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NTSB Identification: CEN13LA433
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Columbus, IN
Probable Cause Approval Date: 11/19/2015
Aircraft: CLAYTON GERALD H GLASTAR GS-1, registration: N513GC
Injuries: 1 Fatal, 1 Serious.
NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
Family members and friends reported that, 2 years before the accident, the experimental, amateur-built airplane had experienced a serious in-flight engine problem. Since that time, the pilot had been repairing the engine and propeller system, and the accident flight was the airplane's first flight following the reported engine problem.
The pilot-rated passenger reported that, just after departing for a short local flight and turning the airplane to enter the downwind leg of the airport traffic pattern, the pilot informed him that there was a problem and that they needed to return to the airport. He added that the pilot began working "frantically on an electric switch for the propeller" while the engine was "screaming" but that the airplane continued descending. The airplane struck a tree and then impacted a house. An explosion and a postimpact fire immediately ensued, which consumed most of the airplane and the house. The pilot and passenger were able to exit the burning wreckage without assistance.
An examination of the engine clutch and gear reduction module found some metal contamination and a nonstandard displacement of the sprag clutch elements, and these issues likely resulted in clutch slippage, which can lead to the uncommanded movement of the propeller blades. The propeller blades were observed to be in about 5 degrees of reverse pitch, which would result in a substantial loss of glide capability.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:
Slippage in the engine clutch and gear reduction module and a resultant uncommanded movement of the propeller blades into reverse thrust.
HISTORY OF FLIGHT
On July 25, 2013, at 0933 eastern daylight time, a Clayton, Gerald H, Glastar GC-1, single engine airplane, N513GC, was destroyed after impacting obstructions and an occupied home during initial climb at Columbus Municipal Airport (BAK), Columbus, Indiana. The pilot was fatally injured, and the passenger sustained serious injuries. The airplane was registered to and operated by a private individual. Day visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at the time of the accident and a flight plan had not been filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. The airplane had departed BAK at 0932 for the local flight.
This was the first flight in the airplane following almost two years of repairs to the engine and propeller system. The pilot had invited an airport friend to accompany him on the short local flight. According to the passenger the southwest bound take-off and initial climb was uneventful, however shortly after turning on the downwind leg of the airport traffic pattern the pilot mentioned there was a problem and they needed to return. The pilot began working "frantically on an electric switch for the propeller" while the engine was "screaming", but the airplane was still descending. The passenger stated the airplane was descending in an aerodynamic stall and he didn't expect to survive the impact.
Several witnesses saw the airplane in flight at low altitude and heard engine noises which did not sound normal. The airplane was eastbound when it first struck a tree and then impacted the roof of a house, penetrating through the house and coming to rest upright, with the nose of the airplane partially outside the east exterior wall of the house. The passenger reported that after the airplane stopped moving he smelled gasoline and felt the wetness of gasoline on his back. He and the pilot were both struggling to unfasten their seat belts when there was an explosion and the wreckage became engulfed in an "inferno". The pilot and passenger never lost consciousness and each was able to exit the burning wreckage without assistance. Several persons responded to extinguish the fire on their burning clothes and help them get further away.
The adult inside the home stated that she heard the sounds of impact and discovered that the sunroom on the southeast corner of her house was collapsing and was on fire. She quickly exited the house through a door on the north side, and was not injured. Firefighters and other emergency personnel responded quickly, however much of the house was consumed by fire.
The pilot, age 81, held a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land. He held an FAA third-class medical certificate, issued on October 1, 2012, with restrictions "must wear corrective lenses, must use hearing amplification, not valid for night flying or by color signal control, and not valid for any class after October 31, 2013".
The pilot's personal logbooks were not available during the course of the investigation. Based on the pilot's most recent airman medical certification application, aviation insurance company documents completed by the pilot, information provided by family members, and other records, the pilot's total flight experience on July 25, 2013, was estimated as 286 hours in single engine airplanes; which included a total of 66 hours of pilot experience in Glastar GS-1 airplanes.
The passenger, age 60, held an FAA private pilot certificate with a rating for airplane single engine land. He also held an unrestricted FAA third-class medical certificate, issued on August 15, 2012. The passenger reported on his most recent FAA medical application that he had a total of 267 hours of pilot experience.
The high-wing, fixed tricycle landing gear, single-engine airplane, serial number (s/n) 5330, was completed by the pilot as a kit-built airplane. In 2006, it was issued an FAA airworthiness certificate in the experimental category as an amateur built airplane.
The airplane was powered by a 135 horsepower Subaru EJ22 automotive engine, s/n 642126. The fuel injected engine was mated to an NSI A30 gear reduction module, which drove an electrically operated NSI CAP model 200 2-blade composite controllable pitch propeller.
The airplane was constructed with a welded steel fuselage frame with a fiberglass covering. It had aluminum wings of conventional design, and had two cockpit seats in a side-by-side configuration.
