On 20 February 2014 at 1425 EDT, a Fairchild Industries Metro 23 aircraft, registered VH-UUB, was being operated on a charter flight from Avalon to Portland, Victoria with 10 passengers and two crew on board. Shortly after touch-down the torque link on the left, main landing gear (MLG) failed. The aircraft veered left as a result, and came to rest beside the runway. There were no injuries as a result of the occurrence.
What the ATSB found
The runway excursion resulted from failure of the lower torque link attachment lug on the left main landing gear’s yoke. This allowed the wheels to rotate through 90° with respect to the direction of aircraft travel and skid, producing a large braking effect on the left side. The flight crew were unable to counteract this and it resulted in the aircraft veering to the left and off the runway.
The failure of the lug on the yoke resulted from pre-existing cracks that had progressively grown until the part had insufficient strength to support normal landing loads. The cracks initiated principally from areas of pitting corrosion in the lug’s bore and were propagated by cyclic stresses imposed during operation.
The ATSB identified a safety issue whereby the maintenance and inspection program for the aircraft’s landing gear did not adequately provide for the detection of corrosion and cracking in the yoke lug bore.
What has been done as a result
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has released Airworthiness Bulletin AWB 32-023 to alert all Fairchild Swearingen Metro and Merlin operators of the need for detailed inspection of the internal bore of the landing gear torque link lugs for any signs of corrosion or wear outside of the manufacturer’s specified limits and to take appropriate action per the aircraft’s structural repair manual, where necessary.
In addition, the aircraft’s Type Certificate Holder has drafted service bulletins 226-32-083, 227-32-065, CC7-32-030 titled “inspection of Main Landing Yoke for Corrosion and/or Damage” that will significantly increase the effectiveness of maintenance inspections for the affected parts.
This occurrence highlights the importance of developing and conducting appropriately detailed maintenance inspections on susceptible parts and assemblies.
UUB after veering off runway
Source: airline operator
On 20 February 2014, a Fairchild Industries SA227-DC ‘Metro 23’ aircraft, registered VH-UUB, had been flown from Avalon to Portland, Victoria on a charter flight. On board were two flight crew and 10 passengers. A normal approach was conducted and the aircraft touched down at 1425 EDT. During the landing roll, the flight crew noted the aircraft began veering to the left. The flight crew attempted to counteract the movement, using rudder inputs, reverse thrust on the engines and the right brake, but the aircraft subsequently departed the runway at a speed of 75 to 80 knots and began to slide sideways. The left main landing gear (MLG) dug into the ground and the nose of the aircraft swung sharply to the left as it came to a stop. The flight crew shut the aircraft down and disembarked the passengers when it was safe to do so. There were no reported injuries as a result of the occurrence.
Subsequent inspection of the aircraft found that the torque link had detached from a fractured lug on the lower section of the left MLG (arrowed in Figure 1b), allowing the wheel assembly to rotate through 90° w.r.t. the direction of aircraft travel. This resulted in skidding wheels, producing a significant braking effect on the left main gear and causing the aircraft to veer to left and depart the runway (Figure 2).
Figure 1: Damage to the left MLG
Source: Airline operator
Figure 2: Damage to runway as a result of contact with the left main landing gear following failure
Source: Airline operator
Main landing gear description
The main landing gear assembly is composed of a telescoping upper cylinder (strut), a piston assembly and, at the lower end, the yoke (Figure 3). A torque link assembly connects at lugs on the strut and the yoke, allowing compression of the assembly while preventing rotation of the yoke. In this occurrence, the lug on the yoke had fractured.
Yokes in the MLGs of earlier SA227 models were manufactured by Ozone Industries as part number (P/N) OAS5453005-5. In later models, manufacture was by another landing gear vendor, Klune Industries, and started with the fabrication of the 27-series part numbers. The fractured yoke from VH-UUB was identified as P/N 2751505005, manufactured by Klune Industries.
Figure 3: MLG assembly highlighting key components
Source: M7 Aerospace SA227 Maintenance Manual (Modified by ATSB)
The ATSB downloaded and analysed data from the aircraft’s Flight Data and Cockpit Voice Recorders (FDR & CVR, respectively). The data confirmed that following touchdown, the aircraft began veering to the left. Approximately 8 seconds later, the aircraft departed the runway. In addition, the following points were noted:
- The vertical speed prior to landing was that of a normal approach.
- Vertical decelerations recorded during the touch-down were not excessive.
- The airspeed at touch-down was consistent with prior flights.
- The aircraft was correctly configured for landing.
The aluminium torque link and yoke were assembled via a steel torque link shaft (TLS) that mated with bronze bushes in the lower link. It was secured with a single, stainless steel retaining (spring) pin with stainless steel lockwire in its bore (Figure 4).
