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N651GA accident description

Maryland map... Maryland list
Crash location 39.086111°N, 78.766667°W
Reported location is a long distance from the NTSB's reported nearest city. This often means that the location has a typo, or is incorrect.
Nearest city Odenton, MD
39.083998°N, 76.700246°W
110.8 miles away
Tail number N651GA
Accident date 18 Dec 2002
Aircraft type Bell 206B
Additional details: None

NTSB Factual Report

On December 18, 2002, about 1030 eastern standard time, a Bell 206B helicopter, N651GA, operated by Glenwood Aviation, was substantially damaged during a forced landing at Tipton Airport (FME), Odenton, Maryland. The certificated commercial pilot and two passengers were not injured. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the aerial observation flight. No flight plan had been filed for the local flight that was conducted under 14 CFR Part 91.

According to the pilot, the helicopter had been modified with the main cabin door removed, and a stabilized camera mount installed inside the cabin. The helicopter was preflighted, and the fuel gauge indicated greater than 45 gallons onboard. The pilot reported that prior to departure, he had calculated the fuel load was sufficient for 1.6 hours of flight, at 28 gallons per hour. At the completion of the photo mission, the pilot returned to the departure airport. He positioned the helicopter for a straight-in approach to runway 10.

The pilot further stated:

"...When the fuel gauge read slightly above 25 gals, I told the film crew that we had to return to Tipton for fuel...I entered the pattern on an extended straight in to runway 10 from the northwest...At this time I was at 800 feet and about 80 knots beginning to slow, conducted my before landing check, and specifically noted the fuel gauge was just below the 15 gal hash mark. I continued to descend and slow to about 600 feet and 60 knots...I again looked inside to confirm the before landing check noting the fuel gauge needle was between the 10 and 15 [gallon] hash mark. As I began to transition to the new landing area [compass rose, departure end of runway 10] I felt a yaw and immediately noticed the engine out light. low rpm light on the right side of the caution panel display, and fuel pump light on the bottom center of the panel. I immediately decreased collective, entering autorotation, and nosed the helicopter over. I did not think I could make the runway so I planned on setting down on the grass area just short of the runway. I maneuvered the helicopter slightly to the right during the initial phase of the descent to utilize the overrun area in line with the runway. I decelerated, pulled my initial pitch to stop the descent and leveled the helicopter. When the helicopter began to settle vertically, I pulled the rest of the collective, running out at an altitude of about 1 or 2 feet [above the ground]. The aircraft hit level and hard, bounced up and rotated about 30 degrees to the left. I felt an impact in the rear of the aircraft and saw some debris in my peripheral vision...."

The pilot added that he had been airborne for 1.3 hours. The pilot also stated:

"...I was informed by others familiar with this aircraft that it had a history of fuel gauge issues, primarily sticking and significant changes in flight...."

The director of operations was interviewed, and he reported that he had no direct knowledge of any fuel quantity measuring problems on the helicopter. He added that other pilots said they thought the gauge had stuck.

According to an inspector from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the helicopter touched down on a grassy surface, about 100 feet before the approach end of the runway 10. The grassy area began about 500 feet behind the helicopter. The main rotor struck the tail boom, which separated aft of the horizontal stabilizer. Examination of the fuel tank revealed that it was empty. The FAA inspector reported a witness told him the helicopter appeared to drop in from about 20 feet.

The FAA inspector conducted an additional examination of the helicopter on January 31, 2003. First power was applied to the helicopter, and with the fuel tank empty, the fuel quantity gauge in the cockpit read zero. The fuel sender was then removed from the helicopter. The FAA inspector stated:

"...With the wiring hooked up to the fuel sender, we checked full travel of the arm. The arm on the sender moved smooth through full travel. We then applied power to the aircraft to check the indication of the gauge with the fuel sender arm being moved. The gauge was accurate on the low end (Empty) and the gauge read just below full when the fuel sender arm was in the full up position.

The FAA inspector reported that at no time did he observe any hesitation on the fuel quantity gauge as the sender arm was moved, and that the fuel sender arm was smooth to move with no areas of roughness or resistance. The FAA inspector estimated that the error between the fuel quantity gauge at full fuel was about 2 gallons with the fuel quantity gauge indicating less fuel than was actually onboard the helicopter. When the fuel tank was empty, the fuel quantity gauge matched the fuel tank condition.

The FAA inspector also reported that in addition to the fuel quantity indicating system, he also checked the helicopter's maintenance logbook. Several months before the accident, the fuel quantity transmitter had been changed, and there were no entries to indicate a problem with the fuel quantity measuring system.

NTSB Probable Cause

The pilot's failure to monitor his fuel supply which resulted in a power loss due to fuel exhaustion, and the pilot's misjudged flare, which resulted in a hard landing.

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