Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Flightstar II, N82652: Fatal accident occurred January 14, 2016 in Wake, Middlesex County, Virginia

The National Transportation Safety Board traveled to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entities:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Richmond, Virginia
Flightstar, Inc.; South Woodstock, Connecticut

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board: https://app.ntsb.gov/pdf

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board: https://dms.ntsb.gov/pubdms

Gilbert Dennis Gregory: http://registry.faa.gov/N82652

Location: Wake, VA
Accident Number: ERA16FA089
Date & Time: 01/14/2016, 1405 EST
Registration: N82652
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Aircraft structural failure
Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under:  Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

The sport pilot was conducting a personal cross-county flight back to his home airport in visual flight rules conditions. While climbing through an altitude of about 1,000 ft msl, the airplane's left wing suffered a catastrophic failure, folding upward and rendering the airplane uncontrollable. The airplane descended to ground impact in heavily wooded terrain.

Examination of the left wing revealed that the forward wing spar likely fractured due to compression loading from wing loads combined with preexisting damage on the leading edge, leading to an overstress condition about 4 ft outboard of the fracture location. No indications of fatigue cracks were observed. Damage patterns indicated that the preexisting damage was likely due to an impact on the leading edge.

Examination of the wing did not reveal any bird strike residue, and a witness's observation made on the morning of the accident that an area of the left wing about 4 ft outboard of the wing root appeared to be deformed indicated that damage to the wing likely occurred before the accident flight. While it is possible that this damage occurred 5 days before the accident when the right landing gear wheel broke off and the right axle dug into the ground during landing at the end of the previous flight, the source of the damage observed by the witness could not be definitively determined.

The pilot had a history of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and a coronary artery bypass. In addition, he had a pacemaker implanted. Atorvastatin, a cholesterol lowering medication, and sotalol, an antiarrhythmic heart medication, were found during toxicology. However, there was no evidence that the pilot's heart disease or medications impaired his performance or incapacitated him.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
Failure of the left wing in flight due to compression loading from wing loads combined with preexisting damage.


Main frame (on wing) - Failure (Cause)
Spar (on wing) - Damaged/degraded (Cause)

Factual Information

History of Flight

Prior to flight

Enroute-climb to cruise

Aircraft structural failure (Defining event)

On January 14, 2016, about 1405 eastern standard time, an experimental amateur-built Flightstar II, N82652, experienced an in-flight wing separation and impacted wooded terrain near Wake, Virginia. The sport pilot was fatally injured, and the airplane was substantially damaged. The personal flight was operated by the pilot under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the flight that departed Hummel Field Airport (W75) Saluda, Virginia, about 1355 en route to New Quarter Farm Airport (92VA) Gloucester, Virginia.

According to a witness, he saw the airplane at an altitude of about 1,200 ft above ground level flying south toward Hartfield, Virginia. It appeared to be flying normally. He stated that he suddenly heard "a snap or a cracking sound," and then he saw left wing fold up. Within a second, the airplane went into a vertical counterclockwise spiral heading straight down. Additional witnesses described hearing the airplane engine and then a "loud pop" and seeing the airplane with a broken left wing as it descended vertically.

Pilot Information

Certificate: Sport Pilot
Age: 64, Male
Airplane Rating(s): None
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: Yes
Medical Certification: None
Last FAA Medical Exam:
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time:  570 hours (Total, all aircraft), 201 hours (Total, this make and model), 3.8 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 1 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft) 

The pilot, age 64, held a sport pilot certificate and a repairman certificate with an inspection rating for the accident airplane. The pilot applied for his sport pilot certificate on October 7, 2010. He had never been issued, nor was he required to have, a Federal Aviation Administration medical certificate.

A review of the pilot's logbooks that were recovered from the scene showed a total flight time of 570.4 hours. According to the pilot's most recent logbook, he had accumulated 93.1 hours of flight time since January 19, 2013, of which 91.2 hours were in the accident airplane. In the 90 days before the accident, the pilot flew 3.8 hours in the accident airplane. 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Manufacturer: CAUGHRAN TERRY
Registration: N82652
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1995
Amateur Built: Yes
Airworthiness Certificate:  Experimental
Serial Number: 083
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 01/08/2016, Condition
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 970 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: 1 Hours
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 311.1 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Rotax
ELT: Not installed
Engine Model/Series: 582
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 64 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

The two-seat, externally-braced high-wing, fixed tricycle-gear airplane had a high-mounted, tractor-configuration Rotax 582 engine and a three-blade composite propeller. The airplane had an enclosed fiberglass cockpit and a conventional three-axis control system with ailerons, rudder, and elevator. It received a special airworthiness certificate on September 18, 1996. The pilot purchased the airplane on July 3, 2004.

