Trim Issue Sent Challenger 300 Into 4.2 G Upset, Killing Passenger


A fatal mishap that was originally reported as turbulence-related turned out to be a suspected issue with the stabilizer trim on the Challenger 300, according to the NTSB preliminary report. The privately operated flight left Keene, New Hampshire, on a flight to Leesburg, Virginia, in the late afternoon of March 3. A passenger aboard the aircraft was killed during an in-flight upset, and at the time the FAA confirmed other reports that turbulence was involved but that was an error. It seems the correct checklist response to an Engine Indicating and Crew Alerting System (EICAS) stabilizer trim alert (moving the stabilizer trim switch from Primary to Off) sent the plane into a couple abrupt climbs and descents that recorded a maximum of 4.2 Gs.

“As soon as the switch position was moved, the airplane abruptly pitched up,” the report says. “The PIC reported that his left hand was on the flight controls and his right hand was guarding the right side of the flight controls. He immediately with both hands regained control of the airplane in what he estimated to be a few seconds after the airplane’s pitch oscillated up and down.” The crew diverted to Bradley International Airport at Windsor Locks, Connecticut, and the passenger, a former White House lawyer from Virginia, was rushed to a local hospital, where she died. As for the turbulence that was initially reported as the cause of the upset, it didn’t exist. “The flight crew reported that they did not experience any remarkable turbulence during the flight, nor during the time immediately surrounding the in-flight upset event,” the report says.

The flight did not start out well, either. During the takeoff run, the first officer noticed an airspeed disagreement between the two MFDs and the takeoff was aborted at 104 knots. After they stopped, the FO jumped out of the aircraft and discovered one of the two pitot covers still in place. He removed it, saw no damage and the crew took off again.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.

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  1. “one of the two pitot covers still in place”??? WTF? Did the pilots perform a pre-flight walk around?

  2. I quickly learned to hang on to the yoke when I disengaged the autopilot on my Mooney M20K with KFC200 system. If the autopilot auto-trim was significantly behind for some reason the controls would jerk to neutral on disengage.

  3. I’d be surprised if, in response to a Trim EICAS message, the Challenger’s checklist doesn’t say something along the lines of “brace the controls” before disengaging the A/P. This stuff happens a lot on little planes that don’t have auto trim. In those, it’s a “woopsie”, on a larger & faster plane, well, it’s worse.

  4. Reports are that they misapplied the checklist items which caused the upset. Both pilots had low hours in type and could not do a proper pre-flight

  5. The Challenger 300 was built by Bombardier. Our joke in the industry about Bombardier was that they cured Covid, they gave it a part number and now no one can get it.

  6. Bizarre coincidence that the person who died was politically connected. Story would have already been fairly insane.

    • At my last 3 companies we did. Both pilots were expected to do a walk around, preventing the situation these pilots found themselves in. Depending on the POI this company has, I’m sure the captain will have some explaining to do about the aborted takeoff. As far as the upset, I’ll just have to wait until the NTSB report comes out.

    • The 135 where I worked, we did. FO did a complete preflight, and the Captain did a quick circuit around the aircraft as pax were boarding to ensure that chocks were pulled, panels were closed, nothing obvious was wrong, and nothing had happened to the airplane since the preflight. The second one wasn’t as detailed as the first, but it would catch 90% of items.

      • Yup, it’s just common sense: give the FO some backup to make sure the killer items are taken care of.

  7. Who did the preflight? Was a cell phone involved? Evidently both pilots with “low hours in type” were not paying attention during pre-checkride training (assuming they received that training). What is the Company culture regarding safety? And, of course, what is the name of the company?

  8. I’ll join the chorus. Amazing. Pitot covers left on? Mishandling the trim? If these pilots were physicians they’d probably be the recipients of a malpractice suits.

  9. If they aborted for erroneous airspeed, which means the probs were on for line up, so regardless If they witnessed damage after removing the covers that plastic certainly was heated. I would not have attempted another take off without maintenance inspection.

  10. Why is a fatal accident a “limited” NTSB investigation (the L in the investigation number)? Hopefully will be upgraded to at least a “F”.

  11. I detected some deep knowledge in one or two of these posts. The others just seem to like honking their horns whenever the chance arises. It’s disillusioning to me. Seems that not even a “pilots” publication like Avweb is safe from MMQB.
    Ps. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, I just like to hang amongst them and learn something from time to time.