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On April 1, 2012, about 0800 eastern daylight time, an Powrachute LLC Airwolf 912ULS, N415BA, incurred minor damage when it struck trees and terrain during an attempted takeoff from Blackwater Creek Ultralight Flightpark (9FD2), Plant City, Florida. The certificated sport pilot/flight instructor incurred minor injuries and the passenger was seriously injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local instructional flight, which was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.
According to the flight instructor, he was conducting an introductory powered parachute flight with the passenger. The powered parachute had been on static display at an air show the previous day, so the flight instructor had taken "extra care" in conducting his preflight inspection. During the inspection the flight instructor noted that the throttle was in the full open position, the keys were missing, and the battery was disconnected. After completing the preflight inspection and briefing the passenger, the flight instructor prepared to depart, and made one final check of the parachute lines and layout. The flight instructor had set up the powered parachute adjacent to a turf runway, with the powered parachute oriented toward the southeast, and eventually planned to depart to the south.
After starting the engine, the flight instructor "kited" the parachute, checked to ensure that it had properly inflated, and checked for other traffic inbound to the turf runway. The flight instructor then increased engine power for takeoff, and began pushing on the foot bars in order to turn the powered parachute away from the oncoming trees that ran parallel to the runway. Once the powered parachute’s wheels left the ground, the flight instructor continued to push the foot bars to turn the vehicle away from the trees; however, since the steering lines were fully extended, the flight instructor was unable to change the shape of the parachute enough to turn to the right, away from the trees.
The flight instructor then attempted to “pump” the steering lines in an attempt to fill the parachute with more air, and increase its climb performance. The vehicle then struck the tops of the trees, stopping its forward travel, and after remaining momentarily suspended in the trees, the vehicle fell and impacted the ground resulting in serious injury to the passenger.
The flight instructor held a sport pilot certificate with an endorsement for powered parachute land. He also held a flight instructor certificate with a sport rating and an endorsement for powered parachute land. He reported 314 total hours of flight experience, all of which were in the accident powered parachute make and model.
The weather conditions reported a Plant City Airport (PCM), Plant City, Florida, located about 8 nautical miles south of the accident site, at 0755, included 7 statute miles visibility, scattered clouds at 1,700 feet, calm winds, a temperature and dewpoint of 17 degrees Celsius (C), and an altimeter setting of 29.96 inches of mercury.
The Blackwater Creek Ultralight Flightpark was comprised of a single 2,300-foot-long by 150-foot-wide turf runway oriented in a 17/35 configuration. An area for aircraft parking was located on the west side of the runway and extended from about the runway mid-point about 300 feet to the north and south. Trees about 75 feet tall ran parallel to the runway along its eastern edge.
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector, who responded to the scene following the accident, identified the area where the flight instructor had set up the powered parachute in preparation for the flight as about 300 feet west of the runway centerline, at roughly the runway midpoint.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
A Federal Aviation Administration inspector examined the wreckage at the scene following the accident. According to the inspector, all of the parachute canopy and trim lines were secure with no anomalies noted. The engine appeared intact and exhibited no obvious signs of damage or pre-impact failure, and one of the three propeller blades was missing its tip. Several of the support tubes comprising the frame of the vehicle were broken consistent with impact.
After viewing video of the accident flight, the inspector returned to examine the wreckage on April 4, 2012. Inspection of the trim and steering lines revealed that the left trim line exhibited noticeably more slack that the right side trim line.
Manufacturer’s Preflight Checklist
The airframe manufacturer’s pilot operating handbook, Preflight Checklist (Detailed), provided a suggested preflight inspection routine that included the inspection of both the on-ground and in-flight directional steering systems. With regard to the in-flight steering system, the checklist specifically advised, “Check that the foot bar is secure, pivots freely, steering line in good order, [sic] pullies in good order and trim system secure, moves freely and in proper takeoff position.”
The FAA Powered Parachute Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-9) described the procedures necessary for a successful takeoff, and described that “The takeoff surface should be firm, free of debris, and not have any obstructions along the takeoff path. The takeoff surface should have sufficient length to permit the powered parachute to quickly accelerate to normal flight speed.”
Videos depicting the accident flight were by the passenger’s spouse, who was standing at the mid-point of the runway at its eastern edge, and a video camera installed on the powered parachute. Review of the exterior video showed the powered parachute as it began rolling toward the runway and the parachute began to inflate. During this time, the engine sound remained relatively constant, as did the vehicle’s speed across the ground. Just before reaching the runway’s western edge the engine sound increased, consistent with an increase in engine power, and the powered parachute began accelerating. Just after crossing the runway’s western edge, the nosewheel of the powered parachute left the ground, followed by the main landing gear about 1 second later. As the powered parachute left the ground, it continued to track southeasterly, down the runway and towards its eastern edge. The camera then panned away from the vehicle as it disappeared behind the trees.
The video taken onboard the powered parachute depicted a similar series of events, and confirmed the FAA inspector’s observation of the relative slack between the left and right steering lines.