More On Fatal Crash of Charles Alfred Chambers – N6064N

Aviation gasoline (Avgas) and automobile gasoline (Mogas) are different in many ways. Aside from the octane rating systems, which are very different, they also can have a radically different fuel vapor pressure. Most people have heard of a car engine stalling due to “vapor lock.” This occurs when the fuel vaporizes — turns from a liquid to a vapor — in the fuel lines or the carburetor. This bubble of gas vapor prevents the fuel pump from pumping fuel to the engine, so it quits.

Aircraft operate in extreme environments. You can take off from Palm Springs when it is 110 degrees on the ground, and in five minutes be up where the outside temperature is below freezing. The fuel has to flow in a reliable manner. Avgas is manufactured to have a vapor pressure of 6.5 pounds per square inch (psi), regardless of the time of year or the area of the country. Mogas vapor pressures can vary between 7 and 15 psi, depending upon the season and location.

In order to use mogas in an aircraft, one has to first obtain a supplemental type certificate (STC). To obtain an STC for mogas, the operator has to demonstrate that the airplane will operate safely on mogas. The fuel vapor pressure is not the only issue. Additives in the mogas must be compatible with the engine and other components. For instance some mogas has alcohol added, and that can  damage fuel bladders and gaskets. Some aircraft engines rely upon the higher lead content in avgas to lubricate exhaust valves. A particular aircraft engine can be approved for use of mogas, while a particular aircraft with that engine can not be approved. This is usually due to vapor lock problems. Low wing aircraft, like the Beech 19, which rely upon a fuel pump to provide fuel to the engine, have difficulties obtaining a mogas STC.

Charles Chambers operated a Beech 19 Musketeer. There are no STC’s to use mogas in that airplane. This is not from a lack of trying to obtain a mogas STC, it is because testing showed that particular aircraft cannot operate safely on mogas. With that in mind, here is what Mr, Chamber admitted to doing on a post on BajaNomads, one year prior to the fatal accident which killed him and two others.

“Actually I do not have an stc for mo-gas…”
Click on image for enlarge.

Here is a photo of Mr. Chambers Beech 19 being refueled with mogas at Scorpion Bay, Baja California immediately prior to his departure on what turned out to be his last flight.

Refueling N6064N from a gas can with automobile fuel

NTSB Report on Fatal Crash of Charles Alfred Chambers – N6064N

The following is the preliminary report filed by the National Transportation Safety Board on the crash of Charles Alfred Chambers, on November 21, 2010. Fulano discussed this incident earlier in this blog.

NTSB Identification: WPR11FA054
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Sunday, November 21, 2010 in Newport Beach, CA
Aircraft: BEECH 19A, registration: N6064N
Injuries: 3 Fatal.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On November 21, 2010, about 1744 Pacific standard time, a Beech 19A, N6064N, experienced a total loss of engine power on approach to the John Wayne-Orange County Airport (SNA), Santa Ana, California. During the pilot’s subsequent forced landing, the airplane descended into estimated 3-feet-deep water, nosed over, and was substantially damaged. The accident site is located about 2.7 miles south of SNA in the Upper Newport Bay Ecological Reserve (estuary), Newport Beach, California. The private pilot and two passengers were killed. Dark nighttime visual meteorological conditions prevailed at the time of the accident. The personal flight was performed under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91, and no flight plan was filed. The flight originated from Calexico International Airport (CXL), Calexico, California, between 1447 and 1511.

Members of the pilot’s family reported to the National Transportation Safety Board investigator that, a few days before the accident, the pilot had flown to Mexico from Zamperini Field Airport (TOA), his home base airport in Torrance, California. Two passengers accompanied the pilot on the pleasure flight. The accident occurred during the pilot’s return flight home with his friends.

According to the pilot’s wife, on November 21 about 1047, the pilot telephoned her. The pilot indicated that he was obtaining fuel prior to departing San Felipe International Airport, Baja California, Mexico. The pilot’s wife expected her husband to fly back to Torrance and arrive during the late afternoon or early evening. En route to Torrance, the pilot was expected to fly to CXL, an uncontrolled international airport of entry into the United States.

A private pilot, who was located at San Felipe International Airport, reported to the Safety Board investigator that about 1045 he observed the accident pilot waiting in line to purchase fuel. The private pilot stated that he was unaware of the quantity of fuel purchased by the accident pilot.

The accident pilot’s departure time and route of flight to CXL has not been determined. En route to CXL, the pilot transmitted to a United States based automated flight service station (PRC AFSS) that his estimated arrival time at CXL was 1400. The pilot reported that after departing CXL he planned to fly to TOA. His anticipated en route cruise altitude would be 6,500 feet mean sea level and, weather permitting, he would fly from CXL to TOA via the Julian navigation aid.

