Sunday, September 22, 2019

Loss of Control in Flight: Arion Lightning, N235SC; accident occurred October 21, 2016 near Falcon Field (KFFZ), Mesa, Maricopa County, Arizona

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity:

Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Scottsdale, Arizona

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Aviation Accident Data Summary - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Mesa, AZ
Accident Number: WPR17LA015
Date & Time: 10/21/2016, 1730 MST
Registration: N235SC
Aircraft: RYAN W Gross Arion Lighting
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Loss of control in flight
Injuries: 1 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal


The 280-hour student pilot had just purchased the experimental, light sport airplane in which he had no experience or training. The pilot declined a suggestion from a mechanic who assisted with the sale to perform a familiarization flight with another pilot who had operational experience with the airplane. The mechanic stated that the pilot started the engine to depart on the flight home; however, he experienced problems taxiing, shut down the engine, and stated that the nosewheel steering was not working. The mechanic explained that the airplane was steered by differential braking and again suggested that the pilot conduct a familiarization flight. The pilot again declined, restarted the engine, and taxied the airplane to the runway for takeoff. The pilot stated that, just after rotation, the engine surged and the left wing subsequently dropped and impacted terrain.

The mechanic watched the airplane take off and stated that the engine sounded "strong and even" and that the airplane became airborne in a relatively flat attitude. He heard several reductions and increases in engine power as the airplane sank, climbed, rolled, and yawed until the left wing impacted the ground off the left side of runway.

A postaccident examination of the airplane revealed no mechanical anomalies with the airframe or engine that would have precluded normal operation. It is likely that the pilot failed to maintain airplane control during the takeoff and initial climb and that his lack of experience in the accident airplane and his refusal to obtain familiarization training before attempting to fly it directly resulted in his failure to maintain control.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's failure to maintain airplane control during takeoff/initial climb due to his inexperience in the airplane make and model and his refusal to obtain training in the airplane. 


Performance/control parameters - Not attained/maintained (Cause)

Personnel issues
Aircraft control - Pilot (Cause)
Decision making/judgment - Pilot (Cause)
Total experience w/ equipment - Pilot (Cause)

Factual Information

On October 21, 2016, about 1730 mountain standard time, an experimental light sport Ryan W. Gross Arion Lightning airplane, N235SC, impacted the ground following a loss of engine during the initial climb shortly after takeoff from Falcon Field (FFZ), Mesa, Arizona. The student pilot was not injured. The airplane was substantially damaged. The pilot recently purchased the airplane and was operating it under the provisions of Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The flight was originating at the time of the accident, with a proposed destination of Henderson Executive Airport (HND), Henderson, Nevada.

In a report submitted to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigator-in-charge (IIC), the pilot reported that after applying full power for takeoff on Runway 04R at FFZ, the airplane lifted off to about 5 ft when the engine surged, which was followed by the left wing dropping and impacting terrain.

The airframe and powerplant mechanic of the maintenance facility who had completed the aircraft condition inspection less than three hours prior to the accident, and who would later consummate the sale of the airplane to the accident pilot, reported that their test pilot had discussed the flight characteristics of the airplane with the new owner, and had offered to provide him with a demo flight and/or flight training; the pilot declined both the demo flight and the flight training. The mechanic stated that about 1730, after the sale had been finalized, the pilot elected to obtain fuel and to prepare to fly home to HND. The mechanic stated that after startup and having trouble taxiing the airplane, the pilot shut down the engine, approached the mechanic, and commented that the nose wheel steering wasn't working. The mechanic replied that the airplane was steered with differential steering, to which the pilot responded, "Oh. How do I use that…?" The mechanic opined that he explained the system to the pilot, after which he suggested that he remain overnight and take a demo flight to get familiar with the airplane. The pilot stated that he did not have time, and that everything would be fine.

The mechanic mentioned that as the pilot re-started the engine and taxied to runway 4R, he was nervous about his lack of knowledge of the airplane, and proceeded to the runway to observe the takeoff. On takeoff the engine sounded "strong and even," and that the airplane popped up off the ground in a relatively flat attitude. This was followed by the mechanic stating that he heard a reduction in power and observed a slight sink, followed by an increase in power with a slight left roll and [ascent], then a decrease in power with a sink/right roll/left yaw, then an increase in power with hard left roll/left yaw. The airplane continued to sink until the left wing impacted the ground off the left side of runway 4R.

The mechanic reported that about 10 minutes later the pilot called to inform him that he had crashed, which the mechanic told him he had witnessed. Additionally, the mechanic stated that the pilot commented to him that there was a problem with the flight controls, to which the mechanic stated that he told the pilot that he did not believe that to be the case, that he observed the aircraft react in all directions, and that it appeared that the pilot had simply over corrected and bled airspeed off, which resulted in the airplane stalling. The mechanic stated that the pilot's response was "Oh, really? Wow!"

