CEN11LA651
CEN11LA651

On September 17, 2011, about 1807 eastern daylight time, a North American AT-6, N217RK, impacted a tree and terrain after a loss of engine power during takeoff from runway 8 (3,600 feet by 100 feet, dry turf) at the Hat Field Airport (5N7), near Nunica, Michigan. The commercial pilot received serious injuries. The airplane sustained substantial firewall, fuselage, and wing damage. The airplane was registered to Tailwinds Inc. and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Day visual flight rules (VFR) conditions prevailed for the flight, which was not operated on a VFR flight rules flight plan. The flight was originating at the time of the accident and was destined for the Mason Jewett Field Airport, near Mason, Michigan.

Review of a video taken at 5N7 revealed that the airplane was the fourth airplane in a flight of multiple airplanes to depart the airport. The video revealed that the accident airplane lost power during its takeoff, impacted a tree on the left side of the departure runway, and subsequently impacted terrain.

The pilot’s accident report indicated that the airplane was "ground checked" and each aircraft took off as briefed in a single-ship sequence leaving nine seconds between each departure, which allowed any departing aircraft time to abort its takeoff roll. The pilot indicated that he applied full takeoff power. As the airplane passed about two-thirds of the runway’s length, the airplane had a positive rate of climb. The low fuel pressure light illuminated just before gear retraction, the fuel pressure dropped to zero, and the engine abruptly quit. The pilot lowered the airplane’s nose and impacted a tree during the forced descent. The impact turned the plane, causing it to hit the ground at a vertical angle tearing the engine and propeller from the plane.

According to the pilot, the airplane had been refueled prior to flying to the accident airport to its full capacity of 110 gallons, of which, 106 gallons is usable. The airplane had two 55-gallon fuel tanks, one in each wing. The fuel selector has four positions; right tank on, left tank on, left tank reserve, and off. The pilot indicated that the “flight to the accident airport required 50 minutes, which would have burned, with start-up, taxi and flight time, 29 gallons. This was verified prior to departure at the accident airport by visual reference of fuel gauges and aircraft fuel flow meter.” However, the pilot did not visually check the level of the fuel tank’s contents.

A Federal Aviation Administration inspector examined the wreckage. The inspector indicated he observed that the right fuel tank was full. The gascolator contained a cup of fuel and the screen was clean. The engine driven fuel pump was removed from the engine and the pump produced suction when rotated by hand. The fuel selector was found set to the reserve position. The wobble pump was able to pump fluid and produced pressure at its output port. The left main and reserve standpipes and screens were installed correctly and were free of obstructions. The left fuel tank contained about four gallons of fuel. The airplane’s engine monitor and fuel flow monitor were shipped to the National Transportation Safety Board Recorder Laboratory for downloading.

The airplane was equipped with a J. P. Instruments EDM-700 panel mounted engine monitor gauge. The gauge monitored and recorded exhaust gas temperature, cylinder head temperature, and battery voltage. The gauge was in good condition and its data was extracted normally from the device. The download contained approximately 11 hours of data over 18 power cycles. The data from the accident flight and the flight prior to it were plotted. The plot of the flight prior to the accident, on September 17, 2011, covered a time period from 14:24:00 to 15:28:12. The accident flight plot covered a time period from 17:58:46 to 18:07:10 and no recorded engine anomalies were detected in the plot.

The airplane was also equipped with a Shadin Avionics Miniflo-L fuel flow monitor gauge, which was a digital fuel management system, designed to provide fuel management information under real time flight conditions to the pilot. The unit does not interface with an airplane’s fuel quantity indicating system. The unit required the pilot to enter the initial fuel on board the aircraft. All calculations and data provided by the unit were based on fuel flow. The fuel flow indicator unit was received in good condition and it reported a value of “good” when it self-tested as power was applied. Its data indicated 32.5 gallons of fuel used and 77.1 gallons remaining.

The pilot’s safety recommendation, in part, stated:

I do know that wearing my seat belt with shoulder harness and aviation
flight helmet likely saved my life. When flying these types of planes,
please always wear your safety gear. You can't choose when an accident
may occur, but you can be prepared when it does.

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