According to witnesses, on January 9, 2016, 5 days before the accident flight, the pilot was landing the airplane at W75. A witness, who did not see the landing, reported that the pilot told him he made a good landing, but, when he turned left to get out of the way of incoming traffic, the right wheel "snapped" off the airplane. The airplane stopped quickly, and the right axle dug into the dirt. Another witness stated that he helped move the airplane off the grass runway after the wheel separated. He stated that he observed "rust" on the landing gear, and he reported that the pilot said the "landing was not hard." The witnesses stated that the skid mark was about 3 ft long. During examination and subsequent repair of the landing gear, the pilot and a witness found rust and a crack on the axle where the wheel came off. After welding repairs to the landing gear had been completed, the pilot elected to fly the airplane back to 92VA, the airplane's home base, on the day of the accident.

Review of the airplane's maintenance records revealed that the airplane's most recent condition inspection was completed by the pilot 12 days before the accident on January 2, 2016. At that time, the airframe had accumulated 311.1 total hours of operation. The maintenance records showed that, on November 11, 2012, at 217.2 hours, there was a test flight after a "complete aircraft overhaul" that included the installation of new wings, fuel tanks, propeller, fuel lines, new bolts, and an instrument panel. The airplane had flown about 94 hours between this overhaul and the last condition inspection in the logbook.

The pilot's logbook contained references to flights in "very gusty" or "gusty" wind conditions on multiple occasions. On December 27, 2015, "very gusty" conditions were noted with winds between 15 and 40 knots experienced during a 1.1-hour flight. The Flightstar II flight manual, stated, "DO NOT TAKE OFF IN WIND THAT EXCEEDS 15 KNOTS. (LESS IF GUSTY)."

About 0730 on the day of the accident, a commercial pilot witness saw the airplane in a hangar at W75. He walked into the hangar and inspected the airplane. He observed the leading edge of the left wing and noticed that, "within 5 feet of the fuselage, the fabric appeared to be shrunken down and appeared to be too tight." He also described this area of the leading edge as being "dented in." 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: W75, 30 ft msl
Observation Time: 1807 UTC
Distance from Accident Site: 25 Nautical Miles
Direction from Accident Site: 182°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Temperature/Dew Point: 12°C / -3°C
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility:  10 Miles
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: 9 knots/ 15 knots, 240°
Visibility (RVR):
Altimeter Setting: 29.98 inches Hg
Visibility (RVV):
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Wake, VA (W75)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: GLOUCESTER, VA (92VA)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1355 EST
Type of Airspace: Class G 

At 1307 an automated surface weather observation taken at W75, which was located about 3 nautical miles north of the accident site, reported wind from 240° at 9 knots gusting to 15 knots, clear conditions with visibility of 10 statute miles, temperature and dew point 12°C and -3°C, respectively, and altimeter setting 29.98 inches of mercury. 

Airport Information

Airport: Hummel Field (W75)
Runway Surface Type: N/A
Airport Elevation: 30 ft
Runway Surface Condition: Unknown
Runway Used: N/A
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width:
VFR Approach/Landing:  None

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Fatal
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Fatal
Latitude, Longitude:  37.565278, -76.449167 

The accident site was located at an elevation of 61 ft in a heavily wooded area with dense brush and mature trees that were about 75 ft tall. There were broken branches at the top of the trees directly above the accident site. The wreckage site was compact and measured 30 ft by 30 ft. There was no post-crash fire, and the aluminum tube, fabric, and fiberglass airplane was completely deformed.

The propeller remained attached to the engine crankshaft propeller flange. The crankshaft flange appeared to be undamaged, and one blade of the three-blade propeller had separated and was found 20 ft away from the engine. The remaining two blades exhibited rotational damage and were delaminated and splintered.

The engine, which was installed in a tractor configuration on the forward part of the tubular keel beam in front of and above the cockpit, remained attached and was partially buried in the ground. The engine was secured, and one of the propeller blades was removed from the hub; the engine was then rotated manually via the propeller, and no internal restrictions were noted. Compression and suction were observed on both cylinders.

The spark plugs were removed and examined; when compared to the Champion Spark Plug "Check-A-Plug" chart, the spark plugs appeared to be "normal" with light coloration signatures and no excessive soot or discoloration that would indicate abnormal performance. Visual inspection of the valves and inside the cylinders at the exhaust pipes showed that they were clean, lubricated, and exhibited normal combustion signatures with no visible scoring or grooves. All manifolds were seated in place. The carburetors functioned normally, and all lines were secured. The float bowl was free of contamination and contained residual fuel.