An airplane weight and balance document dated August 31, 2006, showed the airplane then had an empty weight of 1,292 pounds, a maximum gross weight of 1,960 pounds, and a maximum fuel capacity of about 50 gallons.
Family members and friends reported that two years before the accident the airplane had some sort of in-flight engine problem which resulted in a successful forced landing at Decatur Airport (DEC), Decatur, Illinois. On October 11, 2011, the airplane was then partially disassembled and trailered from DEC to the pilot's hangar at BAK. The pilot, who was also the original builder, had for the past two years been actively working to fix that engine problem.
At 0938 the Automated Surface Observation System at BAK reported calm wind, visibility 10 miles, clear of clouds, temperature 17 degrees Celsius (C), dew point 14 degrees C, and an altimeter setting of 30.09 inches of Mercury.
At 0925 N513AC made a radio transmission requesting to depart BAK and remain in the traffic pattern for touch-and-go landings. At 0932 the tower controller at BAK cleared the N513AC airplane for takeoff from runway 23 and N513AC responded. There were no further radio transmissions received from N513AC.
About 0933 other aircraft in the traffic pattern radioed that an airplane had crashed about 1 mile south of BAK and was on fire. The aircraft rescue and fire fighting (ARFF) crew at BAK was monitoring those radio transmissions and they immediately responded to the accident scene.
The FAA Airport/ Facility Directory, East Central U. S., indicated that BAK was a towered airport with a field elevation of 656 feet mean sea level (msl). Runway 05-23 was a 6,401 feet long by 150 feet wide concrete runway. Runway 14-32 was a 5,001 feet long by 100 feet wide asphalt runway.
WRECKAGE AND IMPACT INFORMATION
Evidence at the accident scene showed the airplane was upright and generally eastbound when it struck a tree about 25 feet above ground level (agl), which was the initial impact location. Debris from the tree led to the east about 40 feet where at about 15 feet agl the airplane impacted on the roof of the south side of the single story house. The airplane continued moving through the roof and ceiling and partially exited through the east wall of the house with the aft portion of the airplane still inside the damaged house. The airplane came to rest upright and slightly left side down with the nose oriented to the east. The total distance from first impact on the tree to the final resting location was about 60 feet.
The airplane was almost completely consumed by fire and several burned components of the house were on top of the airplane wreckage, with many other burned or partially burned items from the house scattered around the back yard.
Fractured portions of both all-composite propeller blades were found at the scene and east of the tree. The damaged propeller tips and blade portions showed slight evidence of leading edge impact damage and some evidence of chord-wise smearing on the blade face. Both propeller blade tips were separated about 4 inches from the tip. One propeller blade was impact separated at the blade root near the propeller blade grip. The other blade also broken near the propeller blade grip, but remained attached and was bent aft about 30 degrees. The propeller spinner displayed impact damage mostly on only one side with only slight evidence of rotational smearing.
The engine to fuselage mounts did not exhibit significant impact damage, remained intact, and the engine remained attached to the mounts. The exhaust system remained attached and did not exhibit significant impact damage. The engine, gear reduction housing, propeller shaft, propeller hub, and propeller spinner remained attached. Mechanical continuity of the throttle cable was confirmed from the firewall to the throttle arm at the front end of the engine.
All portions of the airplane were accounted for at the accident scene and all flight control surfaces and flap surfaces remained attached or partially attached. Damage to the wreckage prevented an examination of the ignition system or the induction system components and prevented a complete assessment of flight control continuity.
MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION
An autopsy was not performed on the pilot.
Specimens from the pilot were not available and forensic toxicology was not performed.
TESTS AND RESEARCH
The propeller, propeller governor, and clutch and gear reduction module were examined at an FAA certified repair station in Sellersburg, Indiana on August 13, 2013. The electrically operated propeller pitch change motor was thermally damaged and damage prevented an operational check. There was no digital propeller pitch gauge circuit board installed in the propeller extension recess; and there was no "third wire" to direct the signal to the innermost commutator slip ring. On disassembly it was noted that there was no reverse pitch lockout spacer installed, as recommended by the propeller manufacturer in applications when reverse pitch operation is not desired.
During examination the propeller was observed to be in the Beta (reverse) pitch position and was estimated to be at about 5 degrees of reverse pitch.
The NSI A30 Module output shaft was removed for examination and noticeable differences were observed between the unit being examined and the manufacturer's drawings. On the one piece shaft with integral propeller hub, spanner nuts were used on the aft portion of shaft instead of the bolt and nut fastener called for in the drawings.
The thermally damaged clutch appeared to grab in the correct direction, however some metal contamination was found in the clutch. During disassembly, the shaft and bearing areas were examined and a nonstandard displacement of the linear cam device (LCD) sprag clutch elements was noted.
Original assembly specifications and other documents from NSI Aero Products, the propeller manufacturer, showed that the electronic control unit took inputs from the throttle position, rotation rate, and manifold pressure information to calculate the optimum propeller position. It would then process this information combined with manual inputs to propeller's electric motor driver to activate the propeller blade angle from about 29 degrees in "coarse" pitch to about 10 degrees in "fine" pitch. The propeller could also be controlled to a "reverse" pitch of about 25 degrees.