The fractured yoke contained four disused retaining pin holes (two each top and bottom) as a result of compliance with a service bulletin (SB) for installing a replacement TLS (CC7-32-012), released in 2002. The SB required drilling of a new pin hole in the lug to secure the replacement TLS and filling of the redundant holes with sealant. As-examined, the disused holes in the fractured yoke were not sealed, but instead contained black corrosion/wear product. However, traces of sealant around some of the holes suggested that they had probably been filled at the time of service bulletin compliance.
Figure 4: Lower torque link attachment assembly with fractured lug segment in-situ
Significant corrosion pitting was evident in the bore of the lug and on the lug flanks, with concentrations around the four disused, spring pin holes (Figure 5). Fatigue crack progression (beach) marks were identified on the lug fracture surfaces with the crack origins located at areas of significant corrosion pitting and wear in the bore. The fatigue cracking progressed across most of the lug cross section before the remaining portion fractured by ductile overstress. The overstress areas were largely defined by a narrow region on the outside radius of the lug (furthest from the bore).
Detailed examination of the corrosion pits adjacent to the fracture surface found evidence of corrosion product as well as a series of crack progression marks radiating outwards from the edge of the corroded areas.
Figure 5: Yoke lug exhibiting corrosion pitting, wear in the bore and fatigue crack progression on the fracture surfaces (main crack origins arrowed)
The bronze bushes installed in the lower torque link had worn against the yoke’s lug flanks during normal operation such that, in the areas of greatest wear, the width of the lug was now 66.03mm (2.6”) which was 0.26mm (0.01”), below the minimum dimension of 2.61” (66.294mm) specified in the structural repair manual (Figure 5).
The material properties were correct for the specified 7075-T73 aluminium alloy. Electrical resistivity testing showed that a majority of the chromic acid anodised coating, applied to the component during manufacture, had worn away, increasing the component’s susceptibility to corrosion and wear, particularly in an aqueous environment of metals dissimilar to aluminium.
Figure 6: Flank of the fractured yoke lug showing surface wear from mating bush
Yoke maintenance requirements
The Fairchild MLG yokes were maintained on condition and were not subject to any maximum service life restrictions. At the time of the occurrence, the SA227 Phase Inspection Manual (SA227 CC/DC Commuter Category, Rev 19, Sept 28, 2012) included requirements for inspection of the aircraft structure and components. The definitions section of the manual stated that;
- A routine inspection – Visual inspection not requiring removal of access panels or fairings.
- A detailed inspection – Detailed inspection requiring removal of access panels, doors, fairings, covers, upholstery and components for inspection.
The aircraft was maintained using a 6-phase inspection program with an interval of 900 hours; this included a detailed inspection of the main landing gear at a phase 3 inspection (450 hours) and a routine inspection at a phase 6 inspection (900 hours).
The phase inspection manual also included a section which included a list of requirements for the routine and detailed inspections. The detailed inspection included the requirement to inspect struts for damage, evidence of leakage, condition and security, and to inspect scissors and bushings for wear, condition and security. The manufacturer advised that in order to perform these inspections, the shaft attaching the scissor links to the yoke lug should be removed and the condition of the components checked, as well as the wear limits.
The most recent detailed (Phase 3) inspection was 436.5 hours prior to the occurrence, and a routine (Phase 6) inspection 37.3 hours prior to the occurrence. The operator’s inspection procedures followed the guidelines in the inspection manual and there was no record of the components being disassembled at either inspection. The operator advised that they performed a torque link freeplay inspection at the detailed inspection and if excessive freeplay was evident, then the components would be disassembled for further inspection.
In August and September 1995, Fairchild issued two service bulletins to cover six of the earlier SA227 models equipped with Ozone MLG & NLG (Nose Landing Gear) yokes. This was due to failures initiated by stress corrosion cracking and corrosion fatigue. In those occurrences, the failure origin was at the forging die parting (flash) line in the upper yoke area, where the piston was shrink-fitted. Both the Federal Aviation Administration and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority issued airworthiness directives a month later.
On 10 June 2007, an SA227-DC, registered VH-HPE, sustained a left MLG yoke lug failure during post-landing taxiing at Tennant Creek Aerodrome. The ATSB did not investigate that occurrence, however a report provided to the ATSB indicated that the fracture similarly related to fatigue crack progression precipitated by wear, corrosion pitting and stress corrosion cracking in the yoke lug bore.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) were aware of four Australian-registered, SA227 MLG torque link lug failures, as well as cracking of a yoke lug, found during daily inspection, on a Canadian-registered aircraft.
The manufacturer advised they were aware of two cracked yoke lugs, which were found by the same Canadian operator in 2012. A failure analysis report for one of the failures showed similar cracking to that identified on UUB. The report stated that the failure occurred as a result of cracking that had initiated at multiple corrosion pits on the inner surface of the lug. In this case however, the cracking had propagated to the external surface, which allowed it to be identified during a daily maintenance inspection. The same Canadian operator also experienced a third failure in December 2015, which was identified by the flight crew after landing.
