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N3981U accident description

Delaware map... Delaware list
Crash location Unknown
Nearest city Selbyville, DE
38.460392°N, 75.220744°W
Tail number N3981U
Accident date 07 Jun 1993
Aircraft type Cessna 150E
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report


On Monday, June 7, 1993, at 1230 eastern daylight time, a Cessna 150E, N3981U, operated by Sky Banners, Inc., and piloted by James E. Haas, Jr., was destroyed after impact with the ground while maneuvering near the Warrington Airport, Selbyville, Delaware. The pilot was fatally injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan was filed. The flight was being conducted under 14 CFR 91.

The pilot departed the private airstrip at approximately 1145. He picked up a banner and proceeded to conduct a towing sortie along the beach. He returned to the airport, dropped the banner and maneuvered for another banner pickup. He lined up with the banner pickup poles on an approximate heading of 360 and started his approach for pickup.

Mr. Bryan Payne, another banner pilot, was performing ground duties and observed N3981U perform the pickup maneuver. Mr. Payne said, "The plane made a normal approach to the pickup. Full power was applied just before pickup poles. At that time he rotated [and] the engine sputtered. The pickup was made and the plane nosed over and then went back to a normal nose high attitude...The banner lifted off the ground with no problems. After the banner was in the air the plane started to descend and wobble the wings. The banner was then released and the aircraft went nose high. The left wing raised sharply while descending to the right. The aircraft did approximately a 180 degree turn, nose down and one wing hit the ground with a nose low attitude."

In a telephone interview, Mr. Payne said, "The engine sputter was brief and it sounded normal during the climb, and the engine sounded like it had full power when it hit the ground." He also said that about 50 to 100 feet above the ground, the airplane's nose was lowered for a few seconds to a near level flight attitude, and then the climb was resumed.

Ms. Laura Demango was travelling in her automobile in an easterly direction, when she observed "the airplane to her right and the banner dropping to the ground. The airplane was flying slow and the wings were wobbling...then it nosed over towards the ground and disappeared behind a house." She then said she saw flames where the airplane impacted the ground.

The accident occurred during the hours of daylight, at about 38 degrees, 30 minutes North, 75 degrees, 10 minutes West.


Mr. Haas held a Federal Aviation Administration Commercial Pilot Certificate, with single and multiengine, land airplane and instrument ratings. He also was a Certified Flight Instructor. He held a Second Class Medical Certificate issued April 24, 1992.

He was hired by the banner towing company on April 24, 1993. At that time, Mr. Haas indicated his total flight time as 231 hours. His pilot log book showed that he had not flown from September 14, 1992 until April 13, 1993, a period of approximately 7 months. Additionally, in the year prior to the accident, Mr. Haas had flown a total of 36.8 hours. He had 33.6 hours of banner towing experience.

Company training records showed that Mr. Haas received 2.5 hours of ground school and 8 hours of flight training in the banner towing operation. This training was completed on May 7, 1993.


The airplane was originally equipped with a Continental O-200-A engine, which produced 100 horsepower. It had been modified with the installation of a Lycoming O-320-E2D engine, which produced 150 horsepower.

Additionally, an STC (Supplemental Type Certificate) was accomplished on N3981U, which involved the installation of STOL (Short Takeoff & Landing) devices, such as leading edge cuffs, stall fences, aileron seals, and wing tips.

The airplane was also modified to accommodate the banner tow and release mechanisms.

FAA Forms 337, Major Repair And Alteration, were submitted for these modifications.


An on site examination of the airplane wreckage was conducted on June 8, 1993. The results of this examination revealed that the airplane came to rest on a heading of approximately 218 degrees in a corn field about 300 feet north of the Warrington Airport. The ground tracks were about 6 feet in length. The landing gear had collapsed, and the airplane was upright on the fuselage. A post impact fire consumed the cockpit area, including the instrument panel. No documentation of instrument or switch positions was possible. There was crushing of the wing leading edges, with a crush angle of approximately 45 degrees.

All control surfaces were accounted for, and flight control continuity was established. The wing flaps were extended to approximately the 10 degree position.

One propeller blade had no impact damage, and the other blade was underneath the wreckage and was bent backwards about 45 degrees.

Examination of the engine revealed drive train continuity from the propeller to the accessory section, including movement of the valves for each cylinder and the fuel pump plunger. Compression was obtained on all cylinders. The engine accessory section incurred post impact fire damage, including both magnetos and the carburetor, which had a metal float.

The wing fuel tank caps were not on the airplane, and could not be located by Safety Board Investigators. On June 15, 1993, Mr. Steve Hudson, of the Selbyville Fire and Rescue Department, stated that his fire crew had removed the fuel caps while fighting the fire, and had thrown the caps into the corn field. Water was then sprayed into the fuel tanks.


An autopsy was performed on the pilot by Dr. Judith G. Tobin, Medical Examiner for the State of Delaware, on June 8, 1993. The results of this autopsy determined the cause of death as "...blunt force injury."

Toxicological tests were conducted by Dr. A. DasGupta, of the Forensic Sciences Laboratory, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, State of Delaware, on August 6, 1993. The results of these tests were negative for alcohol and drugs.


