The student pilot of a Grob 115 C aircraft was authorised by his instructor to conduct solo night circuits at Merredin, WA. Shortly after take-off from runway 28, and as the student commenced his after take-off checks (at about 300 ft AGL, including flap retraction and engine power reduction), he noticed that the aircraft was becoming difficult to control. As he scanned the aircraft's flight instruments he decided that the attitude indicator was unreliable and noted the directional indicator turning quickly to the left. Control inputs applied to reduce the rate of turn were unsuccessful. The student recalled that the airspeed indicator was indicating 140 kts.
The student reported that despite applying back-pressure to the control column and maintaining the pitch attitude for a climb, the aircraft continued to descend and impacted the ground beyond the aerodrome boundary. Immediately following the ground impact, the aircraft became airborne and the student recalled applying full power and commencing a climb. An instructor on the ground established radio communication and provided instructions to assist the student. The student stated that the attitude indicator remained unreliable for the entire circuit but, with the instructor's assistance, he was able to complete a normal approach and landing. As the nose was lowered to the runway during the landing roll, the propeller struck the runway and stopped. The accident occurred at approximately 2000 Western Standard Time. The student was not injured and vacated the aircraft without assistance.
Examination of the aircraft indicated that the nose wheel and oleo had been damaged during the initial impact with the ground and had detached from the aircraft prior to landing. The nose oleo was subsequently recovered from a paddock in the vicinity of a left base position for runway 28.
Last light at Merredin on the night of the accident was 1802. It was reported to be a dark night, with no discernible natural horizon. During the initial climb from runway 28, the student had no significant external visual reference available and was using the flight instruments to maintain control of the aircraft.
Following the accident, the operator contracted an independent maintenance organisation to examine the aircraft flight instruments, engine driven vacuum pump, and other associated systems. No pre-accident defect was detected.
The flying roster for the day indicated that the student was scheduled to complete two separate exercises, a navigation phase check during the afternoon, followed by solo night circuits. The student had arrived at the aerodrome at 1000 to prepare for his phase check.
A delay in departure time for the phase check meant the aircraft arrived back at Merredin after last light. Prior to concluding the phase check, the instructor completed three circuits with the student for the purpose of authorising his solo night flying. The total flight time for the phase check was recorded as 3.3 hours, of which 0.2 hours was logged at night. By 1845, all tasks associated with the phase check were completed and the student took a short meal break before recommencing duty for the night circuits.
The operator had a detailed flying training syllabus for the conduct of training. It was reported that a gap in the flying program had permitted some students to progress through their training at an accelerated rate, which introduced night flying at an earlier stage of training than was usual. The student had been previously assessed proficient in the required syllabus items for solo night circuit operations and had attained this standard in less than the minimum flight time contained in the operator's flying training syllabus.
At the time of the accident, the student's flying training included 3.6 hours dual night instruction, 2.5 hours night pilot-in-command, 4.4 hours instrument flying and 2.7 hours in a synthetic trainer. The syllabus indicated that a student required at least 9 hours in a synthetic trainer prior to commencing his night training, including a requirement for 5 hours of night simulation in the synthetic trainer. There was no provision for an exemption against those operations manual requirements.
The circumstances of the accident were consistent with the student becoming disorientated after take-off, possibly associated with the change in aircraft configuration during completion of the after take-off checklist.
The student was in the early phase of his night flying training and, although he reported that an unserviceable attitude indicator had contributed to his disorientation, he had only limited instrument flying experience. He had not completed the training required in the operator's syllabus prior to commencing night flying and, most probably, had not developed his instrument flying skills to the standard normally required for this stage of training.
The dual check immediately before the accident flight had been conducted only a short time after last light and possibly, when there was still some external visual reference available.
Although the student received a short rest break before commencing the accident flight, he had been in attendance at the aerodrome for most of the day and recently had returned from an extended navigation exercise. Accordingly, it is possible that fatigue had also affected the student's performance and his ability to maintain control of the aircraft with reference to the flight instruments.
Local safety action
As a result of the investigation, the operator conducted a review of night training operations together with an assessment of their aerodrome emergency plan. As a result of these reviews, the following actions were completed:
- The purchase of portable runway lighting;
- The purchase of additional emergency equipment;
- The review of the aerodrome emergency plan;
- The construction of an observation deck for instructors to monitor solo flying operations;
- The review and amendment of the training syllabus to include an introduction to night flying, scheduling students to complete instrument flying training (including night synthetic training) before introducing the night flying component;
- The discontinuation of the practice where night flying is scheduled concurrently with other training sequences;
- The introduction of a requirement for instructors to more closely monitor student duty times; and
- The introduction of human factors training (night flying), prior to the commencement of night flying training.
|Date:||24 April 2001||Investigation status:||Completed|
|Time:||2000 hours WST|
|State:||Western Australia||Occurrence type:||Collision with terrain|
|Release date:||04 September 2002||Occurrence class:||Operational|
|Report status:||Final||Occurrence category:||Accident|
|Highest injury level:||None|
|Aircraft manufacturer||Grob - Burkhart Flugzeugbau|
|Type of operation||Flying Training|
|Damage to aircraft||Substantial|
|Departure point||Merredin, WA|
|Departure time||1945 hours WST|
|Role||Class of licence||Hours on type||Hours total|