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14th of January 2014

On this day in aviation history in 2014, the crew of a Gulfstream G200 (N720QS) was preparing for a third post-maintenance test flight after the aircraft underwent a scheduled and unscheduled maintenance input in Savannah, GA, USA. During the unscheduled part of the maintenance input, a long-running landing gear position issue was investigated and repair was attempted.

The Gulfstream G200, previously known as the IAI Galaxy. (source: public domain)

After the maintenance input was finished, a check flight was flown to verify system operation including verification if the landing gear indication issue had been resolved as expected, this was not the case and the aircraft had to have additional maintenance. On January 10th, in preparation for a second test flight, a large amount of fuel was found in the APU compartment, which was traced to a leaking fitting on the APU Fuel Control Unit. A seal was replaced, a leak check was performed and the aircraft was declared ready for a second flight test. The second test flight revealed that the landing gear indication issue was still unresolved, and further maintenance action was required.

This maintenance input lasted till the 14th of January when the aircraft was taken on a third test flight.

The initial climb after take-off of the third test flight went without any issues, However, when the aircraft climbed through 16.000 feet (4800 meters) at a speed of 280 knots the crew noticed a"thud" and a short shudder. In absence of any abnormal indication, the crew continued with the scheduled flight test program as scheduled. During the remainder of the flight, there were no further anomalies and also the aircraft handling characteristics were normal.

The test flight was completed without further issues and the aircraft returned to Savannah for a normal landing.

APU access door circled green, it is hinged at the top and opens upwards (sourced from public media)

During a post-flight check of the aircraft, the crew found that the APU (Auxiliary Power Unit) access door was open and band backward, but still attached to the aircraft with the aft hinge. The position of the panel caused it to interfere with the lower part of the rudder, resulting in substantial damage to the rudder.

The door was visually inspected from ground level by the crew during the preflight, as steps were required for access.

An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board into the incident involved a check of the maintenance documents, this revealed that after the rectification of the fuel leak on the APU no maintenance activity had been recorded in the APU area. The probable cause was identified by the NTSB as: "Maintenance personnel’s failure to properly secure the auxiliary power unit service door before returning the airplane to service, which resulted in substantial damage to the rudder." The full NTSB report is available by clicking here.

This was the 6th such incident on a Gulfstream G200 aircraft, according to the airframe manufacturer, a Maintenance and Operations letter had been issued on this subject in October 2008, as a reaction to this incident another Maintenance and Operations letter was issued urging crews and maintenance staff to verify the APU access door was properly closed and latched prior to flight.

A review of the previous in-flight APU service door events by the manufacturer revealed that, during manufacturing, the forward APU service door latches may have been trimmed to prevent interference with the frame, possibly resulting in an insufficient overlap between the latches and the doubler. On May 30, 2014, the airframe manufacturer issued Service Bulletins 200-52-403 and 280-52-136, calling for inspection of the forward APU service door latches on G200 and G280 airplanes, respectively. Examination of the latches on the accident airplane immediately following the accident revealed the proper overlap between the latches and doubler.

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