Roll Continued To Go To The Left Until The Airplane Was Nearly Inverted
Location: Porter, NY Accident Number: ERA23FA266
Date & Time: June 11, 2023, 15:06 Local Registration: N85TP
Aircraft: Wonder Michael S Harmon Rocket Injuries: 1 Fatal
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General aviation – Personal
On June 11, 2023, at 1506 eastern daylight time, an experimental amateur-built Harmon Rocket, N85TP, was substantially damaged when it was involved in an accident near Porter, New York. The commercial pilot was fatally injured. The airplane was operated as a Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 personal flight.
According to multiple witnesses, the pilot arrived at the private airfield several hours before the accident to observe the skydiver jump zone activities during the day. The pilot, who was close personal friends with the jump zone owner, was a daily visitor to Shear Airport (63NY), Youngstown, New York, the private-use airport where the jump zone was based. According to the friend, the pilot arrived about 1045 that morning.
About 1445, security camera footage showed the pilot conducting a preflight inspection and starting up the engine before the airplane taxied out of camera view. A witness stated that during the preflight inspection and subsequent engine runup, he heard the pilot check the propeller governor, and instead of performing the standard 3 cycles of the propeller controls, he performed 5 or 6, which he thought was unusual, though he otherwise did not hear anything unusual during this check. Shortly after, the pilot taxied into position and took off from runway 18, a 3,153 ft-long turf runway. Multiple witnesses were gathered near the jump zone building and watched the takeoff; all of which stated that it was a normal takeoff. The pilot lifted off, climbed to about 200 ft above ground level (agl) then made a sharp turn back toward the airport, following runway 36. The pilot flew the airplane very low over the runway, about 10 to 15 feet as he performed a high speed, low pass to say “goodbye” to his friends; which the witness described as “something that he did very often.”
The airplane then climbed and performed what appeared to be the beginning of an aileron roll to the left as the airplane ascended to about 100 ft agl, but according to several witnesses, the roll continued to go to the left until the airplane was nearly inverted as the pilot made a brief radio call containing an expletive. The airplane descended and impacted trees about 500 ft north of the departure end of the runway.
The airplane impacted several 12-inch diameter pine trees, and the wreckage and debris were spread over a two lane road. Another set of smaller trees also displayed impact marks and the wreckage came to rest in a level corn field about 250 ft north of the initial tree impact site at an elevation of 305 ft. The nose of the airplane was oriented on a heading of about 190° and the engine, which separated during the impact sequence, was discovered about 450 ft further north. The wreckage path, consisting of flight controls, as well as fragmented pieces of wreckage and tree debris, was fanned out in multiple directions, but was consistent with a debris path of about 358°. Several tree limbs in the wreckage path showed evidence of angular propeller cuts and there was evidence of an intense but brief post impact fire at the second tree line. In addition, fuel blight was discovered on about 50 rows of corn (about 6 inches-tall) bordering the second tree line.
According to witnesses, a 5-inch section of propeller blade tip was discovered adjacent to the runway near the jump zone building and was secured; it was located about 450 ft south of the initial impact site and contained marks consistent with a propeller impact. One witness stated it separated from the airplane prior to impact and struck the ground near where they were standing.
Postaccident examination of the wreckage was limited in scope due to the highly fragmented and damaged wreckage, but revealed both wings were bent aft and the tail was twisted 180° to the left and upside down. Both the left and right ailerons severed during impact, but the elevator and rudder remain attached although severely damaged. Control continuity was confirmed by tracing and manually manipulating the flight control tubes from each of their respective positions into the cockpit. Examination of the engine revealed the 2-blade, constantspeed propeller was missing a 5-inch section of blade. Both blades were polished and showed evidence of chordwise scraping and bending. The engine was impact damaged and crankshaft continuity, as well as cylinder compression and suction could not be confirmed at the accident site.
The wreckage was retained for further examination.