Friday, January 14, 2022

Loss of Engine Power (Partial): Cessna 172Q Cutlass, N96145; accident occurred January 16, 2020 at Big Timber Airport (6S0), Sweet Grass County, Montana

Aviation Accident Factual Report - National Transportation Safety Board

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

Additional Participating Entities:
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Helena, Montana
Textron Aviation; Wichita, Kansas

Investigation Docket - National Transportation Safety Board:

Doing Business As  Aviation Adventures

Location: Big Timber, Montana
Accident Number: WPR20LA068
Date and Time: January 16, 2020, 20:00 Local 
Registration: N96145
Aircraft: Cessna 172Q
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Defining Event: Loss of engine power (partial) 
Injuries: 2 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation - Instructional

Factual Information

On January 16, 2020, about 2000 mountain standard time, a Cessna 172Q airplane, N96145, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Big Timber, Montana. The instructor and student pilot were not injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 instructional flight. 

According to the flight instructor, after an uneventful flight, the student pilot configured the airplane to land on runway 24 at Big Timber Airport (6S0), Big Timber, Montana. While on approach, the student pilot wanted to perform a go around because the airplane was too high for a normal approach to landing, but the instructor had the student perform an approach over the runway instead. The instructor noted that his student’s initial climb actions were consistent with the airplane checklist. The student pilot added that the attempted climbout was in dark night conditions. They leveled the airplane off at 200 ft agl and flew the full length of the runway before continuing the climb at the departure end of the runway at an airspeed of 80 knots (kts).

As the airplane passed about 250 ft agl in a climb to their desired altitude of about 500 ft agl, the airplane lost power, made a vibration-induced sound, and experienced a slow drop in airspeed from the initial climb speed of 80 kts. In a subsequent statement, the instructor reported that the engine lost all power after the airplane established a climb; the student pilot could not recall if the engine lost all power. As the airplane slowed to 70 kts, the instructor took the controls from the student and began a left turn towards the airport. According to the student pilot, the engine began to make a sound that resembled an engine knock after the instructor started the left turn, but he did not observe any vibrations or engine roughness. The instructor verified the throttle control was at full power and noted that the noise was continuous.

According to the instructor, the tachometer indicated 2,100 rpm when the airplane reached 65 kts, which was 200 rpm less than what the instructor expected during climbout. According to the student pilot, the instructor appeared to have difficulty capturing and maintaining the selected airspeed of 65 kts. The instructor pitched the airplane for an airspeed of 50 kts and made a right turn moments before the airplane impacted the ground.

According to a diagram furnished by the instructor, the airplane impacted the ground about 425 yards northwest of runway 24 and slid about 125 yards before it came to rest. The instructor located an approximate 1-ft-long section of blade in the debris path. The propeller blade tip was not recovered. The airplane flipped over inverted the following day due to weather.

Photographs of the accident site revealed substantial damage to the airplane’s fuselage. 

Airframe and Engine Exam

Postaccident examination of the fuel system components, which included the fuel filter, gascolator, fuel lines, and fuel selector valve, revealed that they were free of obstructions, corrosion, or visible leaks. Examination of the carburetor did not reveal any anomalies. Continuity of the throttle, mixture, and carburetor heat cables were verified from the cockpit to the engine, and flight control authority was continuous from the cockpit to each flight control surface.

Rotational continuity of the crankshaft and valvetrain were observed as the propeller was rotated by hand. All rocker arms and push rods actuated in equal ranges of operation while the propeller was rotated. The magnetos functioned normally when actuated by hand and the ignition harness each produced spark as the magnetos were rotated; however, the no. 1 top and bottom leads did not display sparks that were consistent with the magneto click. The spark plugs each displayed varying amounts of wear and were placed in a spark plug tester for an impulse test. During the impulse test, the cylinder no.1 bottom spark plug failed to display spark despite having been cleaned prior to testing; the other spark plugs produced sparks. A borescope inspection of the no. 1 cylinder revealed trace amounts of a liquid that resembled water; the other cylinders did not reveal any signs of catastrophic internal failure, heat damage, or scoring. The air induction system could not be properly evaluated because the heat box and air filter were not recovered after the accident.

The propeller impacted frozen ground during the accident and one of the two propeller blades separated in two pieces, but only one of the pieces was recovered. Together, the separated blade and recovered piece exhibited bending and tip curling.

