Caught by Downdraft on Short Final

This report was submitted by Gary Bennett.

I am sad to report that our Glastar N241GS flipped forward on to its back and sustained major damage on Saturday the 19th at my home airport during a landing. I am happy to report that due to this wonderful aircraft neither of us is severely injured.

NASA artist's rendering of a microburst.
NASA artist’s rendering of a microburst.

Before I relate what happened I want to say out front that I had great respect for this aircraft and now, I have even greater respect for it. Suzy and I had flown over to Auburn Airport to refuel and we were returning to our home airport, which is asphalt at 2350′ running due north and south, about 100′ higher at the North end. We all land North on Runway 01 regardless of the wind. We sit on a ridge and we get some pretty squirrely winds at times and you just have to be prepared for them. I guess I was not. It was fairly warm and we were experiencing variable winds with some mild up and downdrafts on final, which did not seem out of the ordinary for our strip. We have landed in much worse. My normal approach on final is at 70 mph and I was closer to 65 with full flaps when we fell. We came over the threshold and experienced what now seemed to be a total loss of lift and/or an extreme downdraft. It was something I had not previously experienced. With full flaps we fell straight down in pretty much level flight, slamming into the runway on what seemed to be all 3 points (mains and nosewheel at the same time).


I was trying to come in with full power to break the freefall, but I was unable to do it soon enough as the vertical descent was incredibly rapid and we therefore impacted the runway extremely hard. The prop did not make contact. I reached close to full power just as we slammed downward and we were catapulted under full power upward quite high at a greatly reduced airspeed, and at the same time with the nose coming to starboard and the right wing down we were headed for the pine trees on the east side of the runway. Any other aircraft and we may not be here today to tell of this. Ladies and gentlemen, enter the GlaStar. We managed to get the wings level, and thanks to that large rudder and high power-to-weight ratio we steered away from the trees and got the nose down and with full power and still with full flaps the airplane did what I already knew it could do, it not only stayed airborne, but we had control and we were able to avoid a second impact (which would have been much more severe than the first.) Another landing attempt straight ahead was not a viable option at that point. I was unable to climb at first, and finally in ground effect we managed to get some airspeed and sustain a very slow climb. I am sure I was down to 40 or 45 mph. As you know this aircraft has incredible performance at low speed with full flaps and full power. We had some pretty major damage, but we did not know the nature or extent of it at the time.

We came around the pattern and made a low pass so neighbors could have a look. One of our neighbors, an airline captain, advised me our nose gear was bent backward about 90 degrees which I thought provided us with kind of a “rounded leg” to support the nose on the landing roll. This was the only damage he could spot from the ground and it did not account for the very sluggish climb and downwind performance I was getting. It looked as if we could make it ok. I had good control but I had to hold rudder. I did not know it at the time but we had a slightly bent main and one or both of the wings were bent somewhat downward as well. My door was jammed. We made only one pass and decided to get back onto the ground. Before landing I cut the engine and we planted it, skidding on the bent nose gear for awhile and then veering off the runway to the left at probably not much more that maybe 15 or so mph where we flipped forward onto our back.

We released the harnesses and escaped through the co-pilots side. I did not jam the door open before landing, (funny how you tell yourself you are going to do all of these things and then forget.) Fortunately we were able to get it open and we had no fuel leaks.

To make a long story short my wife Suzy had a minor concussion and minor scrapes and abrasions and I had a deep gash across the top of my head which I think was caused by impacting my GPS which was mounted from the overhead (40 stitches and two metal clamps later) and a deep gash on my left palm and some other minor cuts and abrasions. We experienced no gas leakage at all and we have the recessed locking gas caps, mains and aux tanks.

The aircraft has a smashed windshield, the steel cage is bent on the pilots side, along with the fiberglass fuselage shattered and separated between the windshield and the pilot’s window. Both wings are bent downward, the port wing more than the starboard. It appears to be bent where the spars attach to upper cage (the wing structure itself held), but I was a little fuzzy at the time of initial inspection so this may change. The vortex generators are smashed flat. I have some wrinkled skin and other collateral damage. Of course the rudder and vertical fin are smashed downward. The nose cone is smashed and one prop blade in bent, I don’t think we have engine damage. I have only taken a brief look at the airplane so far.

My neighbors, while we were at the hospital, righted the aircraft, emptied out all the fuel and put it back into my hangar. I checked the G-meter and it was pegged out positive and at 5.5 Gs negative. We hit hard, both on the initial hit and later when the aircraft flipped.

We have no apparent back, neck or spinal problems, I believe primarily due to the GlaStars gear design having absorbed most of the shock along with the layered foam (that special expensive foam used in the space shuttle seats, can’t recall what it is known as.) The shoulder restraints, standard S-H issue, do not hold you downward, that job is supposed to be handled by the lap belt. The harnesses only hold you back into the seat, so when we flipped inverted I was thrown toward the overhead which allowed my head to strike my Garmin GPS 90 which was mounted from the overhead cage (where hindsight now tells me it should not have been…)

I don’t mean to be long-winded but I think we all want the particulars when one of us has an incident. The first time I saw the GlaStar after I got home from the hospital I just walked around the airplane with a large grin on my slightly beat up face, marveling at this torn up piece of hardware which saved our bacon. I think sometimes we blame the aircraft or circumstances beyond our control for a crash, but for me it drives home the fact that flying has inherit dangers sometimes totally unforeseen and unpredictable. We just can’t be complacent. As we all know in regards to aviation one mistake is often followed by another, sometimes with fatal results. In retrospect I should have held maybe a slightly higher airspeed on finally due to the winds. Just because it has worked in the past does not mean it will work this time. It may have not have made a difference, guess I will never know. I know that had we not extensively explored the limits of this aircraft’s performance during testing and subsequent flights, that we may not have walked away from this one.

When you know what your airplane can do you know what your options are. Had this been a C172 or C182 or similar, we would have been into the trees off the runway after the first impact, as I would not have been able to power out of the problem. This airplane did it, and did it with a bent wing (or wings?) to boot! I talked to Bill Wilson on the phone Saturday after the hospital. He had left a message as he had been up flying at the same time and heard me on the radio. I told him we would probably be able to repair it, but now having had a look at it I have my doubts. It is up to the adjuster now.

Two things for certain; #1- we will not make Arlington in the GlaStar this year, and #2- We will get to see a bunch more sunsets thanks to a great aircraft.

NTSB Report

14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Saturday, May 19, 2001 in Grass Valley, CA
Probable Cause Approval Date: 03/30/2004
Aircraft: Bennett Glastar, registration: N241GS
Injuries: 2 Minor.

NTSB investigators may not have traveled in support of this investigation and used data provided by various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

According to the commercial pilot, he reduced power on final approach and then experienced an “extreme downdraft.” He increased power in an attempt to arrest the excessive descent rate that ensued; however, he was unsuccessful. The airplane struck the ground and bounced back into the air. The pilot performed a go-around and conducted a low pass so that a person on the ground could examine the airplane. He was told that the nose landing gear was collapsed and the right wing was bent down approximately 20 degrees. The pilot performed another landing, during which the airplane skidded along the runway for 350 feet prior to veering off the side and nosing over. The closest weather reporting facility, which was 18 miles away, reported the wind at 14 knots with gusts to 23 knots. The pilot had accumulated a total of 32.2 hours of flight time in the accident airplane. The pilot indicated he could have landed with additional power and airspeed as a possible way of preventing the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

  • The pilot’s failure to arrest the excessive descent rate. A contributing factor was the gusty wind conditions.
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