Tuesday, November 22, 2011

WACO UPF-7, Owner/operator Kyle Franklin, N30136: Accident occurred March 12, 2011 in Brownsville, Texas

NTSB Identification: CEN11FA228 
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, March 12, 2011 in Brownsville, TX
Probable Cause Approval Date: 11/17/2011
Aircraft: WACO UPF-7, registration: N30136
Injuries: 2 Serious.

NTSB investigators either traveled in support of this investigation or conducted a significant amount of investigative work without any travel, and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

On the day prior to the accident, the pilot performed a solo air show flight, and the engine lost power during the taxi after landing. No anomalies were noted that caused the loss of engine power. About one hour prior to the accident flight, the pilot performed a solo air show flight with no anomalies. After the solo flight, the airplane was refueled, and the pilot performed the wing walker performance. Approximately 5 minutes into the performance, the engine lost power. The airplane impacted terrain adjacent to the runway and a postimpact fire ensued. The wing walker, who was located in the front area of the fuselage, sustained multiple burns, and succumbed to her injuries approximately 2 months after the accident. Postaccident examination of the engine and its fuel system revealed no anomalies that would have precluded normal operations. Video and photographic evidence showed from the engine exhaust, prior to the loss of engine power, which can indicate a flooded condition; however, the reason for the flooded condition and loss of engine power could not be determined.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The loss of engine power for undetermined reasons.


On March 12, 2011, about 1500 central standard time, a Waco UPF-7 airplane, N30136, collided with the ground following a loss of engine power while maneuvering during an air show performance at Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport (BRO), Brownsville, Texas. The commercial pilot and passenger sustained serious injuries. A post accident fire partially consumed the fuselage. The airplane was registered to Jim Franklin Aviation Service, Inc., Ruidoso, New Mexico, and operated by the pilot under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as an air show flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and a flight plan was not filed. The flight originated from BRO approximately 1455.

According to the pilot, the airplane was transported to the air show venues via trailer and then assembled as necessary for flight. The day prior to the accident, the pilot completed a solo air show performance and during the taxi back to the ramp with the throttle at the idle position, the engine quit. The airplane was towed to the ramp for inspection. After completing a visual inspection of the engine with no problems noted, the pilot test ran the engine at various power settings for approximately 15 minutes. No anomalies with the engine were noted during the test run.

Approximately 1 hour before the accident flight, the pilot completed a solo air show performance with no anomalies.

The pilot conducted a preflight inspection 20 minutes prior to the wingwalker performance flight and found no discrepancies. Approximately 15 minutes prior to takeoff, the pilot started the engine and it ran without any problems. Prior to takeoff, an engine run-up and magneto check were conducted with no discrepancies noted. During the first 4 to 5 minutes of the wingwalking performance flight, the pilot noted no abnormal engine instrument readings or engine operations. About 5 minutes into the flight, the engine lost power. The pilot briefly attempted to restart the engine; however, the engine restart was unsuccessful. The pilot then signaled the wingwalker to enter the forward cockpit, and he executed a forced landing to vegetation-covered terrain adjacent to the runway.

Witness videos and still photograph images showed the airplane was maneuvering in a shallow climb when the engine lost power. Several images show fire and smoke emanating from the engine exhaust during the engine power loss.

The pilot reported that during the flight, the engine power was set at maximum, which was 36 inches of manifold pressure and 2,300 RPM. The pilot did not change the engine power configuration during that portion of the wingwalker performance. In addition, the airplane's fuel tank was topped off prior to each of the 2 solo and wingwalker flights.


The pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with a single-engine land rating. The pilot's second class medical certificate was issued on April 2, 2010. The pilot reported 2,273 total flight hours of which 728 were in the accident airplane.


A review of the airframe and engine maintenance records showed a major overhaul on the Pratt & Whitney R-985 AN-14B engine (serial number 11482) was completed on November 6, 2009, at an engine total time of 8,204.45 hours, and was installed on the airframe on January 22, 2010. The Bendix RS-10B2 (part number 391783-4, serial number 638) servo fuel injector was overhauled on January 18, 2010.

