Saturday, June 12, 2021

Loss of Lift: Just Aircraft Highlander, N324SB; accident occurred June 12, 2019 at Rockin M Airport (T14), Quinlan, Hunt County, Texas

Aviation Accident Final Report - National Transportation Safety Board 

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

Additional Participating Entity:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Irving, Texas

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Quinlan, Texas 
Accident Number: CEN19LA173
Date & Time: June 12, 2019, 19:35 Local
Registration: N324SB
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Loss of lift 
Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Personal


The pilot was practicing short-field takeoffs from a 3,120-ft soft, turf runway with 800 ft available; the airplane lifted off the ground with about 400 ft of runway remaining. According to the pilot, a light crosswind was present during the takeoff, but the wind may have shifted to a quartering tailwind. During initial climb, the pilot stated he attempted to accelerate briefly in ground effort and subsequently noticed the airplane was climbing poorly and the flight controls "felt sluggish." Unable to clear a line of trees about 300 ft beyond the end of the runway, the pilot pitched down to avoid stalling the airplane and impacted trees.

Postaccident examination revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.

Based on the airplane's weight and the ambient conditions, the manufacturer specified that a takeoff distance to clear a 50-ft obstacle was about 920 ft. With a 5 knot tailwind, the takeoff distance to clear a 50 ft obstacle was about 1,100 ft. Further, during the initial climb toward oncoming trees, with little margin for error, the pilot most likely did not adequately accelerate the airplane while in ground effect, as is needed for a soft-field takeoff. Instead, the pilot most likely attempted to climb at a slow speed, which resulted in a settling effect and the inability to clear trees near the departure end of the runway.

Probable Cause and Findings

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be:
The pilot's decision to depart with minimal runway available and his improper soft-field takeoff procedure, which resulted in impact with trees due to a slow airspeed and settling effect during climbout. 


Personnel issues Decision making/judgment - Pilot
Personnel issues Aircraft control - Pilot
Aircraft Airspeed - Not attained/maintained
Aircraft Climb capability - Not attained/maintained
Aircraft Takeoff distance - Capability exceeded
Personnel issues Incorrect action performance - Pilot
Personnel issues Performance calculations - Pilot

Factual Information

***This factual report was modified on October 22, 2020. Please see the docket for the original report.***

On June 13, 2019, about 1935 central daylight time, an amateur-built Just Aircraft Highlander airplane, N324SB, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident at Rockin M Airport (T14), Quinlan, Texas. The pilot suffered minor injuries and the passenger was not injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.

The pilot was practicing short-field takeoffs that included use of soft-field takeoff procedures to clear a 50 ft obstacle at T14. The airport owner marked a starting position about 800 ft from the end of the 3,120 ft runway and a line of trees was located about 300 ft beyond the end of the runway. From the marked starting position on the runway, the pilot performed three solo takeoffs with a ground roll of about 200 ft.

After the practice takeoffs, the pilot returned to load the passenger and they lifted off with a ground roll of about 400 ft. During the soft-field takeoff procedure, the pilot stated he attempted to accelerate briefly in ground effect before climbing out. He noticed the airplane was performing poorly and the flight controls "felt sluggish." Unable to clear trees off the end of the runway without potentially stalling the airplane, the pilot elected to pitch the nose down and then impacted into shorter trees, damaging the right wing.

Postaccident examination of the airplane and engine test runs revealed no evidence of mechanical malfunctions or failures that would have precluded normal operation.

The pilot stated the airplane's weight was about 60 lbs less than maximum gross and that a light crosswind was present that may have shifted to a light quartering tailwind. Manufacturer specifications predicted takeoff distance to clear a 50 ft obstacle as 800 ft. The pilot operating handbook recommended increasing takeoff distance by 10% for each 1,000 ft that field elevation was above sea level, 10% for each 18°F that temperature was above 60°F, and 20% for each 5 knots of tailwind. Based on the ambient conditions at the time of the accident, predicted takeoff distance to clear a 50 ft obstacle was about 920 ft without any tailwind and about 1,100 ft with 5 knots of tailwind.

The Federal Aviation Administration Airplane Flying Handbook (FAA-H-8083-38) contains the following information for a soft-field takeoff:

After the airplane becomes airborne, the pilot should gently lower the nose with the wheels clear of the surface to allow the airplane to accelerate to Vy, or Vx if obstacles must be cleared. … An attempt to climb prematurely or too steeply may cause the airplane to settle back to the surface as a result of the loss of ground effect. … During the transition out of the ground effect area, the pilot should not attempt to climb out of ground effect before reaching the sufficient climb airspeed, as this may result in the airplane being unable to climb further, even with full power applied. Therefore, it is essential that the airplane remain in ground effect until at least Vx is reached.

History of Flight

Prior to flight Preflight or dispatch event
Initial climb Loss of lift (Defining event)
Initial climb Collision with terr/obj (non-CFIT)

Pilot Information

Certificate: Commercial; Flight instructor
Age: 32, Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine land; Single-engine sea; Multi-engine land; Multiengine sea
Seat Occupied: Right
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None 
Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane
Second Pilot Present: Yes
Instructor Rating(s): Airplane multi-engine; Airplane single-engine; Instrument airplane
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 2 With waivers/limitations 
Last FAA Medical Exam: August 28, 2018
Occupational Pilot: Yes
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: October 17, 2018
Flight Time: 10921 hours (Total, all aircraft), 19 hours (Total, this make and model), 10045 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 299 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 127 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 6 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

Passenger Information

Certificate: Age: Male
Airplane Rating(s):
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): 
Restraint Used: 4-point
Instrument Rating(s): 
Second Pilot Present: Yes
Instructor Rating(s):
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: 
Last FAA Medical Exam:
Occupational Pilot: No 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time:

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: JUST AIRCRAFT
Registration: N324SB
Model/Series: HIGHLANDER 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Amateur Built: Yes
Airworthiness Certificate: Experimental (Special) 
Serial Number: JAESC0158
Landing Gear Type: Tailwheel 
Seats: 2
Date/Type of Last Inspection: February 21, 2019 Annual 
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 1320 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection:
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 567 Hrs as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Rotax
ELT: C91 installed, activated, aided in locating accident
Engine Model/Series: 912ULS
Registered Owner: 
Rated Power: 100 Horsepower
Operator: On file
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC) 
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: KTRL,475 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site: 17 Nautical Miles
Observation Time: 19:53 Local 
Direction from Accident Site: 211°
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Visibility 10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: 3 knots / 
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual: None / None
Wind Direction: 100° 
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual: N/A / N/A
Altimeter Setting: 30.04 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: 28°C / 13°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Quinlan, TX (T14)
Type of Flight Plan Filed: None
Destination: Quinlan, TX (T14) 
Type of Clearance: None
Departure Time: 19:45 Local 
Type of Airspace: Class G

Airport Information

Airport: Rockin M T14 
Runway Surface Type: Grass/turf
Airport Elevation: 473 ft msl 
Runway Surface Condition: Dry; Soft
Runway Used: 36 
IFR  Approach: None
Runway Length/Width: 3120 ft / 60 ft 
VFR Approach/Landing: None

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 Minor
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 None
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A 
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 None
Latitude, Longitude: 32.952499,-96.095832(est)

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