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HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On May 21, 2012, at 1210 eastern daylight time, an experimental, amateur-built Pitts S1D, N360MW, was substantially damaged when it impacted the waters of the Gulf of Mexico while conducting aerobatic maneuvers about 200 to 400 yards from the shoreline near Port Richey, Florida. The airline transport pilot was fatally injured. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the local flight, which departed Hidden Lake Airport (FA40), New Port Richey, Florida, at 1145.
According to the pilot’s father-in-law, the pilot was conducting aerobatic maneuvers over the Gulf of Mexico, while his family observed from a nearby park. During the demonstration, the witness watched as the pilot performed aileron rolls, wingovers, loops, and stalls. Immediately prior to the accident, the pilot initiated a loop at an altitude between 300 and 500 feet above the water. Upon reaching the apex of the loop, while the airplane was inverted, the airplane began to descend, and the witness observed that the airplane did not appear to have sufficient altitude to recover from the maneuver. The witness believed that the pilot may have attempted to recover from the maneuver before the airplane impacted the water in a nose down, left wing low attitude. The witness also reported that there was no discernible change in the sound of the engine at any point during the accident sequence.
Another witness stated that he was wade fishing in the Gulf of Mexico at Brasher Park. The accident airplane had been conducting aerobatic maneuvers over the water. When he first observed the airplane, the pilot conducted several aileron rolls, stalls and loops at a higher altitude prior to the last loop, which the pilot initiated between 200 to 300 feet. He observed the airplane pitch up into a loop and start back down. There was no change in engine noise until the airplane started to pull out of the maneuver and there was a "pop" sound. The airplane collided with the water in a nose down, left wing low attitude. It floated for a short time before it started to sink.
According to the pilot's wife, on the day of the accident, the pilot did not stay in the "box" as he normally did. She also added that the pilot normally flew crisp maneuvers and that his flying was kind of sloppy on the day of the accident.
The pilot, age 33, held an airline transport pilot (ATP) certificate with multiple ratings including airplane single-engine land and multi-engine land, with type ratings in the Boeing 737/757/767, Lear Jet 60, and Raytheon 390S. The pilot also held a flight instructor certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine, airplane multi-engine, and instrument airplane.
According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and pilot records, the pilot had accrued 3,359 total flight hours. Between August 10, 2011 and April 24, 2012, the pilot logged 45 hours of experience in the accident airplane make and model, 8 hours of which, was logged as dual instruction in aerobatics. The pilot’s most recent Federal Aviation Administration first-class medical certificate was issued on July 5, 2011, with no waivers or restrictions.
The accident aircraft was a single–seat aerobatic biplane of conventional tube and fabric construction. It was equipped with a flat M6 aero foil section and upper and lower wing ailerons
The airplane was powered by a non-certificated, experimental, 180 horsepower, Lycoming IO-360, with a Christen inverted oil system, a non- certificated fuel injection servo, a non- certificated fuel flow divider, a non-certificated right ignition system, and non-certificated alternator. No engine data plate was installed on the engine block. The left engine crank case half was marked L-3086-36. Lycoming records indicate that engine serial number left the factory on March 4, 1960, and was shipped to Beech Airplane Corporation as an O-360-A1A, 180 horsepower engine. In addition, Lycoming does not have any record that the engine had been returned to the factory for service. The FAA experimental operating limitations and special airworthiness certificate were issued on June 23, 1986 for N360DS. The registration for the airplane was later changed to N360MW.
The last annual inspection was completed on June 24, 2011. At the time of the inspection, the airplane had accumulated 513.3 total hours of operation, and the engine had accumulated 2166.7 total hours of operation.
The Tampa International Airport (TPA), Tampa, Florida, 1253 surface weather observation, located 21 nautical miles southeast of the accident site was: wind from 250 degrees at 8 knots, visibility 10 miles, clear skies, temperature 30 degrees Celsius, dew point 12 degrees Celsius, and altimeter setting of 30.01 inches of mercury.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
The airplane came to rest on the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico, west of Brasher Park in Port Richey, Florida. Examination revealed that it had come to rest upright in 4 feet of water on a magnetic heading of 334 degrees.