Those documents showed that the propeller would be locked out of the Beta position, or reverse pitch position, unless the propeller RPM dropped below about 1,300 RPMs. The documents showed that, if a mechanical reverse pitch lockout mechanism was not installed, and if the RPM dropped below about 1,300 RPM then the propeller could go into Beta pitch or reverse pitch, even when in flight.
FAA Advisory Circular AC 35-1, Certification of Propellers, Section 1.2, defines Beta control as "a system whereby the propeller blade angle is directly selected … (and) is normally used during ground handling, including reverse pitch angles". It also defines Reverse pitch as "any blade angle below ground idle blade angle", and defines a Reversible pitch propeller as "a propeller in which blades can be rotated to a reverse pitch blade angle while operating".
Dennis King sustained second and third degree burns to 14 percent of his body in the crash. He also suffered broken ribs. The pilot, 81-year-old Gerry Clayton, died from his injuries.
King says he and Gerry Clayton were more acquaintances than friends. The two pilots would talk from time to time since they had hangars next to one another.
On the morning of the crash, King says he went to the Columbus airport to work on his own plane. Clayton came over to ask him if he would be willing to go for a ride.
Clayton’s single engine aircraft, which he had built, had had mechanical issues in the past.
In 2011 Clayton needed to make an emergency landing in Illinois because of an engine problem. Two years later, the 81-year-old pilot thought he had the problem fixed. He just needed to conduct some test flights. So he asked King if he wanted to fly with him.
King agreed. It would be his first time in the plane.
King says the plan was to fly around the airport and perform some “touch and go” maneuvers where the pilot lands the plane and then takes off without stopping.
King says the plane climbed without a problem and Clayton was able to level off at the standard altitude. Everything was looking good.
“I was relaxed and enjoying the view,” said King
That feeling didn’t last long. Within three minutes of taking off, King says the engine started making an unusual sound. Something was “slipping” between the engine and propeller.
King watched as Clayton began to frantically work on the plane's propeller switches. The small aircraft was losing power and altitude.
King knew they were going down.
“I looked around, there were houses everywhere … I was certain we wouldn’t survive the impact … I figured it was over," King said.
At 9:33 a.m., the plane crashed into a Columbus home in the 2200 block of Broadmoor Lane. Hiroko Nakao, a native of Japan, was in a bedroom. She said she heard glass breaking and had no idea what happened. She escaped injury.
King says after the impact, he and Clayton were conscious. King said he was amazed they had survived but there was little time to think about that.
“Gasoline started dripping on us," King said. "We (had to) get out of there fast.”
Before he had time to unbuckle his seatbelt, the gasoline ignited. King and Clayton caught on fire. The entire plane started to burn along with the back of the house.
“If I had gone unconscious, I would have burned to death," King said.
King says both men struggled to unbuckle their seatbelts. A sudden adrenaline rush helped King get out and get away from the burning plane. Clayton also escaped.
“I was on fire and no one could get to me,” said King.
With his gasoline soaked clothes burning, King says he started rolling around on the ground in an attempt to put out the flames. His success was fleeting. Each time he extinguished the flames, they would ignite again.
King says someone in the neighborhood came to his aid and was able to hose him down with water.
King spent the next three weeks in the hospital. He suffered burns along his left arm, his back and side. The recovery process will be slow. Because of the burns, King finds it painful to sit down. But he knows he is lucky he can.
“I was certain we wouldn’t survive the crash,” King said.
King thinks hitting the house turned out to be a good thing for both men. He says the house acted like a cushion. It slowed the plane down before final impact with the ground.
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14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, July 25, 2013 in Columbus, IN
Aircraft: CLAYTON GERALD H GLASTAR GS-1, registration: N513GC
Injuries: 1 Fatal,1 Serious.
This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed. NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.
On July 25, 2013, about 0932 eastern daylight time, N513GC, a Clayton Gerald H, Glastar GS-1 single engine airplane, was destroyed after impacting terrain and an occupied residence near Columbus Municipal Airport (BAK), Columbus, Indiana. The pilot was fatally injured and a pilot-rated passenger sustained serious injuries. No ground injuries were reported. The airplane was registered to and operated by a private individual. Day visual meteorological conditions (VMC) prevailed at the time of the accident and a flight plan had not been filed for the 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight. The airplane had departed BAK at 0929 for a local flight.
The airplane was on downwind leg for a touch-and-go landing. The passenger reported the engine was still running at high rpm, and the pilot was “working frantically on a switch for the propeller”, but the airplane was still descending. The airplane descended, and struck obstructions and terrain coming to rest upright inside a residence. The impact resulted in a significant fuel leak and the two pilots exited the airplane as it was engulfed in an explosion and fire. The one adult inside the residence was able to safely exit.