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N31SH accident description

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Tail numberN31SH
Accident dateOctober 15, 2004
Aircraft typeDeRosier DR-107
LocationSan Diego, CA
Near 32.868334 N, -117.1425 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On October 15, 2004, about 1015 Pacific daylight time, a DeRosier DR-107 experimental airplane, N31SH, impacted terrain during an airshow at the Miramar Marine Corps Air Station, San Diego, California. The pilot/owner was operating the airplane under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The commercial pilot, the sole occupant, sustained fatal injuries; the airplane sustained substantial damage. The local aerobatic flight departed from Miramar about 1000. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and a flight plan had not been filed.

In a telephone conversation with a National Transporation Safety Board investigator, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector stated that the pilot was scheduled to perform aerobatic maneuvers for an airshow. About 15 minutes into the flight, the pilot began a rolling maneuver that the airplane was to pull out of and continue parallel to the ground. The airplane never pulled out of the downward flight path and impacted terrain.

During a telephone conversation with a Safety Board investigator, a renowned airshow performer and aerobatic expert briefly described a performer's initial entry into the airshow industry. He stated that an aspiring airshow pilot must make an inquiry with the International Council of Airshows (ICAS), at which time he/she will be appointed an Airshow Certification Evaluator (ACE). The ACE is an experienced airshow performer that has the authority to endorse pilots to receive their aerobatic competency card. The ACE is then to meet with the pilot and conduct both an oral and practical test standards evaluation, which includes testing the pilot's understanding of aerodynamics, airman physiology, weather, and reviewing the proposed routines and sequences.

The expert was the pilot's appointed ACE and conducted his evaluation about 1 month prior to the accident, which was completed in a Panzl S-330, rather than the pilot's own airplane, the One Design. He estimated that the pilot had flown the One Design for about 3 years, and performed the same routine done at the airshow at least 50 times (in several different airplanes, but mainly the One Design). On all occasions that he had seen the pilot perform that routine, the lowest flight level the airplane reached was the pilot's prescribed minimum of 250 feet.

The expert further stated that he recognized the maneuver, which resulted in the accident, as the "Dink." He stated that the Dink consists of the airplane's tail tumbling over the nose, which is accomplished by the pilot stalling the horizontal stabilizer. This is done by the pilot maneuvering the airplane in a slightly nose-high attitude, followed by inputting left rudder authority to obtain a full right yaw configuration. As the horizontal stabilizer reaches the critical angle of attack, a stall will occur, and the airplane's nose falls in a nose-lose attitude. The pilot responds to this attitude change by maintaining the rudder input and manipulating the airplane's elevator control (a stick) to the full forward position. The airplane continues to tumble, and about 270 degrees through the rotation, the pilot makes a quick "stab" input to the right rudder control, in an effort to stop rotation. The pilot continues by easing the elevator control stick in the aft position and inputting pressure on the left rudder control. This results in the airplane recovering from the stall about 360 degrees back to the origination of the maneuver, and in a level to slightly nose-low attitude.

After watching video coverage of the accident maneuver, the expert opined that possibly the pilot did not add the right rudder "stab" input, rather he only used the elevator stick control, which would not allow him to recover from the maneuver in sufficient time. He noted that the airplane's wings were engineered in such a way that the airfoil's leading edge is almost completely round, which makes it very difficult for a pilot to recover from stalled conditions within narrow time constraints. He stated that if the airspeed became too slow, the pilot would not have had the altitude to recover, which he thought was consistent to the airplane's maneuver after the pilot completed a half snap-roll about 600 feet above ground level (agl). By examining the airplane's track and wing tip smoke contrails, he ascertained that just prior to impact the pilot was manipulating the elevator stick all the way aft, attempting to maneuver the airplane up, to clear the terrain.