The runway excursion involving Fairchild Industries Metro 23 VH-UUB at Portland, Victoria, on 20 February 2014, was the result of the failure of a lug on yoke of the wheel assembly on the left main landing gear (MLG) during the landing roll. The failure of the lug disconnected the torque link between the upper MLG strut and the lower wheel assembly; this allowed the wheel assembly to rotate through 90° with respect to the direction of travel. This effectively resulted in a large braking force on the left side of the aircraft. The flight crew were unable to counteract that asymmetric braking force and as a result, the aircraft veered off the runway
Failure of the MLG yoke lug
The yoke lug fractured as a result of a fatigue cracking mechanism with crack initiation points located in the bore of the lug at areas of significant wear and corrosion pitting. The fatigue crack progressed through most of the lug cross section before final fracture during the occurrence landing.
Corrosion pits act as stress concentrators and significantly reduce both the fatigue crack initiation life of the component as well as the crack initiation threshold stresses. The corrosion, wear and cracking had likely been present in the lug bore for a significant period of time prior to failure occurring. Early indications of corrosion and cracking on the lug bore would not have been visible during the inspections prescribed in the inspection manual, without first disassembling the affected parts. Neither the detailed nor routine inspections explicitly required an inspection of the lug bore, although the manual contained a general definition of a detailed inspection that required components to be disassembled for examination. The list of required inspection items also implied that some disassembly would be required to adequately inspect various components. The operator indicated that while no disassembly was performed, a torque link freeplay inspection was performed which would have led to further examinations if anomalies, such as excessive movement, were found.
There were several factors that influenced corrosion of the yoke lug bore. Sealing of the disused pin holes in this occurrence was not adequate as the sealant had either broken down over time or otherwise disbonded and come loose during service, providing additional entrance routes for moisture or other corrosives. Another entrance route was associated with wear on the yoke lug flanks where significant pitting was identified. Wear on the flanks and in the bore of the lug was sufficient to remove the protective anodic coating, which increased the susceptibility of the parts to corrosion. With corrosion pitting being a precursor to the fatigue failure of the component, improvement of corrosion protection in the affected areas would further reduce the likelihood of this type of occurrence.
From the evidence available, the following findings are made with respect to the runway excursion involving a Fairchild Metro 23 aeroplane, registered VH-UUB, which occurred at Portland, Victoria on 20 February 2014. These findings should not be read as apportioning blame or liability to any particular organisation or individual.
Safety issues, or system problems, are highlighted in bold to emphasise their importance. A safety issue is an event or condition that increases safety risk and (a) can reasonably be regarded as having the potential to adversely affect the safety of future operations, and (b) is a characteristic of an organisation or a system, rather than a characteristic of a specific individual, or characteristic of an operating environment at a specific point in time.
- The runway excursion occurred as a result of fracture of the torque-link attachment lug on the aircraft’s left main landing gear yoke, which allowed those wheels to deviate from the normal direction of travel and cause asymmetrical braking forces that could not be countered by the flight crew.
- The torque link-to-yoke attachment lug fractured under normal operational loads as a result of the initiation and propagation of fatigue cracks originating at areas of excessive wear and corrosion pitting on the lug bore.
- The maintenance program for the aircraft’s landing gear did not adequately provide for the detection of corrosion and cracking in the yoke lug bore. [Safety issue]
Safety issues and actions
The safety issues identified during this investigation are listed in the Findings and Safety issues and actions sections of this report. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) expects that all safety issues identified by the investigation should be addressed by the relevant organisation(s). In addressing those issues, the ATSB prefers to encourage relevant organisation(s) to proactively initiate safety action, rather than to issue formal safety recommendations or safety advisory notices.
Depending on the level of risk of the safety issue, the extent of corrective action taken by the relevant organisation, or the desirability of directing a broad safety message to the aviation industry, the ATSB may issue safety recommendations or safety advisory notices as part of the final report.
Where relevant, safety issues and actions will be updated on the ATSB website as information comes to hand. The initial public version of these safety issues and actions are in PDF on the ATSB website.
Safety issue title – Inadequate inspection procedures
The maintenance program for the aircraft’s landing gear did not adequately provide for the detection of corrosion and cracking in the yoke lug bore.
Aviation safety issue: AO-2015-028-SI-01
Sources and submissions
Sources of information
Sources of information used during the investigation included:
the aircraft’s type certificate holder
the aircraft operator
the Civil Aviation Safety Authority
the operating flight crew
the aircraft’s flight data recorders.
Under Part 4, Division 2 (Investigation Reports), Section 26 of the Transport Safety Investigation Act 2003 (the Act), the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) may provide a draft report, on a confidential basis, to any person whom the ATSB considers appropriate. Section 26 (1) (a) of the Act allows a person receiving a draft report to make submissions to the ATSB about the draft report.
A draft of this report was provided to the operator, the aircraft maintenance provider, M7 Aerospace and CASA.
Submissions were received from the operator, M7 Aerospace and CASA. The submissions were reviewed and where considered appropriate, the text of the report was amended accordingly.