Nearly 20 percent of all general aviation accidents occur during the takeoff or climb phases of flight. Knowing how your aircraft performs is critical and can help reduce this statistic.
On June 16, 2003, a pilot was killed and the passenger, also a pilot, was seriously injured after the 1947 Downer RC-3 (Seabee) amphibious aircraft they were flying ran off the end of the runway at Western Airpark in Yelm, Washington.
According to the passenger, also the owner, he purchased the Seabee the morning of the accident, and was repositioning the plane to his home base. Because both men were pilots, it was agreed that the one pilot would do the flying and the new owner would do the taxiing.
Prior to takeoff, they checked the fuel, performed two run-ups on the engine, checked the magnetos, and let the engine idle and warm up. The pilot also cycled the propeller several times. The owner did not know if the pilot performed a full power run-up.
During the taxi, the owner did not notice the airplane pulling in either direction, nor did he notice the brakes binding or grabbing. He taxied onto the runway, but overshot the centerline, and had to do a 360-degree turn to line up correctly. The pilot became agitated and the owner sensed that he was in a "hurry to get home." The pilot took control of the plane and advanced the throttle (although the owner was not sure if it was all the way forward).
As the Seabee began to head down the runway, the owner questioned the pilot as to whether the plane was accelerating properly. The pilot responded "yes." The owner then asked if the power settings were correct, and the pilot said "yes" again. The owner offered to extend the flaps for additional lift, but the pilot declined. The Seabee then went off the end of the runway, through a 66-foot grass overrun, and over an embankment into a ravine.
Several witnesses noted that the engine didn't sound right and wasn't running smoothly. They also noticed that the airplane was traveling at about 50 mph and there was no attempt to abort the takeoff.
The post-crash investigation did not reveal any problems with the engine that would have precluded normal flight.
The pilot was a retired airline pilot with more than 15,000 hours of experience. The owner also was a retired airline pilot with 28,000 hours, including 40 in the Seabee.
The NTSB determined the cause of this accident was the failure of the pilot to abort the takeoff roll.
Although the pilot-owner had thousands of hours of experience, he did not assert himself strongly enough to prevent this accident. Any time a problem is perceived, it should be addressed immediately. In this case, even though the owner questioned the pilot, he chose to continue and died as a result. Given the age of the aircraft, the pilots most likely did not have the benefit of accurate performance charts, but they should have determined the amount of runway needed for takeoff. Whenever possible, pilots should perform ground roll calculations, and determine ahead of time the point on the runway that they will throw in the cards and abort a takeoff.
For more information about factors that can affect takeoff performance, read the AOPA Air Safety Foundation's Ups and Downs of Takeoffs and Landings Safety Advisor.
Accident reports can be found in ASF's accident database.
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