He added that prior to performing the Dink, the pilot executed a maneuver where the airplane reached slightly below the 250-foot level. The pilot began the Dink at 1,000 feet agl, which he thought was enough altitude if everything went accordingly, but did not allow for any error. After the accident he inspected the Kollsman setting on the altimeter and reported that is was set appropriately, reading negative 250 feet while at the ground level; the pilot normally would set the altimeter to indicate the bottom of their minimum flight level, and orient themselves referencing the altimeter in "above flight level" altitudes.

The expert further stated that this particular airshow was a milestone for the pilot, and that he might have been undergoing a great deal of pressure to perform well. He stated that on numerous occasions he and the pilot discussed the appropriate action to take if the airplane does not have enough speed or energy when reaching the starting point of a maneuver: complete a climbing 270-degree turn.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

A review of FAA airman records revealed that the pilot held a commercial pilot certificate with an airplane single engine land rating, which contained limitations prohibiting the pilot from carrying passengers for hire at night and cross-country flights of more than 50 nautical miles (nm). In addition, the pilot held an Airframe and Powerplant (A&P) mechanic's certificate with an Inspection Authorization (IA). On October 13, 2003, when the pilot was issued a second-class medical certificate, his self-reported total civilian flight time was 2,400 hours.

The pilot was issued a Statement of Aerobatic Competency (FAA Form 8710-7) on September 09, 2004, which held a level 2 (250 feet) altitude limitation. Although he performed the evaluation in the Panzl S-330, the card also listed both the accident airplane and a Giles 202. The pilot's completed 8710-7 forms are appended to this report.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

The airplane was a single engine amateur-built experimental One Design DR-107, serial number 273. A review of the airplane's logbooks revealed a total airframe time of 325 hours at the last inspection on May 20, 2004. The pilot completed an inspection in accordance with the scope and detail of Appendix "D" of 14 CFR Part 43. The engine was a Textron Lycoming IO-360 engine, serial number L-12340-96. The airplane's last Special Airworthiness Certificate was issued on July 14, 2003.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

Most pilots performing aerial demonstrations for the purpose of an airshow, begin their careers performing in aerobatic competitions. According to industry sources, there are about 5,000 pilots currently involved in the numerous aerobatic circuits; those pilots that hold FAA qualifications to perform in airshows make up about 360 pilots. In 1990, together the airshow industry and FAA implemented an Airshow Certification Evaluator (ACE) program, where under the auspice of the International Council of Air Shows (ICAS), designated pilots have the authority to recommend a pilot to receive his/her aerobatic competency certificate. Currently, ICAS has granted ACE authority to about 60 pilots, all of which are experienced airshow performers.

The function of the ACE is twofold: assess a pilot's aerobatic competency and determine altitude limitations. The aerobatic competency evaluation is required annually for every pilot planning to perform in airshows, and entails both a knowledge and flight assessment. Altitude limitations are granted in four different levels, which coincide with increments of 800, 500, 250, and 0 feet. In an effort to obtain a lower altitude limitation a pilot must both demonstrate a certain competency at the respective level, and have completed a specified number of performances; a specified number of these performances must have been completed at different locations. Altitude limitations further stipulate that at the 800 and 500 foot level, a pilot may not add maneuvers onto their already evaluated routine; whereas, if the pilot is certified at the 250 or 0 foot level he/she can change their routine at will.

After completing an evaluation, if the ACE deems the pilot to be proficient, he/she will send a recommendation to the FAA that the pilot be granted a certificate of aerobatic competency, form 8710-7. The certificate of aerobatic competency, issued by the FAA, states both a pilot's maneuver limitations (solo, formation, etc.) and altitude limitations. Each different make and model aircraft the pilot performs their evaluation in is added to his/her certificate of aerobatic competency and he/she is restricted to only perform in those aircraft listed. However, the ACE does not have to be certified in an aircraft that he/she is giving an evaluation for.

At most air shows, an FAA inspector will be present, enforcing aircraft airworthiness and pilot certifications. The FAA has the authority to direct enforcement action toward pilots that violate their certificated altitude levels and horizontal distance requirements.

(c) 2009-2011 Lee C. Baker. For informational purposes only.