A fuel lineman at CXL reported that he spoke with the accident pilot on the afternoon of November 21, sometime after 1405 when the airplane landed. Pursuant to the pilot’s request, the lineman pumped 20.0 gallons of fuel into the airplane’s right wing fuel tank. He was not instructed to top off the tank. The lineman opined that adding exactly 20.0 gallons of fuel to the right wing tank did not result in it being completely filled to the brim of the filler neck. The lineman stated that he was not instructed to add any fuel to the left wing tank, and he did not know the quantity of fuel in that tank. The lineman further reported that the pilot’s airplane departed CXL about 1447.

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) personnel reported that the pilot did not communicate with any of its facilities during the accident flight until the pilot was flying in a northwesterly direction near the Pacific Ocean coastline and was about 10 miles southeast of SNA. This initial contact occurred with a SNA air traffic controller. The controller advised the pilot that he had been identified on radar, and the airplane was about 8 miles south-southeast of SNA. At the time, the pilot was cruising between 1,500 and 1,700 feet mean sea level.

About 2 minutes later, the pilot asked the controller where he was located (relative to SNA). The controller responded that the pilot was 5 miles south-southeast of the airport.

The Safety Board investigator’s subsequent review of the recorded radio transmissions indicated that, seconds later, the pilot twice informed the controller that “we have just run out of fuel.” While the airplane was descending in a northwesterly direction (toward SNA), the pilot informed the controller that he would try to reach the airport and see how close he could get.

A witness, who was located about 3/4-mile southeast of the accident site, reported observing the accident airplane flying in a northwesterly direction. The witness indicated that the airplane was at most three telephone poles’ height above the ground as it flew past his location. The witness stated that he heard the airplane’s engine “sputter,” but it never revved up. The witness lost sight of the airplane as it descended.

At the time of the accident, a low tide condition existed, and first responders were able to walk up to the partially submerged airplane. Hours later the tide rose, and the fuselage was mostly under water.

The airplane was recovered from the accident site and examined. Control cable continuity and functionality were confirmed between the engine’s throttle, mixture and carburetor controls and the engine. The propeller blades did not exhibit leading edge nicks, chordwise abrasions or torsional deformation. The engine’s crankshaft rotated, and its internal gear and component continuity were confirmed. The gascolator’s fuel screen was observed mostly devoid of contaminants, and the fuel tank selector rotated freely.

No fuel was found in the main fuel line to the carburetor or in the wing tanks, which contained ounces of water. Several ounces of fuel were found in the carburetor bowl and in the accelerator pump assembly.

According to the Beechcraft Musketeer Sport III “Owner’s Manual” recovered from the accident airplane, the airplane is equipped with two 30-gallon fuel tanks, for a total of 60 gallons. Of this amount, 58.8 gallons of fuel are usable.

Source: AP

[Fulano’s observations: Because the John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana has commercial airline traffic, it has what is known as a “Class C” airspace around it. This airspace restricts where aircraft can operate, so that the airliners and private planes stay clear of each other. Along Chambers’ route of flight, one segment along the coast directly off the airport only allows private aircraft to fly below 1,500 feet or above 5,400 feet. Another flight rule requires that aircraft on Chambers heading of northwest should be flying at 6,500 feet when they are more than 3,000 above ground. Based upon Chambers reported altitude of between “1,500 and 1,700” feet, it appears he was taking the lower path. A private aircraft like the one Chambers was flying will glide without the engine. It will move about 7 to 10 feet forward for every 1 foot loss of altitude. Chambers crashed less than 1 mile from the airport. Had he taken the higher altitude, he would have been able to glide another 7 to 10 miles, and would have easily reached the runway.

Another disturbing element is that Chambers asked the controllers where he was relative to the airport when he was only 5 miles from it. Fulano discussed in another blog the importance of situational awareness. Situational awareness is knowing where you are at all times, what is around you and what is happening. That area of Southern California is full of landmarks for pilots. The ocean, the shoreline and the Palos Verdes peninsula ahead in the distance, makes it easy to know where you are, even without any instruments.

The sun had set at 4:44PM that day, exactly one hour before the crash, so it would have been nighttime. However, there was a full moon that night, which rose one hour before the crash. Non-pilots may not be aware that it is actually easier to spot an airport at night time than during the day. During the day, airports in congested metropolitan areas tend to blend in with their surroundings. At night, they are a large dark area inside a more lighted city and the long straight lines of the runway lights are easily identifiable.

Finally, it is very unwise to fly at night only 1,500 feet above the ground when not approaching an airport to land, especially in a single-engine airplane. Without an operating engine, an airplane like Chambers’ will descend about 800 feet per minute. That means from his 1,500 foot altitude, he would hit the ground in less than two minutes. Two minutes is not enough time to identify the engine problem, try a restart and pick out a place to land in the dark.

The Federal Aviation Agency regulations have a “gotcha” rule about low flying. Part 91.119 (a) says:

Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

(a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

When Fulano first wrote about this incident last month, he commented that the three most useless things in aviation are the altitude above you, the runway behind you, and the fuel left in the fuel truck. Chambers left fuel behind in the fuel truck in Calexico, flying at 1,500 feet, he had lots of useless altitude above him. He also passed several opportunities to stop at airports along his route to refuel.]

Chambers’ probable route