Loss of control Accident Supermarine Aircraft Spitfire Mk 26B G-CLHJ, Tuesday 22 August 2023
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Date:Tuesday 22 August 2023
Time:14:03
Type:Silhouette image of generic SASP model; specific model in this crash may look slightly different    
Supermarine Aircraft Spitfire Mk 26B
Owner/operator:Molly Rose Group
Registration: G-CLHJ
MSN: LAA 324-15249
Fatalities:Fatalities: 1 / Occupants: 1
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Destroyed
Category:Accident
Location:near Enstone Airfield (EGTN), Oxfordshire -   United Kingdom
Phase: Manoeuvring (airshow, firefighting, ag.ops.)
Nature:Private
Departure airport:Enstone Airfield (EGTN)
Destination airport:Enstone Airfield (EGTN)
Investigating agency: AAIB
Confidence Rating: Accident investigation report completed and information captured
Narrative:
The aircraft had been constructed from a kit over several years, during which the build team followed the LAA guidance and principles on building and test flying home built aircraft. Numerous short comings with the kit had been addressed and overcome by the build team. Test flying started in 2021 and as it progressed the team made adjustments to correct the tendency for the aircraft to roll to the right. Although the fin misalignment was known about by the build team, it was assumed that the misalignment was a feature of the kit design. It was not considered as a possible cause of the tendency to roll to the right. A comparison of the tail with the other Spitfire Mk 26B aircraft at the airfield was never explored by the build team.

Despite the damage sustained during the accident there was no evidence of a malfunction or failure of any of the aircraft flying control systems. Whilst the layout and space around the rudder pedals and the cockpit floor would suggest that a loose article would be unlikely to cause a control restriction, the fire damage in the area around the controls meant any plastic or organic components in the vicinity were completely destroyed. Therefore, a control restriction cannot be completely ruled out.

The aircraft should not have had a fin misalignment. There is no mention of it in the kit construction manual and the fin is shown symmetrically on the fuselage centre line on the manufacturers drawing. Other Spitfire Mk 26 and Mk 26B aircraft do not have the fin misalignment and during the testing of those aircraft, there was no marked tendency for them to roll.

Despite the adjustments made to correct the roll, when the aircraft is approaching the stall and the effect of the ailerons is reduced, the fin misalignment may have had an effect by inducing a constant yaw causing the right wing to stall first and drop as reported by the pilot. In effect the misalignment fin and rudder created a pro-spin condition.

CCTV and witness evidence show the aircraft descending and rotating to the right. If it is considered that the aircraft was in a spin to the right and the standard corrective action was taken, the fin misalignment and full left rudder would have created a significant aerofoil camber and therefore aerodynamic force to counter the rotation. Therefore, had full left rudder been applied, the misalignment would have been more than sufficient to arrest the rotation. Although the fin misalignment was undesirable, it is not considered to be a causal factor in this accident.

Throughout the flight testing of G-CLHJ the pilot had conducted numerous stalls to ascertain the characteristics and stalling speed of the aircraft. In nearly all of these stalls the pilot reported a wing drop to the right. For the accident flight the stall strips had both been moved down a few millimetres. Both stall strips were located at the accident site, although one was no longer attached to the leading edge of the wing due to the fire.

The pilot conducted two stalls and recovered before the aircraft departed from controlled flight on the third stall. Given the pilot was familiar with the tendency of the aircraft to drop its right wing at the stall, and that he had completed two previous stalls during the flight in which the right wing was seen to drop, it would seem unlikely that he was startled by the aircraft behaviour on the third stall. The position of the stall strips did not seem to significantly change the behaviour of the aircraft compared to previous flights.

Witnesses observed the aircraft depart the airfield without incident. The pilot climbed to between 3,000 and 4,000 ft which was sufficient for the planned elements of the flight.

Although at some distance away they observed the aircraft undergoing stalls as planned. Immediately after the third stall the aircraft departed from controlled flight and descended. The observers considered the aircraft to have entered a spin.

Analysis of the CCTV would indicate that there was little change in the rate of descent or aircraft speed for most of the descent which would fit with the aircraft being in a spin. However, the steep nose-down attitude of the aircraft could be more indicative of a spiral dive. The distance of both the CCTV camera and the witnesses from the aircraft means that it is not possible to clearly identify whether it was a spin or spiral dive. However, the fact that two stalls appeared to have been carried out satisfactorily suggest the pilot was in full control and flying to the plan for the flight. Something appears to have gone wrong during or immediately after the third stall.

The pilot had suffered a heart attack some years previously and there was significant history of heart disease. Although the assessment of his heart condition for his Class 2 aviation medical indicated he was at a low risk of a cardiac event, the post-mortem found evidence of longstanding heart disease and scarring from the previous myocardial infarction. The pathologist suggested that a cardiac event leading to an incapacitation was possible at any time, but there was no definitive evidence that one occurred during the accident flight.