The mechanic stated that later that evening he confirmed flight control continuity to be functional in all travel using the control stick and [rudder] pedals. He subsequently received a telephone call from the pilot that night, during which he mentioned that he should have taken the training prior to departing; the pilot agreed. The pilot also mentioned to the mechanic that he had experienced a similar situation in the past. The mechanic reiterated that the pilot was offered a demonstration flight and flight training in the newly purchased airplane multiple times prior to the accident, however, the pilot said that his schedule would not allow it. The mechanic concluded that he subsequently discussed the event with a company that builds this type of airplane and provides training, Lightning West, who stated that this scenario was very common with low time, uninstructed pilots in this model airplane.

On October 24, 2016, a Federal Aviation Administration aviation safety inspector performed an onsite examination of the airplane's wreckage. The inspector reported that the airplane had impacted terrain in a steep left-wing-down orientation, that both wings had sustained substantial damage, and that flight control continuity was confirmed. All components necessary for flight were accounted for at the accident site. No anomalies with the airframe were reported that would have precluded normal operation.

On January 11, 2017, under the supervision of the NTSB IIC, an examination of the engine was performed at the facilities of Sport Aircraft Services, LLC, Shelbyville, Tennessee. In summary, an external examination of the engine revealed minor damage, which resulted in it being determined that the engine was in runnable condition. After starting, with no interruptions, the engine was then test run through myriad power ranges from idle to full power, with no anomalies noted that would have precluded normal operation. (Refer to the Engine Inspection and Evaluation report, which is appended to the docket for the report.)

History of Flight

Initial climb
Loss of control in flight (Defining event)

Uncontrolled descent
Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

Pilot Information

Certificate: Student
Age: 60, 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: No
Medical Certification: Class 3 Without Waivers/Limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: 08/26/2015
Occupational Pilot: No
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: 07/14/2015
Flight Time:  280 hours (Total, all aircraft), 0.1 hours (Total, this make and model), 260 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 50 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 18 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 2 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft) 

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: RYAN W Gross
Registration: N235SC
Model/Series: Arion Lighting
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 2009
Amateur Built: Yes
Airworthiness Certificate: Experimental Light Sport
Serial Number: 00081
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection: 10/10/2016, Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 1320 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:  1 Hours
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 90.4 Hours as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Jabiru
ELT: Installed, not activated
Engine Model/Series: 3300
Registered Owner: On file
Rated Power: 120 hp
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None 

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual Conditions
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: FFZ, 1394 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site:
Observation Time: 1747 MST
Direction from Accident Site:
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear
Visibility: 25 Miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 6 knots /
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: / None
Wind Direction:  Variable
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: /
Altimeter Setting: 29.84 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 29°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Mesa, AZ (FFZ)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Henderson, NV (HND)
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 1730 MST
Type of Airspace: Class D

Airport Information

Airport: Falcon Field (FFZ)
Runway Surface Type: Asphalt
Airport Elevation: 1394 ft
Runway Surface Condition: Dry
Runway Used: 4R
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width: 5101 ft / 100 ft
VFR Approach/Landing: None

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 None
Latitude, Longitude:  33.460833, -111.728333 (est)

NTSB Identification: WPR17LA015
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, October 21, 2016 in Mesa, AZ
Aircraft: RYAN W Gross Arion Lighting, registration: N235SC
Injuries: 1 Uninjured.

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 October 21, 2016, about 1730 mountain standard time, a Ryan W. Gross Arion Lighting, N235SC, was substantially damaged following a reported loss of engine power during initial climb, loss of control, and subsequent impact with terrain at Falcon Field (FFZ), Mesa, Arizona. The pilot, who has recently purchased the airplane, was not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the proposed cross-country flight, which was being operated in accordance with 14 Code of Federal Regulations part 91, and a flight plan was not filed. The flight was originating at the time of the accident, with a planned destination of Henderson Executive Airport (HND), Henderson, Nevada.

In a telephone interview with the National Transportation Safety Board investigator-in-charge, the pilot reported that just after taking off and about 50 feet above ground level, "…the engine seemed to lose power, and the airplane rocked back and forth, like there was a problem with the controls." The pilot added that he remembered impacting the left side of the runway in a nose down attitude. The airplane, which was recovered for further examination, was substantially damaged due to impact forces.


  1. I normally give fellow pilots a lot of benefit of the doubt, but this was just plain stupidity on display, and thank goodness nobody on the ground was hurt.

  2. I normally give fellow pilots a lot of benefit of the doubt, but this was just plain stupidity on display, and thank goodness nobody on the ground was hurt.

  3. His schedule did not allow time for instruction on how to operate the plane? Un-freakin-believable! Well, he managed to work a crash into his schedule. Glad no one was hurt. Note to pilot: Don't buy any more planes.