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Open canopy leads to fatal takeoff

Canopy of his aircraft opened

A pilot died after the canopy of his aircraft opened, interfering with his attempt to land safely.

On 18 September 2013, the pilot of an amateur-built Lancair Legacy aircraft was taking off from Geraldton Airport in Western Australia. He began the take-off roll with substantial engine power and the aircraft accelerated normally to about halfway along the runway. At this point, however, an observer saw smoke from the main wheels, indicating that the brakes were applied momentarily. At the same time the forward-hinged canopy opened about 15 to 30 cm. The pilot did not reject the takeoff, and instead the aircraft lifted off and climbed to about 100-150 ft above ground level.

The ATSB investigation found that while the canopy had been down during the takeoff, it had inadvertently been left unlatched.

The pilot banked the aircraft to the left and during the turn the canopy opened further so that it was at an estimated angle of 30°. The pilot appeared to be manoeuvring for a landing but the aircraft undershot the approach and the wheels hit a road kerb short of the airport perimeter. The aircraft then collided with the perimeter fence and became entangled as it overturned. Shortly after, an intense fire engulfed the aircraft.

Bystanders tried to extinguish the fire with handheld fire extinguishers and a water truck from a nearby worksite but their efforts had no immediate effect. The pilot was rescued from the wreckage and treated for burns, but later succumbed to his injuries.

The ATSB investigation found that while the canopy had been down during the takeoff, it had inadvertently been left unlatched. During his manoeuvring for landing, the pilot had likely encountered control, performance and forward visibility difficulties from the open canopy, affecting the capacity to conduct a normal approach.

The ATSB advises owners, operators and pilots of aircraft with canopies to review the adequacy of their current measures that are intended to ensure canopies are securely latched before flight (such as pre-take-off checks and warning systems), and the actions in case of inadvertent canopy opening during takeoff.

From the momentary brake application when the canopy came open it appears that the pilot’s initial reaction, perhaps instinctive, was to reject the takeoff. However, engine power was not reduced and the takeoff was continued. The decision to stop or go when an aircraft is close to lifting off can be a difficult one. The ATSB advises that, where possible in abnormal situations, pilots should take time to assess the nature of the abnormality to rectify the situation or mitigate the effects.

Read the ATSB investigation report, AO-2013-158

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Last update 05 June 2014