An emergency ballistic parachute system was installed on the airplane. The parachute was found partially discharged from the canister. Local police and emergency personnel disabled the unit, which had not been activated by the pilot, to prevent accidental discharge of the rocket during emergency recovery operations.

Flight control continuity was established for the rudder, elevator, and right aileron through tracing of the control cable attach points from the control surfaces through the fuselage to the control sticks. Full control movement could not be achieved due to multiple cuts made by emergency fire personnel, and impact damage to the airplane's tubular construction, but there was some movement in the control surfaces and cables.

Examination of the left wing showed that several internal camber ribs were missing, and the struts were bent. A site survey was conducted, and the perimeter was walked in the direction of flight to look for additional pieces of the wing, but none were discovered. The left wing was reconstructed, and significant differences were noted in the severity of damage when compared to the right wing. The forward spar of the right wing remained intact and relatively straight, and the metal leading edge skin remained attached to the forward spar. The forward spar of the left wing was fractured about 4 feet outboard of the wing root, and it was bent forward about 4 feet outboard of the fracture location. There was upwards buckling deformation on the outboard portion of the forward spar. Several internal ribs were missing and unaccounted for. The left metal leading edge skin was separated from the forward spar, and the skin was wrinkled in the area corresponding to the location of the bend in the spar. There was no bird strike residue found on the left wing, and there were no obvious signs of foreign debris.

Portions of the left wing, including the leading and trailing edge tubular spars and struts were sent to the NTSB Materials Laboratory for further analysis. Detailed examination of the forward spar fracture showed buckling deformation at the upper aft side of the spar and curving deformation on the forward face consistent with the outboard end of the spar displacing upward and aft relative to the fracture location. Examination of the bend in the spar showed that deformation of the spar was consistent with the outboard end moving forward and up relative to the bend, and two distinct creases were noted within the inside radius of the bend spaced 5 inches apart. For more information, see the Materials Laboratory Factual Report in the public docket for this investigation. 

Medical And Pathological Information

The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Richmond, Virginia, performed an autopsy of the pilot. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head, torso, and lower extremities, and the manner of death was accident. The autopsy report noted that the pilot had an enlarged heart with atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease and coronary artery bypass grafts to the right and left heart and a pacemaker with leads extending to the right heart.

The FAA's Bioaeronautical Research Sciences Laboratory, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, performed toxicology testing on specimens from the pilot. The specimens tested negative for ethanol and major drugs of abuse. Atorvastatin, a cholesterol lowering medication, and sotalol, an antiarrhythmic heart medication, were detected; both drugs are not considered to be impairing medications. 

Additional Information

An Adventure Pilot iFly 700 GPS was recovered from the wreckage. The glass was shattered and there was a crack in the case, but an SD card was found that appeared to be in good condition. The SD card was examined and downloaded at the NTSB Regional Field Office. The data extracted included 14 track logs that included the track of the accident flight. The data included longitude and latitude position data, ground speed, true heading, and altitude. The track data recorded for the accident flight consisted of 11 data points, with the first being recorded near W75, at a GPS altitude and groundspeed of 75 ft and 43 kts, respectively. The track continued to the south, maintaining a groundspeed around 45 knots and climbing to a final GPS altitude of 1,017 feet. The accident site was located about 1/4-mile south of the of the final recorded GPS location.

NTSB Identification: ERA16FA089
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Thursday, January 14, 2016 in Wake, VA
Aircraft: CAUGHRAN TERRY FLIGHTSTAR II, registration: N82652
Injuries: 1 Fatal.

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 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 January 14, 2016 at 1400 eastern standard time an experimental amateur-built Flightstar II, N82652, was substantially damaged when it departed controlled flight and impacted wooded terrain near Wake, Virginia. The sport pilot was fatally injured. The airplane departed Hummel Field Airport (W75) Saluda, Virginia, at 1355. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the flight to New Quarter Farm Airport (92VA) Gloucester, Virginia. The personal flight was conducted under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91. 

After completing repairs to the landing gear, the pilot planned to relocate the airplane from W75 back to 92VA, where it was based. On the morning of the accident, witnesses watched the pilot as he performed an uneventful preflight inspection of the airplane. The pilot subsequently departed. About 2 miles south of W75, a witness observed the airplane as it flew southerly, at an estimated altitude of 1,200 feet above ground level. The witness heard a loud "cracking" sound. He watched as the airplane's left wing folded upwards from its mount on the fuselage, and heard the engine's rpm increase as the airplane entered a spiral nose dive. He further described that the left wing was "flapping wildly" as the airplane descended in a spiral toward the ground. 

The airplane impacted wooded terrain, and wreckage displayed no evidence of a pre- or post-impact fire. The airframe and engine were recovered and retained for further examination. 

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