Materials Laboratory Examination

Examination of the fractured blade and its recovered fragment by the National Transportation Safety Board Materials Laboratory revealed signatures consistent with overstress. Small cracks were observed at each bolt hole on the forward spinner bulkhead, and the cracks displayed fretting consistent with contact under vibration loads between the forward spinner face and the washers under the bolt heads. Additionally, the fracture surface of each crack exhibited ratchet marks, which were consistent with fatigue. The spinner itself was intact and did not exhibit any indication of distortion due to fatigue cracking. The Materials Laboratory’s examination of the other propeller blade revealed that it was intact and remained attached to the hub but was bent aft about midspan and displayed evidence of tip curling, chordwise scoring, and leading-edge gouges.

Student pilot Information

Certificate: Student 
Age: 35, Male
Airplane Rating(s): None 
Seat Occupied: Left
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: 3-point
Instrument Rating(s): None
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): None
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 2 With waivers/limitations 
Last FAA Medical Exam: February 13, 2019
Occupational Pilot: No 
Last Flight Review or Equivalent:
Flight Time: 50 hours (Total, all aircraft), 50 hours (Total, this make and model), 3 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 8 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 6 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 4 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

Flight instructor Information

Certificate: Commercial; Flight instructor 
Age: 59,Male
Airplane Rating(s): Single-engine land; Multi-engine land
Seat Occupied: Right
Other Aircraft Rating(s): None
Restraint Used: 3-point
Instrument Rating(s): Airplane 
Second Pilot Present: No
Instructor Rating(s): Airplane multi-engine; Airplane single-engine
Toxicology Performed: No
Medical Certification: Class 2 Without waivers/limitations
Last FAA Medical Exam: January 9, 2019
Occupational Pilot: Yes
Last Flight Review or Equivalent: August 12, 2019
Flight Time: 4736 hours (Total, all aircraft), 3788 hours (Total, this make and model), 4667 hours (Pilot In Command, all aircraft), 150 hours (Last 90 days, all aircraft), 19 hours (Last 30 days, all aircraft), 3 hours (Last 24 hours, all aircraft)

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Aircraft Make: Cessna
Registration: N96145
Model/Series: 172Q P 
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Year of Manufacture: 1983 
Amateur Built:
Airworthiness Certificate: Normal
Serial Number: 17276029
Landing Gear Type: Tricycle
Seats: 4
Date/Type of Last Inspection: October 25, 2019 Annual
Certified Max Gross Wt.: 2550 lbs
Time Since Last Inspection: 38 Hrs
Engines: 1 Reciprocating
Airframe Total Time: 12313 Hrs as of last inspection
Engine Manufacturer: Lycoming
ELT: C91 installed
Engine Model/Series: O-360-A4N
Registered Owner:
Rated Power: 180 Horsepower
Operator: On file 
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None
Operator Does Business As: Aviation Adventures 
Operator Designator Code:

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site: Visual (VMC) 
Condition of Light: Day
Observation Facility, Elevation: 6S0,4493 ft msl
Distance from Accident Site:
Observation Time: 19:55 Local
Direction from Accident Site:
Lowest Cloud Condition: Clear 
Visibility: 10 miles
Lowest Ceiling: None
Visibility (RVR):
Wind Speed/Gusts: / 
Turbulence Type Forecast/Actual:  /
Wind Direction:
Turbulence Severity Forecast/Actual:  /
Altimeter Setting: 29.71 inches Hg
Temperature/Dew Point: -7°C / -12°C
Precipitation and Obscuration: No Obscuration; No Precipitation
Departure Point: Billings, MT (BIL) 
Type of Flight Plan Filed: VFR
Destination: Big Timber, MT (6S0)
Type of Clearance: VFR
Departure Time: 19:10 Local 
Type of Airspace: Class G

Airport Information

Airport: Big Timber 6S0 
Runway Surface Type: Asphalt
Airport Elevation: 4494 ft msl
Runway Surface Condition: Snow
Runway Used: 24 
IFR Approach: None
Runway Length/Width: 5285 ft / 75 ft
VFR Approach/Landing: Go around; Traffic pattern

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 2 None
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries:
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries:
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 2 None
Latitude, Longitude: 45.810001,-109.980003 (est)

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