Auburn Municipal Airport was temporarily shut down Tuesday evening after a prop plane flipped over. Only the pilot was on board at the time of the accident and was reported to have no injuries. Units from Valley Regional Fire Authority station 31 were dispatched to assist in the incident at 6:37 pm.
Ryan Hubbard, Airport Operations Technician, confirmed the pilot was high-speed taxi testing the plane when it flipped onto its top. “My understanding is he just purchased [the plane], and it was relatively new (to him). My understanding is he was taxi testing it to become more familiar with the plane,” said Hubbard.
VRFA Public Information Officer Kimberly Terhune shared that the pilot, a male in his 60’s, described himself as an experienced pilot to the VRFA Incident Commander.
A Truly Classic Aircraft
The plane, a Fairchild 24, is a single propeller plane. The Museum of Flight describes the plane as “a truly classic aircraft in its field. Built in the 1930s and 1940s as an economical and easy-to-fly touring aircraft.”
Hubbard explained that this model plane is a tailwheel aircraft, as opposed to a nosewheel aircraft. “A nose wheel aircraft wants to drive straight. I use the comparison of carry-on luggage,” explained Hubbard. “A nosewheel aircraft, you’re pulling your luggage. A tailwheel aircraft you’re pushing the luggage. You have to make constant corrections to make it track straight.”
According to Hubbard, because of the need for consistent control influence, tailwheel type aircraft incur more incidents. This also makes these aircrafts higher to insure.
Though the Fairchild 24 has, as the Museum of Flight describes, a stubby nose; tail wheel aircraft typically have a heavy engine on the front. “Any kind of reason or thing that would stop the momentum or make it a little heavier on the nose [may] have caused it to flip over as it did, “said Hubbard.
Determination of a cause is currently only speculative. A mechanic will complete an evaluation of the plane to help determine the cause of the flip. The FAA has concluded a preliminary investigation and released the aircraft. The incident has been ruled an “occurrence,” which Hubbard described as “pretty much the most minor event you could have.”
VRFA remained on scene until shortly after 8:00 pm to assist in removing a small fuel spill. There was no notable damage to the airport or other property. Terhune confirmed this is one of the more unique calls VRFA has had.