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Thu, Sep 25, 2003

Aerobat Out of Gas

Aerobat Out of Gas; System Used Nearly Every Drop

Several witnesses reported a change in the engine sound, just before the S-2B took a dive, near Longmont (CO) on April 26.

The NTSB quoted one: "He was about 500 feet over the field, he did a low loop and came back up the backside of the loop in what appeared to be an attempt at a hammerhead stall. The engine sputtered and quit and there wasn't room for a recovery."

Thomas Bullington, 57, and skydiver Jeff Sands, 49, died, about three miles north of the Boulder-Longment Diagonal Highway, near the Vance Brand Airport, some 40 miles north of Denver. Sands was the owner of the Mile-Hi Skydiving Center at the airport. Instrument and glider-rated pilot Bullington, who owned the plane, had logged 2400 hours, including 105 in type.

The pair, both experienced pilots in a relatively new airplane, were out practicing aerobatics, the report indicates. They ran out of gas, the NTSB said; and they were too low to get out of trouble, as the engine quit at just the wrong moment.

The report contains a lot of data. For example: the forward-cockpit tachometer was reading 1,950 revolutions per minute; the rear (PIC) tach showed 2450. The altimeter showed 5345 feet. (2V2 is at 5052). The throttle was wide open, and the mixture was set at full rich. The Hobbs showed just 261.05 hours.

Both pilots' toxicology tests came back negative.

Crash damage was terrible: "The airplane's engine, propeller, cowling, and forward fuselage, rested in a 3-foot long, 4-foot wide, and 17-inch deep impact crater... The rear cockpit walls and floor showed skin wrinkling. The rear pilot seat was intact. The shoulder harness was broken at the frame attach point. The rear cockpit instrument panel was bent forward in the middle. Most of the flight and engine instruments were intact. The bulkhead separating the front and rear cockpits was bent forward into the front pilot seat."

What went wrong?

Too low, and out of gas, one would surmise. The NTSB report indicated that the plane's fuel system was quite efficient, in using all available fuel: "The airplane's engine was examined at Greeley, Colorado, on April 30, 2003. The examination showed no fuel in the fuel distribution manifold, distribution lines, nozzles, fuel filter, or in the fuel lines from the main fuel tank to the engine fuel pumps. Approximately 0.10 ounces of fuel was retrieved from the engine driven fuel pump. The fuel boost pump was broken aft and showed no evidence of fuel."

[Thanks to Jeff at picturelongment.com for the shot of Mr. Sands --ed.]

FMI: www.ntsb.gov/ntsb/brief2.asp?ev_id=20030428X00580&ntsbno=DEN03FA074&akey=1

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