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Aviation Accident

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NTSB Identification: CEN15LA104
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, January 16, 2015 in The Woodlands, TX
Probable Cause Approval Date: 10/02/2017
Aircraft: BAKER BOBBY J SAFARI, registration: N416JB
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The commercial pilot was conducting a personal flight in the experimental, amateur-built helicopter. Several witnesses reported seeing the helicopter flying overhead. They reported that it appeared to by flying normally but that it then turned sideways, banked left, and descended to the ground. One witness reported hearing a breaking sound and then seeing the “back rotor” hanging from the helicopter.
The horizontal stabilizer was found separated from the tailboom. Postaccident examination revealed that the horizontal stabilizer spar tube had fractured at the weld area just outboard of the mounting flange. Examinations of the fracture surfaces revealed features consistent with fatigue cracking that had initiated at multiple origins along the weld toe. Although no weld defects or corrosion were noted at the fatigue origins, large areas of both fracture faces were covered by red and brown corrosion products, indicating that the cracks were present and exposed for a considerable amount of time (at least many days but more likely many weeks).
The fatigue origins were located on the aft surface of the spar and propagated generally forward. The origin location and direction of propagation were indicative of cyclic bending loads in the spar as if the tip of the stabilizer repetitively moved forward relative to the mount. The source of the cyclic bending loads was not clear but could have been the result of many different helicopter factors. These factors could have been unique to the accident helicopter or could be present on all similar helicopters. It is likely that the horizontal stabilizer separated in flight due to undetected fatigue cracking in the stabilizer spar, which resulted in the uncontrolled descent.
As assembled, the fracture location and weld were partially hidden by the horizontal stabilizer’s airfoil skin and not directly visible, which would have made any cracking difficult to see. Following the accident, the kit manufacturer issued a mandatory inspection and modification bulletin for the horizontal stabilizer, which detailed inspection criteria and spar replacement guidance if cracking was found.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
  • An in-flight separation of the helicopter’s horizontal stabilizer due to undetected fatigue cracking of the stabilizer spar, which resulted in a loss of control.