History of Flight

On April 28, 2012, at 1210 Pacific daylight time, a Cessna 172D, N2559U, registered to and operated by the pilot, impacted terrain during takeoff from a private airstrip near Beckwourth, California. The private pilot was not injured; the passenger sustained serious injuries. The airplane was substantially damaged. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The pilot was operating the airplane under Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. He was departing a private airstrip and was destined for Nervino Airport, Beckwourth, California.

In a statement, the pilot reported that he was departing from a dirt airstrip that was about 2,300 feet in length and the elevation was 4,879 feet mean sea level. The wind was estimated from the northeast at 3 to 4 knots, and the temperature was near 60 degrees. The weight and balance calculation showed a takeoff weight of 1,922 pounds and a center of gravity of 38.2 which was in the utility category. His calculations from the pilot operating handbook showed a ground run of 812 feet and recommended 10 degrees of flaps for the soft field. The rotation speed was calculated at 55/60 miles per hour. Due to the soft field, he believed that he needed a longer takeoff roll to obtain 55 miles per hour.

Before takeoff, the pilot extended the flaps 10 degrees and leaned the mixture. Shortly after rotation, the pilot initiated a gradual turn to the left and the airplane rolled to the left. The pilot leveled the airplane, but the airplane lost airspeed. He was unable to climb or maintain altitude. The pilot attempted to pitch the airplane down in order to increase speed and realized he did not have sufficient altitude. He then decided to land in a field. The airplane touched down for approximately 30 feet, bounced once, and then rolled for about 180 feet as the airplane slowed. He was able to hold the nosewheel out of the soft terrain. When the airplane slowed to 10 to 15 miles per hour, the nosewheel dug into the terrain and the airplane nosed over. The passenger's arm was broken. The pilot reported no preimpact mechanical malfunctions or failures with the airplane that would have precluded normal operation.

According to a witness, at the time of the accident he estimated the winds from 10 to 12 miles per hour, from east to west. The airplane was departing from the southwest to the northeast. The land owner had begun constructing the airstrip about three weeks prior to the accident and the property was not approved for an airstrip. The witness watched the airplane taxi from a building to the airstrip. The airplane powered and began departure to the northeast. The airplane climbed to approximately 100 feet in level flight, it appeared to bank 90 degrees to the left while maintaining altitude, and then the airplane lost altitude. The airplane became wings level prior to ground impact. The airplane traveled for about 100 feet before nosing over.

Airplane Information

The Cessna 172D was manufactured in 1963 and the POH did not contain information on performance information related to non-hard surface runways. This information was not provided in the Cessna POHs until 1967. The 172H POH, which has identical performance numbers with the 172D, states, "For operation on a dry, grass runway, increase distances (both "ground run" and "total to clear 50 ft. obstacle") by 7% of the "total to clear 50 ft. obstacle" figure."

Additional Information

The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Safety Advisor, Mastering Takeoffs and Landings, notes the limitations of POH references on older aircraft and states that the performance numbers noted may decrease over time. The advisor states, “ASI [Air Safety Institute] recommends adding 50 percent to the POH takeoff or landing distance over a 50-foot obstacle.”

The density altitude was calculated to be about 5,880 feet.

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