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ASN Wikibase Occurrence # 29756
Last updated: 24 November 2021
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Type:Schempp-Hirth Nimbus 4DM
Registration: N807BB
MSN: 20
Fatalities:Fatalities: 2 / Occupants: 2
Other fatalities:0
Aircraft damage: Written off (damaged beyond repair)
Location:Nevada -   United States of America
Phase: En route
Departure airport:MEV
Destination airport:
Investigating agency: NTSB
The glider broke up in flight during the recovery phase after a departure from controlled flight while maneuvering in thermal lift conditions. Airborne witnesses in other gliders who saw the beginning of the sequence said the glider was in a tight turn, as if climbing in a thermal, when it entered a spiral or a spin. With a 45-degree nose down attitude, the speed quickly built up as the glider completed two full rotations. The rotation then stopped, the flight stabilized on a northeasterly heading, and the nose pitched further down to a near vertical attitude (this is consistent with the spin recovery technique specified in the Flight Manual). The glider was observed to be pulling out of the dive, with the wings bending upward and the wing tips coning higher, when the outboard wing tip panels departed from the glider, the wings disintegrated, and the fuselage dove into the ground. Several witnesses estimated the wing deflection reached 45-degrees or more before the wings failed. Examination of the wreckage disclosed that the left and right outboard wing sections failed symmetrically at 2 locations.

The glider is a high performance sailplane with an 87-foot wingspan and is constructed from fiber reinforced plastic (FRP) composites. The manufacturing process uses a hand lay-up of carbon and glass materials with applied epoxy resins. The glider is certificated in the normal category in Germany under the provisions of the European Joint Airworthiness Regulations.

Pilots with experience in the Nimbus 4 series gliders stated that the glider was particularly sensitive to over input of the rudder control during turns due to the 87-foot wingspan, with a resulting tendency for unwanted rolling moments. The manufacturer reported that to avoid undesired rolling moments once the bank is established the ailerons must be deflected against the bank.

Maneuvering speed (Va) is 180 km/h (97 kts) and the AFM notes that full control surface deflections may only be applied at this speed and below. Never exceed speed (Vne) is 285 km/h (154 kts) and control deflections are limited to one third of the full range at this speed and a bold print cautionary note reads, "Avoid especially sudden elevator control movements." The manufacturer reported that design dive speed (Vd) is 324 km/h (175 kts). The manufacturer also said that, assuming a 45-degree nose down attitude with airbrakes closed, the glider would accelerate from stall speed to Vne in 8.6 seconds, with an additional 1.8 seconds to accelerate from Vne to Vd. While no specific information on stick force per 'g' was available, certification flight test data showed that the elevator control stick forces were relatively light, with only 11.9 pounds of force (nose down) required to hold a fixed attitude at Vne versus the neutral stick force trim speed of 135 km/h (72.89 kts).

Detailed examination of witness marks and other evidence in the wreckage established that the pilot extended the airbrakes at some point in an attempt to slow the glider during the descent prior to the break-up. Concerning limitations on use of the airbrakes, the AFM notes that while airbrakes may be extended up to Vne they should only be used at such high speeds in emergency or if the maximum permitted speeds are being exceeded inadvertently. The manufacturer noted that the airbrakes function like spoilers and have the effect of shifting the aerodynamic loads outboard on the wings. The control linkages for the airbrakes and flaps are interconnected so that when full airbrake deployment is achieved, the flaps are extended to their full down limit.

The maximum maneuvering load factor limits (in units of gravity or g's) change with variations in glider speed and flap/airbrake configuration. From a "flaps up" configuration at Va to the condition of airbrakes and flaps extended at Vne, the maximum maneuvering load factor limits decrease from positive 5.3 to a positive 3.5.

The pertinent certification regulations require a minimum safety margin of 1.5 above the design limit load, which is

Probable Cause: The pilot's excessive use of the elevator control during recovery from an inadvertently entered spin and/or spiral dive during which the glider exceeded the maximum permissible speed, which resulted in the overload failure of the wings at loadings beyond the structure's ultimate design loads.




Revision history:

27-Sep-2008 01:00 ASN archive Added
29-Jul-2009 21:21 DColclasure Updated
21-Dec-2016 19:16 ASN Update Bot Updated [Time, Damage, Category, Investigating agency]
21-Dec-2016 19:20 ASN Update Bot Updated [Time, Damage, Category, Investigating agency]
14-Dec-2017 08:42 ASN Update Bot Updated [Cn, Nature, Departure airport, Source, Narrative]

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