The following description of the banner pickup maneuver was extracted from the Sky Banner Flight Operations Manual. "The hook rope is that part of the towing assembly which is used to literally "snatch the banner from the ground" and is attached directly to the tow hitch by the pilot before each banner pickup. The hook rope is comprised of a 25 foot rope with a steel release ring at one end and a three pronged grapple hook at the other end. The release ring is used to attach the hook rope to the tow hitch, while the grapple hook is used to grasp the banner tow line during the banner pickup. The hook rope is attached to the aircraft by locking the release ring onto the release latch of the tow hitch, extending the remaining length of the hook rope forward along the left side of the fuselage and attaching the grapple hook onto the left wing strut. The grapple hook is secured by placing one of the hook prongs through a hole in a hook restraining strip located on the trailing edge of the strut just outside of the pilot's window."

After the airplane is airborne, the grapple hook is removed from the restraining strip by the pilot. He then throws it away from the airplane, so that it drops below and to the rear of the airplane in preparation for the pickup of the banner.

The manual continues: "The pickup poles are part of the banner launching assembly and are used to support and position the banner tow line on the ground for aerial pickup. The pickup poles are approximately 5 feet tall....The launch assembly is placed downwind of the banner and the tow line is then stretched across the two poles creating a target zone of approximately 30 feet square....The banner tow line is that part of the towing assembly which is snatched from the ground by the grapple hook on a successful pickup. The banner tow line consists of 175 foot of line plus two 30 foot loops at each end, which when pulled taut inflight stretch the tow line to approximately 200 feet long. The tow line is positioned on the ground directly in line with the flight path of the aircraft with the upwind end of the line attached to the banner and the downwind end positioned with the loop stretched across the end pickup poles."

"A full length banner is light in weight, weighing only 30 lbs., but when extended inflight, the banner develops a tremendous amount of drag."

The operations manual describes the approach for banner pickup as follows: "Final approach should be initiated only after it is determined that the hook has been deployed correctly, and the proper release ring is within reach. Just as in an approach for landing, a stable approach down to the pickup poles will assure a higher success rate on banner pickups. Airspeed on the approach should be maintained between 70 to 80 MPH, but never lower than 70 MPH or higher than 80 MPH. Airspeed lower than 70 MPH will cause less than desired performance when trading off the approach airspeed for altitude on the pickup. Airspeed higher than 80 MPH will cause damage to the banner and the towing equipment due to the excessive force applied on the pickup....The angle of descent to the pickup poles should be steeper than a normal landing approach. Use 6 to 8 degrees on the approach. Aim the aircraft at a point 10 feet beyond the pickup poles as if to land the aircraft just on the other side of the pickup zone. Maintain a steady airspeed."

"At a point about 15 feet AGL (above ground level), and just before the pickup poles disappear under the nose of the aircraft, firmly but smoothly add full power and apply smooth but rapid back pressure. This input will cause the hook rope and grapple hook to stretch out almost straight behind the aircraft due to the acceleration force. The rapid but smooth input of back pressure should immediately follow the power input. The aircraft should be pitched up to 30 or 40 degrees of climb. This input will cause the tail to swing down forcing the now taut hook rope to act as a pendulum, swinging through the pickup poles....Pitching up too soon will cause the grapple hook to slide over the pickup loop as the aircraft climbs too high above the pickup zone. Pitching up too late will cause the grapple hook to slide over the pickup poles before it has time to begin the downward pendulum movement and bounce over the loop. Full power can be added some distance before reaching the pickup zone (30 to 40 feet), but back pressure must begin just before overflying the pickup poles. Due to the length of the hook rope, the tail of the aircraft will be about 15 to 20 feet AGL at the time the hook snatches the loop."

The manual continues: "At first, the only realization that a banner pickup attempt has been successful is when a tug is felt at about 150 AGL. As a banner pilot becomes more experienced and comfortable with the performance of the aircraft, one can visually check on the progress of the pickup attempt by looking out of the pilot's window or by looking out of the back window while climbing out....Maintain full power throughout the climb out, leveling out at 200 to 250 feet AGL. Once airspeed has been regained, climb to 1000 feet AGL..."

In a telephone interview with Mr. Shannon Byrnes, the company's chief pilot and an instructor in the banner towing operation, he said that when the banner rope is fully extended during a pickup, the pilot will feel a "strong drag and the airspeed will drop to about 50 knots or slightly less. Also, the nose will pitch up at this time. When the banner is dropped, the nose will pitch down."

Mr Bryan Payne, the pilot witness to the accident, stated that the banner which Mr. Haas was attempting to pick up was quite large...20 by 30 feet, with extra of the heavier banners." Mr. Payne said that he had pulled that banner and it was a heavy one. He thought that the first banner pulled that morning by Mr. Haas was a light one, 10 by 20 feet with no extra letters.

Mr. Payne also said that he had about 315 total flight hours at the time he was hired. He said that training consisted of picking up and dropping the lighter banners, 10 by 20 feet, without extra letters. The FAA observed the new pilots making three pickups of these lighter banners. He said that the new pilots were given a briefing by the instructors about the recommended techniques to pick up the heavy banners. He said that when a heavy banner was picked up, the airspeed would drop to just above a stall, sometimes as low as 38 to 40 MPH. He stated that sometimes the stall warning would sound. He said that they were taught to lower the nose at this time and to not drop the banner, if they were at or near a stall. They were told that to drop a banner while at or near a stall could cause a loss of airplane control.

The wreckage was released to Crittenden Adjustment Company on June 8, 1993.

NTSB Probable Cause


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