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N51WW accident description

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Tail numberN51WW
Accident dateSeptember 23, 2008
Aircraft typeNagel Sal 2/3 P51
LocationSchenectady, NY
Near 42.851389 N, -73.923889 W
Additional details: None

NTSB description

HISTORY OF FLIGHT

On September 23, 2008, at 1501 eastern daylight time, an amateur-built SAL 2/3 P51, N51WW, was destroyed following an uncontrolled descent after takeoff from Schenectady Airport (SCH), Schenectady, New York. The certificated private pilot was killed. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed for the local personal flight that was conducted under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91.

The owner of the airplane was interviewed by telephone and provided written statements. He had purchased the airplane, but later decided that he lacked the experience in tailwheel airplanes required to test fly it. The pilot originally contacted to test fly the airplane was not available, and he recommended the accident pilot to the owner.

The accident pilot acquired and reviewed the "pilot operating notes" for the accident airplane from the previous owner, as well as the airplane operations limitations from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). On September 21, 2008, the pilot completed several high-speed taxi tests, and reported engine vibrations and misfiring when operating around 2,500 rpm.

The owner performed troubleshooting, and identified a bad spark plug, which he replaced. On the day of the accident, the pilot resumed testing the airplane, determined the engine was operating smoothly, and requested a takeoff clearance from the tower controller.

A review of video footage of the flight revealed only the takeoff and initial climb, before the videographer announced, "he's close to a stall" and lowered the camera. During the takeoff roll, the tailwheel was raised almost immediately, and the airplane was airborne after a brief ground roll.

In a written statement, one witness said that the ground roll on the 7,000-foot runway was only 600 feet before the airplane lifted off the ground. He described the climb as "poor" and stated that the airplane’s altitude above the ground reached only 200 feet, after a 4,000 foot-long initial climb. According to the witness, "The [pitch] attitude of the aircraft was quite high and seemed close to a stall condition." He added that the engine did not "falter" or change power/rpm throughout his observation of the flight.

In a written statement, the tower controller described a left turn by the airplane about 4,600 feet down the runway, before the pilot reported "losing power." The controller cleared the airplane to land on "any runway." The airplane appeared to enter a "teardrop" turn to land on runway 22, but ultimately descended into trees on the north side of the airport.

Review of the audio track of the video revealed smooth, continuous engine sound until the sounds of impact.

PERSONNEL INFORMATION

The pilot held a private pilot certificate with ratings for airplane single-engine land and glider. His most recent FAA third-class medical certificate was issued on December 3, 2005, and he reported 440 hours of flight experience on that date. The pilot’s logbooks were not recovered.

AIRCRAFT INFORMATION

According to FAA and maintenance records, the airplane’s most recent airworthiness certificate and operating limitations were issued in February 2008. The airplane’s most recent condition inspection was completed on February 10, 2008, at 10 total aircraft hours. The owner of the airplane estimated that there were 16 total hours on the airframe at the time of the accident.

METEOROLOGICAL INFORMATION

At 1447, the weather reported at SCH included winds from 170 degrees at 5 knots. The sky was clear and the visibility was 10 miles. The temperature was 29 degrees C and the dew point was 11 degrees C.

At 1412, the tower reported that the weather observed included winds from 360 degrees at 12 knots. The sky was clear and the visibility was 20 miles. The temperature was 23 degrees C and the dew point was 1 degree C.

At 1451, the weather reported at Albany International Airport (ALB), 8 miles southeast of SCH, included variable winds at 4 knots. There were few clouds at 7,500 feet, and the visibility was 10 miles. The temperature was 19 degrees C and the dew point was 6 degrees C.

WRECKAGE INFORMATION

The airplane was examined at the scene by an FAA aviation safety inspector. According to the inspector, the airplane came to rest oriented about 360 degrees magnetic. Broken branches around the crash site displayed slash marks and angular cuts, and were intermingled with shattered pieces of the fixed-pitch wooden propeller.

The airplane came to rest against a tree, which had broken branches from the ground to about 25 feet above the ground. Examination of the airframe revealed that the control cables and push-pull tubes, through the fuselage to the tail section, were cut by rescue personnel. However, all control attachment points and their corresponding hardware was intact and secure. Aileron control continuity was confirmed from the cockpit to the ailerons. The elevator and rudder trim tabs were in the neutral position.

Fuel system continuity could not be determined due to breaks and cuts by rescue personnel. The fuel selector flowed fuel from the output side of the selector when positioned in the right tank, left tank and "both" positions. Both wing fuel tanks contained fuel, and both electric fuel pumps operated when twelve volts of battery power was applied.

The airplane was powered by a Chevrolet 350 cubic inch engine, which was damaged by impact and postcrash fire. Fuel was present in the output line to the carburetor. The throttle linkage was intact and operable through its full range from the throttle to the carburetor. Both of the primary and secondary throttle plates opened and closed fully. The distributor cap, rotor, coil and ignition wiring were consumed by postcrash fire. The right side spark plugs were removed and showed normal wear. The right side rocker cover was removed, and the valves, springs, and rocker arms revealed no mechanical anomalies. The residual oil appeared clean and absent of debris.

The wooden propeller blades were fractured at their respective blade roots, and the splinters were bent opposite the direction of rotation. The spinner was crushed and twisted opposite the direction of rotation.

MEDICAL AND PATHOLOGICAL INFORMATION

Toxicological testing and post mortem examinations were not performed.

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