Saturday, August 12, 2017

Curtiss JN-4D Jenny, N8262, Friends of Jenny LLC: Accident occurred August 12, 2017 near Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport (KBWG), Bowling Green, Warren County, Kentucky

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Louisville

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board: 

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, August 12, 2017 in Bowling Green, KY
Aircraft: CHARLES D WALKER WALKER CURTISS JN4D, registration: N8262
Injuries: 1 Minor.

NTSB investigators used data provided by various entities, including, but not limited to, the Federal Aviation Administration and/or the operator and did not travel in support of this investigation to prepare this aircraft accident report.

The pilot of the experimental, amateur-built, biplane reported that, following a normal initial climb, about 100 ft. above the ground, the biplane started an un-commanded turn to the left, followed by a descent. He added that, it became apparent that the flight path was into the tree line, and he "attempted to climb to possibly maintain at least an altitude to clear the trees, but to no avail, nearly stalling." Subsequently, the biplane impacted the trees.

The biplane sustained substantial damage to the wings and fuselage.

The pilot reported that there were no preaccident mechanical failures or malfunctions with the biplane that would have precluded normal operation.

The pilot added that, the biplane is "not very stable once in a flying configuration, any air mass (gusts) change can disturb the balance and result in self-induced turns, climbs and descents. These movements have to be countered immediately because of the relative size (small) of control surfaces (rudder, ailerons). And corrections are slow, possibly resulting in loss of altitude. Pilots expect these upsets and become alert for them."

The automated weather observation system on the accident airport reported, about the time of the accident, the wind was 360° at 5 knots. The pilot was departing on runway 03. The calculated density altitude was 1,897 ft.

Dorian Walker patted the shredded fabric on the right wing of the 1917-vintage Curtiss JN-4 biplane known as Jenny, saying "My baby" before correcting himself to say: "Our baby. A lot of people have taken interest."

Walker, owner of the historic airplane that crash-landed Saturday at CrossWinds Golf Course a little more than a chip shot away from the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport, was understandably pensive Tuesday as he surveyed what's left of the plane he purchased in 2011 and spent 14 months restoring.

Jenny sat lifeless in the Co-Mar Aviation hangar at the airport, its wooden propeller a mangled mess and its battered wings still containing bits of evergreen branches from Saturday's fateful flight that ended with the plane clipping trees before crashing down on the golf course's fourth fairway.

"I've flown all my life, but I've never been involved in something like this," said Walker in between fielding calls from an insurance adjuster and a Federal Aviation Administration inspector. "We hope to be able to restore the plane."

Walker, 70, is also hoping to find some answers. The FAA completed its inspection of the airplane and will now communicate its findings to the National Transportation Safety Board, which will make the accident report.

"The FAA is the investigating entity," Walker explained. "They have all the information they need. They take their findings and send it to the NTSB. It can take up to six months for them to come up with a probable finding."

In the meantime, Walker is turning his attention to the airplane's future after initially being concerned solely about the condition of pilot Terry Richardson.

Richardson, a decorated pilot who has flown the JN-4 numerous times, was taking the plane up for a short flight Saturday morning but was barely airborne when he was forced to crash-land on the golf course.

"Obviously, he's heartsick," Walker said of Richardson. "He and I flew the last two air shows that Jenny was in.

"You always put safety of the public first (in a crash), then the pilot and finally the airplane. So two out of three is not bad. And that's due to his piloting skill. Now we want to find out what happened."

Walker, an experienced pilot himself, could only speculate about possible causes of the crash.

"The first thing I thought about was something coming loose in the cockpit and getting stuck in the pulley cables," he said. "But there's no sign of that. Wind can do strange things to this airplane. The forecast was good that day, but wind shear can cause airliners to crash. We checked the plane out and everything seemed fine. But what happened is not fine."

Walker, founder of Bowling Green's Peridot Pictures video production company and a veteran director and producer of movies, documentaries and television programs, uses one of his former TV shows as an analogy.

"If I were still directing 'Unsolved Mysteries,' this case would go to the top of the list," he said. "There's no obvious explanation."

But instead of looking at the crash through a camera lens, Walker is looking at it from the viewpoint of the owner of a historic aircraft he would like to see return to the skies.

It won't be easy.

Explaining that the FAA has strict guidelines and even requires specific types of wood for many of the parts, Walker said: "It took us over 5,000 hours to reconstruct it and quite a bit of money. A lot of investigating has to go on to determine what can be saved. We will need a new propeller, and we may need a new engine. All that stuff is expensive. Insurance will cover some but probably not all."

Before the accident, the Jenny was one of only six JN-4s still flying. As a plane renowned for training pilots during World War I, the JN-4 was much in demand during the 100th anniversary of U.S. involvement in that war.