At some point during the third stall the pilot experienced an event which prevented him from immediately recovering from the stall and the aircraft entered into a spin or spiral dive. The CCTV indicates that for the initial period the flight path of the aircraft remained relatively constant which would indicate either no action or a lack of effective recovery action by the pilot. The pilot had extensive experience in aerobatics and spinning, however he was not in recent practice. Although the wing drop was familiar to the pilot, the subsequent departure from controlled flight possibly startled him leading to a delay in any recovery action. The CCTV analysis did indicate there was a change in flight path characteristics as the aircraft approached the ground which in the absence of other changes to the aircraft, could indicate some level of control input from the pilot. Evidence from the accident site would confirm this change in flight path as the aircraft struck the ground at a shallow pitch angle and did not make contact with the electricity cables running above the point where the aircraft initially struck the ground.

The cause of the loss of control following the third stall and the lack of complete recovery could not be established, but either startle, an incapacitation or a control restriction cannot.

Conclusion:
Control of the aircraft was lost during a test flight towards the grant of a Permit to Fly. Despite the damage sustained during the accident, there was no evidence of a malfunction or failure of any of the aircraft flying control systems. The aircraft was found to have been built with a misaligned fin and rudder. This misalignment made a wing drop at the stall more likely, but it did not prevent or restrict a recovery from the stall nor any subsequent spin or spiral dive that might develop. The pilot had conducted numerous stalls on the aircraft during its flight testing and was familiar with the wing drop in the aircraft and therefore it is unlikely that he was startled by the behaviour although the subsequent entry into a spin or spiral dive may have. There was sufficient height for a recovery from a spin or spiral dive.

Although the pilot’s medical history indicated the possibility of an incapacitation this could not be confirmed by the pathologist. The prospect of a control restriction preventing a full recovery could also not be excluded due to the extensive fire damage to the aircraft.

Safety Action:
The LAA issued Mandatory Technical Directive MTD-01-2024 on 13 February 2024 applicable to all Spitfire Mk 26 and Mk26b aircraft. The MTD required geometry and symmetry checks to be carried out to ensure correct alignment of fin assembly and rigging of rudder with comprehensive illustrated instructions how to achieve the checks.

Accident investigation:
cover
  
Investigating agency: AAIB
Report number: 
Status: Investigation completed
Duration: 10 months
Download report: Final report

Sources:

1. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/23603359/plane-crash-plummets-ground/
2. https://www.banburyguardian.co.uk/news/spitfire-involved-in-crash-at-enstone-airfield-police-confirm-light-aircraft-incident-b4022-closed-4264986
3. https://www.lbc.co.uk/news/pilot-dies-after-spitfire-crashes-into-field-outside-oxford/
4. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12438527/Retired-banker-68-dies-horror-crash-flying-beloved-replica-Spitfire-Oxfordshire.html
5. https://www.itv.com/news/meridian/2023-08-25/aircraft-wreckage-removed-after-crash-in-which-pilot-died
6. https://www.thamesvalley.police.uk/news/thames-valley/news/2023/august/21-08-2023/update-on-light-aircraft-crash--west-oxfordshire/
7. https://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/23743392.tributes-pilot-killed-oxfordshire-plane-crash/
8. https://www.pprune.org/accidents-close-calls/654367-spitfire-down-enstone.html
9. https://www.thisisoxfordshire.co.uk/news/23740377.live-updates-scene-oxfordshire-plane-crash/

AAIB report:
https://www.gov.uk/government/news/aaib-report-spitfire-mk-26b-g-clhj-on-22-august-2023
https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/66718b1cc087fbe40855cda5/Spitfire_Mk_26B_G-CLHJ_07-24.pdf



Location

Images:


Photo: AAIB

Media:

Supermarine Aircraft Spitfire Mk.26B ‘LZ-N’ (G-CLHJ) Supermarine Aircraft Spitfire Mk.26B ‘LZ-N’ (G-CLHJ) c/n LAA 324-15249. Built 2019: Carries the codes originally worn by Spitfire I ‘R6800’ flown by Squadron Leader Rupert Leigh of 66 squadron, Royal Air Force, in September 1940. Enstone Aerodrome, Oxfordshire, UK 10th June 2021

Revision history:

Date/timeContributorUpdates
22-Aug-2023 18:37 Geno Added
23-Aug-2023 07:05 harro Updated
23-Aug-2023 07:39 Aerossurance Updated
24-Aug-2023 06:14 harro Updated
24-Aug-2023 07:34 RobertMB Updated
25-Aug-2023 18:53 Captain Adam Updated
01-Sep-2023 07:24 Dr. John Smith Updated
01-Sep-2023 07:24 harro Updated
20-Jun-2024 11:45 Iceman 29 Updated [Source, Embed code, Narrative]
23-Jun-2024 01:07 Captain Adam Updated [Time, Location, Phase, Embed code, Narrative, Accident report, Photo]

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