Flaps Up In Fatal Rough Water Takeoff

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The Lake Renegade that crashed during takeoff from the AirVenture 2017 seaplane base in rough water had its flaps up, according to the NTSB’s preliminary report. The 84-year old pilot and one of his passengers was killed in the accident. A second passenger survived with minor injuries. According to the NTSB, persons at the seaplane base expressed concern to the pilot regarding the rough water departure. The pilot had asked to be taken out on a boat to survey the water conditions prior to takeoff. A witness on the boat said waves were 1.5 to 2 feet. Maximum wave height recommended by the manufacturer is 18 inches.

The NTSB described the events leading up to the crash this way: “The pilot told the harbor master he was going to start the engine as the plane was being towed through the cut, and the harbor master held up a finger to indicated not yet and to wait a minute. The pilot reportedly asked him to start the engines several more times as the airplane was still under tow before the tow rope had been disconnected, and the harbor master indicted to him to wait each time. Once the tow ropes were disconnected and the harbor master moved out of the way to the side, the pilot started the airplane engine and the airplane went to full power within two seconds.”

Video of the takeoff shows the plane porpoising two to three times before the plane rolled off to the left and the wing struck the water. According to the NTSB, “Review of video and photo evidence documenting the takeoff revealed the airplane's wing flaps were in the up position during takeoff. The flaps and flap lever were found in the ‘up’ position during examination of the wreckage.” According to Max Trescott, a Lake owner, CFI and host of the Aviation News Talk Podcast, “all takeoffs are made with flaps down” in the Lake.

Comments (3)

The NTSB and Lake owner Trescott correctly state that "all takeoffs are made with flaps down". That is true--partially. I've owned 9 Lakes, as well as other seaplanes.

The LA-4 manual recommends STARTING the takeoff with flaps UP in rough water UNTIL THE AIRCRAFT IS ON THE STEP. The procedure is to prevent water damage to the flaps.

That said, it is somewhat hard to do in rough water. The aircraft is plowing and porpoising--you want to keep one hand on the overhead throttle to reject the takeoff if it gets out of control, yet you have to move to the bottom of the cockpit to extend the flaps. If the aircraft starts to porpoise TOO much, the cure is to chop the throttle and full back elevator--rejecting the takeoff.

The Lake is like all pusher aircraft with a high thrust line--it tends to push the nose down, and the power ON stall speed is higher than the power OFF stall speed--the reason that all takeoffs and landings are with full flaps.

A "Read between the lines" of the NTSB narrative may lay some of the blame on the harbormaster. The pilot took the precaution of asking to be taken out on a boat to survey the conditions. He asked several times for the tow boat to cast off so he could start the takeoff run in calmer water--yet was repeatedly denied. His anxiety to get on the step before reaching rough water was apparent in "going to full power within 2 seconds."

In retrospect--upon casting off, perhaps the pilot should have immediately returned to calmer water to start the takeoff run. This might have raised the ire of the "Harbormaster"--but then, each pilot or vessel commander is responsible for the safety of their own ship. Never let someone else fly your airplane.

Posted by: jim hanson | August 9, 2017 10:08 AM    Report this comment

Condolences to the families.

Posted by: Thomas Boyle | August 9, 2017 4:31 PM    Report this comment

Are there any good estimates as to the size of the waves? Many seaplane pilots have asked.

How does one make sure the rough water takeoff procedure advocated by Lake (flaps UP until on the step) gets to the NTSB to correct the "all takeoffs and landing flaps down" that is out there now?

My experiences with the NTSB on private airplane crashes has not been good. While NTSB does bring in the manufacturer, training department, and all other factors for an airline accident--several accidents/incidents "investigated" by the NTSB involving GA border on buffoonery. As an airport manager, three incidents come readily to mind:

1. A Cessna 172 ran off the runway at 3 A.M. The pilot had 67 hours total time, and no night time for 2 years. The NTSB accident investigator initially listed the "probable cause" as "one of the landing gear tires showed more wear than the other."
2. Another 172 lost control in a 10 knot crosswind component. The NTSB investigator laid the problem to "fuel imbalance"--one tank had 5 gallons remaining, the other had 10. I pointed out that not only would 30# located so close to the cabin be almost indiscernible, but that the runway excursion was on the LIGHT side.
3. A medical helicopter was making a steep approach directly to the ramp when we observed smoke and fire from one of the engines. The pilot attempted to arrest the descent with one engine, but it was not enough, so he elected to make a run-on autorotation. He would have made it, except that one of the skids hit the lip of the ramp, causing a blade strike and loss of the helicopter. The NTSB investigator arrived the next day, and 15 minutes later, pronounced that he had found the issue. "This helicopter has an entertainment system on board" he pontificated. There were two flight nurses on board--look at this, the entertainment system audio was switched on! I think the pilot was showing off for the flight nurses and just lost it." I pointed out the issues with his diagnosis--the visual of smoke and flame prior to touchdown, corroborated with charring on the fuselage. He was not to be dissuaded from his findings, until I told him "There are two more things wrong with your findings--ALL of the audio switches are up--I find it hard to believe that he was listening to all of those radios. What IS relevant is that the engine emergency stop switch is located right above the audio panel---he probably hit the audio switches on the way to the emergency stop button. The SECOND fallacy with your theory is that this helicopter is flown from the RIGHT side--and the audio switches were above the unoccupied CO-PILOT'S seat!" An engine teardown weeks later confirmed the engine failure. I received a nice letter from the helicopter operating company and from the pilot. Nothing from the NTSB.

I guess we should all be glad we don't get all of the government we pay for!

Posted by: jim hanson | August 10, 2017 11:28 AM    Report this comment

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