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NTSB Identification: ERA14LA450

On September 20, 2014, about 1400 eastern daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Challenger II, N4017C, impacted the ground shortly after takeoff from the Clarion County Airport (AXQ), Clarion, Pennsylvania. The Airline Transport pilot sustained serious injuries. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the left wing and fuselage. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan had been filed for the flight destined for the Jersey Shore Airport (P96), Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania. The airplane was recently purchased by a private individual and the flight was operated under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

According to several eyewitnesses, which included the previous owner and the current owner, the pilot taxied out to the runway, returned to the hangar, and shut down the airplane's engine. The pilot reported, to the previous owner, that a red indicator light illuminated which indicated "water temp." After discussing the need to open the cowling louvers, the pilot taxied to the end of the runway and commenced the takeoff roll. The airplane became airborne, immediately banked to the left, climbed to about 100 feet above ground level, continued in a left 360 degree turn, and then nosed into the ground. Several witnesses described the airplane as "looking like a lawn dart" until it impacted the ground. The witnesses further reported that the engine was heard operating at or near full power until the airplane impacted the ground. Some of the eyewitnesses reported that during taxi the nose landing gear of the airplane kept rising off the ground and the pilot was having difficulty maintaining ground contact with the nose landing gear.


According to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) records, the pilot, age 85 held an airline transport pilot certificate for airplane multiengine land rating and a commercial pilot certificate for airplane single-engine land and sea. He also held a second-class medical certificate which was issued on May 23, 2011. At the time of this writing the pilot's logbook had not been located. However, according to the previous owner of the airplane, the pilot stated that he had flown conventional gear airplanes in the military and was current; however, had not flown the accident aircraft make and model before. The previous owner further reported that the pilot may have weighed as much as 150 pounds.


According to FAA records, the two-seat, high-wing, fixed-gear airplane, serial number 67001, was issued a special airworthiness certificate on September 30, 2008. The airframe was of tubular construction, with fabric covering. The airplane was powered by a rearward facing Rotax 582DCDI, two-cylinder, in–line two stroke, 65 hp engine, that was mounted aft of the wings, behind the main cabin, and driven by a Warp drive three-bladed propeller assembly. The airplane's most recent annual inspection was conducted on September 16, 2014, and at the time of the inspection, the recorded time in service was 124.1 total hours. A Hobbs meter was located in the wreckage which indicated 124.4 hours

Utilizing the aircraft's weight and balance numbers dated September 4, 2008, and the estimated pilot weight, the takeoff weight for the airplane was 742 pounds with a center of gravity of 90.097 inches aft of datum. According to documentation provided by the manufacturer the airplane's maximum allowable gross takeoff weight was 960 pounds with a center of gravity range at takeoff of 80 to 90 inches aft of datum.

The airplane had recently been purchased and both the current owner and previous owner witnessed the accident. The previous owner stated that no ballast had been added to the airplane prior to the accident flight.


The 1415 recorded weather observation at Venango Regional Airport (FKL), Franklin, Pennsylvania, located 22 nautical miles to the west of the accident location, included wind from 200 degrees at 16 knots, 10 miles visibility, scatter clouds at 3,300 feet above ground level (agl), broken clouds at 4,200 feet agl, temperature 23 degrees C, dew point 15 degrees C; altimeter setting 30.06 inches of mercury.


Post-recovery examination of the wreckage by an FAA inspector revealed all major portions of the airplane were accounted for at the accident site. An initial impact ground scar was located between the runway and the parallel taxiway. The left wingtip and nose section of the airplane exhibited impact damage in the positive and aft direction. Flight control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit controls to the aileron, rudder, and elevator control surfaces.

Photographs provided by the FAA inspector revealed that the engine remained attached to its respective mount. The propeller assembly remained intact and attached to the engine. The airplane was equipped with a ballistic recovery system (BRS), which was mounted on the top of the cockpit structure forward of the engine. The BRS parachute was not deployed. The maintenance safety pin remained inserted in the pull handle, with the "Remove Before Flight" streamer attached. The pin did not exhibit any deformation or witness marks. According to the previous owner, he had never removed the maintenance pin and the accident pilot had not removed it for the flight.


The Quad City Ultralight Aircraft Corp. "Challenger Owner's Manual" included the following information:

"…If the nose wheel will not remain in contact with the ground, ballast must be added until it does. Solo flight is restricted to front seat. (on two seat Challengers with the heavier "503" engine, electric start and 10 gal. tank, ballast may have to [be] added to the nose for pilots under 160 lbs.)"

The manual goes on to provide the follow two statements about flight training:



The manual further includes a caution in the landing section:

"…remember that a 'pusher' engine will cause the nose to pitch down as the throttle is advanced and pitch up as the throttle is pulled back. Be ready for this! Don't advance the throttle rapidly and be ready to pull back on the stick enough to keep the nose up. Also be ready to apply right rudder to counteract sudden application of power…"

The manual indicated under the "FIRST FLIGHT" section that the stall speed for solo flight would be between 25 and 30 mph.