Walker explained that the JN-4 also flew the first U.S. Air Mail in 1918. He was aiming to have Jenny ready for celebrations of the 100th anniversary of air mail, but now those plans are on hold.

Walker and fellow members of the Friends of Jenny non-profit group are heartened, though, by the response to the plane's distress.

"I'm getting calls and emails from all over the country," he said. "The plane has a lot of followers around the country. One of our members from Utah said he wants to come and see how he can help."

What started as a relaxing morning on the golf course turned into a day Brian Duvall won't soon forget.

"It was the scariest thing I've ever seen," said Duvall, who was playing in the Monie Beard Golf Classic at CrossWinds Golf Course on Saturday when a rare and historic Curtiss JN-4 single-engine biplane known as Jenny crash-landed about 11:15 a.m. on the No. 4 fairway. "I've never seen anything like it."

The plane, flown by veteran pilot Terry Richardson, took off from runway No. 3 at Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport, climbed to 100 feet or so, then began descending toward the golf course that abuts the airport. It clipped a tree on the edge of the fairway before crashing about 400 feet from airport property.

"We saw him coming in low and could see he was distressed," said Duvall, who was on hole No. 5.

Duvall and his playing partners hurried to the crash scene to find a plane with crumpled wings and extensive damage to its fabric. Duvall approached Richardson in the pilot's seat and found the man bleeding from a head wound.

"He (Richardson) told me to get him out," Duvall recalled. "By the time we got there, blood was gushing out. He said the plane might blow. Gas was pouring out. I took him about 30 feet away. Another guy (Drew Beard) came over and gave me a shirt to put over the wound so I could apply pressure to the wound."

Richardson was able to walk to the ambulance when it arrived to take him to The Medical Center. Med Center Health Executive Director for Marketing and Public Relations Barbara Taylor later said the pilot was listed in fair condition, meaning his vital signs are stable and indications are favorable he will recover.

Chuck Coppinger, a fellow pilot and a member of the Friends of Jenny nonprofit organization that restored the plane, said Richardson was slated to go home Saturday night.

The plane was transported to a hangar at the airport Saturday afternoon, and airport Manager Rob Barnett said the Federal Aviation Administration would begin its investigation Monday.

Coppinger said few pilots were as qualified as Richardson to fly the plane. A Franklin resident, Richardson is a retired U.S. Navy pilot. Earlier this year, he was awarded the Wright Brothers' Master Pilot Award in recognition of his 50 years of aeronautical experience as an aviator – the highest FAA award for career achievement in aviation.

As for the cause of the accident, Coppingter said: "It's all speculation at this point. I don't know if it was engine failure or flight controls."

Another eyewitness and one of Duvall's playing partners in the golf scramble, Jim Holland, said: "It sounded like the engine didn't have power. He was kinda leaning to the side. He came right over the top of us and clipped that tree. The plane spun around and then went down." 

The crash damaged a plane that had become a flying history lesson of sorts and an ambassador for Bowling Green. The Curtiss JN-4 was the first mass-produced World War I flight trainer and carried the first regularly scheduled air mail for the United States Postal Service. In fact, the Jenny restored by the Friends of Jenny organization in Bowling Green bears the same number (38262) as the first JN-4 to carry air mail in 1918.

Richardson and others have flown the plane to shows in Wisconsin, Florida, Alabama and other areas.

Another Friends of Jenny member who has flown the plane, Larry Bailey, described the JN-4 as "a challenging airplane" to fly under the best of conditions. He said Saturday's surface winds could have caused problems.

"I noticed the surface winds were a little strong," Bailey said. "I don't know if that had anything to do with it. The power plant could have had an issue."

Whatever the cause, Barnett believes the damage to the historic plane is tragic.

"There is substantial damage," he said. "It's a shame. It's very unfortunate."

Story and photo gallery  ➤

Bowling Green, KY -  A scary situation happened at Crosswinds Golf Course in Bowling Green after the pilot of a plane is forced to make an emergency landing.

The Jenny JN-4 plane took off from the Bowling Green Warren County Regional Airport at approximately 11 am Saturday morning.

Shortly after take-off, ground employees of the airport say they heard engine trouble… just moments later, the pilot made an emergency landing just 400 feet from the airport onto fairway of the 4th hole of Crosswinds Golf Course.

Officials say the pilot walked away from the scene with possible lacerations to the head and face… he was taken to the Medical Center for treatment of his injuries.

Airport manager Rob Barnett says the plane is owned by a nonprofit organization and operated by volunteers.

There’s no word yet on what caused the crash… the FAA is investigating.

Story and video ➤

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