The most recent conditional inspection was completed on January 22, 2010, at a total airframe time of 4,222.3 hours, and a HOBBS time of 223.3 hours. The pilot reported on the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) aircraft accident form the most recent conditional inspection was completed on February 19, 2011, at a total airframe time of 4,261 hours. On February 28, 2011, which was the last entry in the engine logbook, the number 9 cylinder was removed due to a problem with the exhaust valve, repaired, and reinstalled, at a HOBBS time of 285.2 hours, and 40.2 since major overhaul. The pilot reported the airplane had accumulated approximately 3 flight hours at the time of the accident since the completion of his 2010 air show events.


Examination of the airplane by a Federal Aviation Administration inspector revealed the fuselage sustained fire damage aft of the engine firewall. The main landing gear collapsed and the airplane came to rest upright. An unspecified amount of fuel was noted in the center wing fuel tank. A fitting on the smoke oil system was found fractured and separated from the respective connection.


The pilot, located in the rear seat, sustained facial injuries and briefly lost consciousness after the impact. Shoulder harnesses were not available in the rear seat, and the pilot was not wearing a helmet. The pilot exited the airplane and attempted to extricate the front seat passenger. The pilot reported the electric smoke oil pump was continuing to operate after the airplane came to rest. The smoke oil pump ON/OFF switch was located in the rear seat compartment, and the pilot did not recall turning the switch OFF prior to exiting the airplane.

The front seat, which was comprised of the smoke oil container and a lap belt restraint, was the position the wingwalker sat during the takeoff and landing phases of flight. After the impact, rescue personnel arrived at the airplane and assisted the pilot in attempting to extricate the passenger. The passenger was restrained in the front seat area via the tethering cable that was used for safety purposes during the wingwalking activity. Rescue personnel cut the cable in order to extricate the passenger. The passenger sustained burns to approximately 70 percent of her body and succumbed to her injuries on May 27, 2011.


On April 4, 2011, at the facilities of Tulsa Aircraft Engines, Tulsa, Oklahoma, the engine and fuel system components were examined by the NTSB investigator-in-charge. Examination of the engine showed damage to the number 5 and 6 cylinders. The cylinder damage was consistent with the impact sequence. The cylinders were removed and replaced to accommodate an engine functional test. The servo fuel injector was separated from the engine mount structure and could not be tested with the engine. A slave carburetor was installed and the engine was functionally tested for approximately 30 minutes at various power settings with no anomalies noted.

The fuel injector was examined and functionally tested at Mike's Aircraft Fuel Metering Service, Tulsa, Oklahoma. Visual examination of the servo showed the mixture control linkage was fractured. The linkage arm was removed and replaced. All fuel lines and fuel strainer were found clear of debris. The idle mixture adjustment was in the mid-range position. The servo was functionally tested in accordance with the manufacturer approved test procedure. The fuel servo test was found within limits at the high (full throttle) setting and slightly rich at the low and mid-range settings. After the functional test, the fuel servo was partially disassembled. The regulator lever, which is located between and within the air and fuel chambers, was found to be bent when rolled on a sheet of glass. The air chamber was found to be dry and absent of fuel.

The fuel pump was examined and functionally tested at Aircraft Specialties Services, Tulsa, Oklahoma. No anomalies were noted during the visual examination. The pump was functionally tested in accordance with the manufacturer approved test procedure. The fuel pump functional test was found within specifications.

Eight months after Kyle and Amanda Franklin’s biplane crash landed at Brownsville’s Air Fiesta, the National Transportation Safety Board has ended its investigation without having determined the cause of the engine failure that led to the accident.

The report notes, however, that the aircraft’s engine had stalled while taxiing the day before the accident, though no cause could be found. The Neosho, Mo., husband and wife aerobatic team used a highly modified 1940 Waco biplane for their popular wing-walking act, which they called "Pirated Skies." Approximately five minutes into a March 12 performance, Kyle was forced to put the plane down in scrub trees off the runway at the Brownsville South Padre Island International Airport. Amanda managed to climb off the wing into the forward cockpit before impact, but was badly burned in the post-crash fire. She died of her injuries on May 27 at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. Kyle’s injuries were less severe and he has since recovered.

