Fatal Nosewheel Landing

By Richard N. Aarons
Source: Business & Commercial Aviation
May 01, 2013
Credit: Credit: National Transportation Safety Board

A Cessna Citation 501 pilot and his four passengers were killed on March 15, 2012, when what should have been a routine fair weather landing at Macon County, N.C., Airport (1A5) turned sour after two unstabilized VFR approaches.

Two witnesses — one of them a pilot — watched the Citation approach Runway 25 from their vantage point on the ramp. The airplane was high during the approach, they told investigators. The pilot performed a go-around, and made left turns for another approach.

During the second attempt, the airplane seemed high and its approach angle seemed steep. The approach angle steepened on short final, and the Citation nosed-down toward the runway.

The nosewheel touched down before the mains approximately halfway down the 5,000-ft.-long, 75-ft.-wide runway. When the main gear contacted the surface, the airplane bounced and the witnesses heard the engine noise increase. Finally, the Citation banked right and the right wing caught the ground. The airplane flipped over off the right side of the runway and burned.

Weather at the time was fine — wind from 260 deg. at 3 kt.; sky clear; visibility, 10 mi.; temperature, 23C; dew point, 7C; altimeter, 30.28 in. of mercury. Airport elevation is 2,020 ft.; it's located in the Iotla Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains about 4 mi. from Franklin, N.C. Wooded hills — some of them 1,000 ft. above airport elevation — are within a few miles north and south of the airport.

The airport is served by a GPS approach and sees plenty of business jet traffic. Pilots with local knowledge report that the view on approach can be somewhat disconcerting to first-time arrivals because of the surrounding hills. A search of the FBO records and the accident pilot's log indicated that he had never been into 1A5 before the accident.

A nosewheel landing followed by a bounce and cartwheel is unusual for turbine airplanes and almost unheard of in small, straight-wing jets. Investigators made a close inspection of the wreckage looking for mechanical clues.

The airplane had come to rest in a grassy area, about 50 ft. off the right side of the runway, approximately 4,250 ft. beyond the approach end of Runway 25. The wreckage was inverted and oriented about a magnetic heading of 350 deg. Investigators found 100 ft. of skid marks about 2,300 ft. beyond the approach end of the runway, consistent with the left and right main landing gear tires. Another 55-ft. skid mark was observed about 250 ft. beyond the first skids, which was consistent with the left main landing gear tire. The post-crash fire consumed most of the cockpit and cabin. The horizontal stabilizer, vertical stabilizer, elevator and rudder remained intact but were charred. The left side of the elevator had partially separated from the horizontal stabilizer. The left wing inboard section was consumed by fire. The left wing outboard section was crushed and charred. A section of left aileron remained partially attached to the outboard left wing. With the exception of one flap hinge remaining, the left flap had separated from the left wing. The left main landing gear had also separated from the left wing. The right wing inboard section had separated from the fuselage and was crushed and charred. The outboard section had been consumed by fire. The right aileron separated and was found near the left wing. A section of right flap remained attached to the right wing. The right main landing gear remained attached to the right wing.

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