Post accident examination of the airplane revealed the propeller assembly remained attached to the propeller crankshaft flange. The propeller spinner was damaged and separated from the spinner bulkhead. The forward spinner bulkhead and rear spinner bulkheads were pushed aft and exhibited deformation opposite the direction of rotation. One propeller blade was bent aft 10 degrees, 18 inches inboard of the propeller blade tip, and the other propeller blade was not damaged.
The engine was partially disassembled and crankshaft and valve train continuity was verified by rotating the drive train by turning the crankshaft flange. Suction and compression was obtained on all cylinders. Valve train continuity was observed through all cylinder rocker arms and the accessory drive gears were observed to rotate. All cylinders were examined using a lighted bore scope and no anomalies were noted.
The throttle was in the full open position and the mixture was full rich. The fuel selector valve was on. The tachometer indicated 240.6 hours. The altimeter indicated 300 feet and 29.99 inches of mercury. The “G” meter was set for 1 G. One indicator hand of the G meter indicated negative 5Gs and the other hand of the G meter indicated positive 12Gs which were the maximum readings.
The upper right wing separated at the wing root and the two inboard ribs were separated. The rear wing spar was broken. The upper aileron remained attached to all attachment points and was not damaged. The right wing strut remained attached to the bottom of the wing. The bottom right wing separated at the wing root and was fragmented. Both the front and rear spars were broken. The right wing strut was not attached to the top of the bottom right wing. The bottom aileron remained attached at all attachment points and was damaged. The flying wires were attached.
The upper left wing separated at the wing root and the two inboard ribs were separated. The rear wing spar was broken. The upper aileron remained attached at all attachment points and was not damaged. The left wing strut remained attached to the bottom of the left wing. The bottom left wing separated at the wing root and was fragmented. Both the front and rear spars were broken. The left wing strut was not attached to the top of the left wing. The bottom left aileron remained attached at all attachment points and was not damaged. The flying wires were intact.
The fuselage from the pilot seat aft was intact and the vertical fin was attached and not damaged. The left and right horizontal stabilizers were intact and not damaged. Both elevator control surfaces were attached and undamaged. The elevator trim tab was deflected in the full up (nose down) position. Control continuity of the airplane was traced from the cockpit area to each of the flight control surfaces, with no anomalies noted.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was performed on the remains of the pilot by the Medical Examiner District Six, Largo, Florida, as authorized by the Pinellas County Coroner. The cause of death was listed as blunt trauma. The FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) performed forensic toxicology on specimens from the pilot with negative results for drugs and alcohol.
In an interview with a CAMI medical doctor, the wife of the pilot stated that her husband experienced a fainting episode while on a business trip about two years prior to the accident and that he had suffered a possible broken nose. A review of the pilot's FAA medical records failed to identify any documentation relating to the fainting incident or any other condition that would facilitate symptoms related to losing consciousness.
According to the wife of the pilot, on the four days leading up to the accident, the pilot had symptoms of a cold and at one point, was relieved from his occupational flying duties due to left eye pain. The pilot consulted a family care clinic where he received a diagnosis of bronchitis and a chest x-ray that did not indicate any abnormal conditions. He was prescribed 875 milligrams of Amoxicillin, an antibiotic which treats infections, and sent home where he later mowed his yard. The next day was spent at brunch, at the beach with family, and welding cosmetic items onto his airplane. The pilot's wife stated that on the day of the accident, the pilot did not complain of or was not known to have any issues with light headedness or dizziness.
According to the FAA, aerobatic flight is defined as an intentional maneuver involving an abrupt change in an aircraft’s attitude, an abnormal attitude, or abnormal acceleration, not necessary for normal flight.
According to the operating rules section of 14 CFR Part 91 which defines the restrictions on aerobatics, no person may operate an aircraft in aerobatic flight below an altitude of 1,500 feet above the surface.