When flight visibility is less than 3 statute miles.
For the purposes of this section, aerobatic flight means an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft's attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight."
- Certificate of Waiver (CW) -
On December 21, 2009, the FAA issued a CW to an individual from International Aerobatic Club Chapter 52, which waived CFR Part 91.303(c) and (d).
Special provisions included:
1. Aerobatic flight shall be confined to the area designated on the pictorial chart attached to this CW and defined in special provision 2.
2. The aerobatic area is further defined as follows: a one nautical mile radius around a point centered over the numbers of Runway 21 at the Hammonton Municipal Airport (N81) with a no fly area established between the 180 degree and the 270 degree magnetic radials of the circle which is the southwest quadrant of the circle. The altitudes included in this waiver are from 1,500 feet agl to 3,500 feet agl.
5. Before commencing aerobatic flight operations, the person authorized to activate and deactivate the aerobatic practice area shall be responsible for advising the Washington Hub FSS…of the activity and requesting a NOTAM [Notice to Airmen]that includes the following information be issued:
a) The location, dates and times the aerobatic activity will be in effect.
7. Notification shall be made to the FSS…at least one hour before aerobatic activity is to commence and notification shall be made to Atlantic City Approach…and McGuire Approach…at least 30 minutes before the commencement of aerobatic activity in the practice area. The FSS, Atlantic City Approach and McGuire Approach shall also be notified at the termination of aerobatic activities.
11. All pilots operating within the waivered aerobatic area shall maintain VFR at all times and shall be responsible for seeing and avoiding all conflicting traffic.
13. The holder of this CW or properly designated ground observer representative is responsible for halting or cancelling activity in the aerobatic practice area if, at any time, the safety of persons or property on the ground or in the air is in jeopardy.
16. Before performing any aerobatic sequence, every reasonable action shall be taken to assure the area is clear before executing any aerobatic maneuver.
22. The established altitude for this aerobatic practice area (box) is 1,500 feet agl to 3,500 feet agl.
23. A ground observer who is approved by the waiver holder will always be present observing aerobatic activities in the area. The observer will have an operable two-way radio and will monitor two frequencies.
The aerobatic box was permanently closed by the FAA shortly after the accident.
- NOTAMs -
Records revealed that an airspace NOTAM was in effect for the aerobatic area, 3,500 feet and below, from 1300-2359[Universal Coordinated Time]. The NOTAM did not state whether the altitude was agl or mean sea level.
In addition, a pilot transiting the area on an instrument flight rules flight plan recalled hearing a transmission that the aerobatic box was open.
While not inclusive of all possible means to obtain NOTAMS, Lockheed Martin-contracted flight service stations had no record of the Lancair pilot making any preflight briefing contact with it or with any DUATS (Direct User Access Terminal Service) vendors.
- Airman's Information Manual –
Paragraph 5-5-8: "When meteorological conditions permit, regardless of type of flight plan or whether or not under control of a radar facility, the pilot is responsible to see and avoid other traffic, terrain, or obstacles."
- FAR Part 91.103 -
"Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight."
- FAR Part 91.113 (b) -
"…vigilance shall be maintained by each person operating an aircraft so as to see and avoid other aircraft."
- Advisory Circular 90-66A -
7a. "Use of standard traffic patterns for all aircraft and CTAF [Common Traffic Advisory Frequency] by radio-equipped aircraft are recommended at all airports without operating control towers. However, it is recognized that other traffic patterns may already be in common use at some airports or that special circumstances or conditions exist that may prevent the use of the standard traffic pattern,"
7b. "The use of any traffic pattern procedure does not alter the responsibility of each pilot see and avoid other aircraft."
8a. "Prior to entering the traffic pattern at an airport without an operating control tower, aircraft should avoid the flow of traffic until established on the entry leg.
8b. "Arriving aircraft should be at the appropriate traffic pattern altitude before entering the traffic pattern."
8c. "It is recommended that airplanes observe a 1000-foot above ground level (agl) traffic pattern altitude…. A pilot may vary the size of the traffic pattern depending on the aircraft's performance characteristics."
9. "Airport operators routinely establish local procedures for the operation of gliders, parachutist, lighter than air aircraft, helicopters, and ultralight vehicles."
- Advisory Circular 90-48C -
4.a. "See and Avoid" Concept
(1) This concept requires that vigilance shall be maintained at all times by each person operating an aircraft…"
(2) Pilots should also keep in mind their responsibility for continuously maintaining a vigilant lookout regardless of the type of aircraft being flown."
b. Pilots should remain constantly alert to all traffic movement within their field of vision, as well as periodically scanning the entire visual field outside of their aircraft to ensure detection of conflicting traffic.
- Advisory Circular 90-42F -
4a. "Common Traffic Advisory Frequency (CTAF) – A designated frequency for the purpose of carrying out airport advisory practices while operating to or from an airport that does not have a control tower or an airport where the control tower is not operational. The CTAF is normally a UNICOM, MULTICOM, flight service station (FSS) frequency, or a tower frequency. CTAF will be identified in appropriate aeronautical publications."
5b. "There is no substitute for awareness while in the vicinity of an airport. It is essential that pilots remain alert and look for other traffic and exchange traffic information when approaching or departing an airport without the services of an operating control tower. To achieve the greatest degree of safety, it is essential that all radio-equipped aircraft transmit/receive on a common frequency identified for the purpose of airport advisories."
6. "All inbound traffic should continuously monitor and communicate, as appropriate, on the designated CTAF from appoint 10 miles from the airport until clear of the movement area."
9. "'Self-announce' is a procedure whereby pilots broadcast their position, intended flight activity or ground operation on the designated CTAF."
10. To "help identify the location of aircraft in the traffic pattern, and enhance safety of flight: (4) Notify the UNICOM station approximately 10 miles from the airport, reporting altitude, aircraft type, aircraft identification, location relative to the airport, and whether landing or overflight."