After the accident the charred aircraft was transported to Tulsa, Okla., to the facilities of Tulsa Aircraft Engines, which had performed a major overhaul on the Waco’s Pratt & Whitney engine in 2009. According to the NTSB report, thorough testing of the engine and fuel system components "revealed no anomalies that would have precluded normal operations."

The report notes that photos and video of the plane just before the engine lost power show smoke and flames shooting from the exhaust. Though this is normally an indication of a "flooded" engine — meaning too much fuel in the engine — no reason for the flooding or loss of engine power could be determined, according to the NTSB.

The Franklins were in the habit of trailering the Waco to performances around the country rather than flying it. The reason, according to Amanda Franklin, interviewed by The Brownsville Herald a few days before the accident, was concern that the plane’s extra stiff landing gear would cause the aircraft to flip on its back in the event of an emergency landing on soft ground, such as in a field. In the Air Fiesta crash, the landing gear collapsed and the plane remained upright.

Something strange occurred the day before the accident. The NTSB report notes that while Kyle completed a solo aerobatic performance the day prior to the accident without incident, the Waco’s engine stalled as it was taxiing back to the ramp. A visual inspection turned up nothing out of the ordinary, nor were any problems revealed when Kyle ran the engine at various power settings for about 15 minutes, said the report. An hour before the "accident flight," Kyle flew another complete performance in the Waco without incident. The engine ran approximately 15 minutes prior to takeoff on the doomed flight, again without incident, according to the NTSB. Kyle told investigators that a pre-takeoff engine run-up revealed no discrepancies, and that no abnormal engine instrument readings or engine operations occurred in the first five minutes of flight.

David Hughston, Air Fiesta chairman, said it’s a case of things going wrong despite the best efforts to prevent it.

"Airplane engines normally are extremely reliable," he said. "It’s just like in a car. Sometimes your car quits for no reason. It couldn’t have quit at a worse time. If he’d been up a 1,000 feet or something like that, there wouldn’t have been any issue at all."

Article and Photos

A husband and wife aerobatics team is hospitalized after they were forced to make an emergency landing during Air Fiesta 2011 taking place at the Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport Saturday afternoon. 

 Air Fiesta Operations Officer Chris Hughston said the Franklin's were at a key point of their wing-walking act when their plane suffered engine failure.

Amanda was on the wing of the plane and was able to get back inside while flames shot out of the back of the engine.

"We heard the plane sputter and knew something was wrong," said Esmeralda Torres of San Benito. "She (Amanda) was able to get back inside the plane and then we saw smoke and  flames."

Torres says after the plane crashed there was a cloud of black smoke and the smell of fuel filled the air.

Hughston said Kyle Franklin was able to make a crash landing, but then the plane caught fire.

Both of the Franklin's suffered burns to 60 to 70-percent of their bodies.

The couple was airlifted to a burn hospital in San Antonio where both are listed in critical condition.

Hughston said the modern military exhibition after the couple's act was suspended. Saturday's fly-by of a Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit went on as planned. Officials said the pilot wanted to do so to honor the Franklins.

Sunday's program will continue, but will be shorter sans the Franklin's "Pirated Skies" aerobatic act which was one of the headlining acts at this year's Air Fiesta 2011.

Earlier this week Amanda Franklin talked to Brownsville Herald Reporter Steve Clark. She told him of the airshow accident in 2005 that killed her father and father-in-law. Franklin said despite the loss she and her husband never considered quitting.

“That never crossed our minds ever,” she says. “We both have such a passion for flying. It’s in our blood. There is risk in what we do. We acknowledge that. We take every precaution that we can to eliminate the risk to make it safe. But if you live your life in fear that something could go wrong, you’re not living your life.”

For fans like Torres it was a frightening afternoon.

"I hope I don't ever see that again. It was awful and sad."

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