Citabria N5156X Landing Gear Accident

Back on December 26th, 2009 my wife Kathleen was flying with an instructor in the Citabria that we owned half of as part of her ongoing flight training toward her Single Engine Land pilot rating.  (She’s already a rated glider pilot.) They were flying out of Reid Hillview (KRHV) in San Jose, our home airport.

Kathleen and N5156X at Lee Vining

They were practicing short-field landings. That means they were coming in slower and more steeply than normal–but not dangerously so. On their second (and soon to be final) landing of the day, the right landing gear snapped off upon touching down.

Citabria N5156X Landing Gear Accident

The picture above was shot the next day after it had been out in the rain. That’s why you see rust.

The result is that the landing gear, still attached by the brake line, swung around and punched a hole in the right rear fuselage before coming off completely.


The missing landing gear also resulted in a multiple prop strikes (meaning that the propeller hit the runway and bent). That resulted in internal engine damage.

Citabria N5156X Landing Gear Accident

Eventually, the right wing hit the ground and they lost directional control. The airplane ended up in the grass between runway 13L and 13R but they were uninjured–thankfully!


Our mechanic, who has been working on these airplanes about as long as I’ve been alive, had a look at it and told us he’d never seen one break like that before. The steel itself broke–not the fuselage attach bolts which are the typical “weak link” on a Citabria.

Thankfully the airplane was insured. After seeing the pictures and description of the damage and ballpark estimated repair work, they decided to buy the airplane from us and payout fully on the claim. They called it a total loss.

Citabria N5156X Landing Gear Accident

A few days later, N5156X was hauled away to an aircraft scrap yard where undamaged parts of it will presumably be sold off.

I’m going to miss N5156X. It was the airplane that I did the bulk of my private training in, including my solo cross-country flights.

Flying Citabria N5156X on my First Solo Cross Country Flight

We also flew it out to Jackson Hole and Yellowstone last summer.

Yellowstone Trip Day 1

You can see more of the photos in my Citabria N5156X Landing Gear Accident set on Flickr.

About Jeremy Zawodny

I'm a software engineer and pilot. I work at craigslist by day, hacking on various bits of back-end software and data systems. As a pilot, I fly Glastar N97BM, Just AirCraft SuperSTOL N119AM, Bonanza N200TE, and high performance gliders in the northern California and Nevada area. I'm also the original author of "High Performance MySQL" published by O'Reilly Media. I still speak at conferences and user groups on occasion.
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20 Responses to Citabria N5156X Landing Gear Accident

  1. Dave Zawodny says:

    When will you be posting the pictures of your new ride here?

    I think you’ll find the new one much more enjoyable and serviceable for many years to come 😉

  2. josh r says:

    Kinda sad to see it go… Hope you find a nice replacement.

  3. Sean says:

    Glad everyone was okay! The Bellanca Scout at the Santa Ynez gliderport experienced a shockingly similar accident 4 or 5 years ago. The left landing gear broke on touchdown in nearly the same spot causing a prop strike along with a couple of broken ribs in the left wing when it fell over.

  4. Nelson says:

    Oh, how sad! But thank you for posting the pictures. I’ve been wondering what had happened to y’all, and also I’m doing all I can to learn about real accidents as I do my training. I’m glad everyone was OK and insured. I hope Kathleen’s back up and flying and you can get a fun new plane!

  5. akincy says:

    The same thing happened to our Citrabria a couple of years ago. It broke in almost the exact same place. We repaired the plane and are flying it now. Email me if you are interested in deatails. Glad no one was injured.

  6. Rob Steele says:

    I believe that fits within the definition of a good landing. Congratulations!

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  8. Sarah says:

    Aw, that’s a shame. I saw the pix on flickr and wondered what happened…. googled around today and read this story. I’m glad K & her instructor are OK.

    I’d be interested in whether a pattern of failures here is starting to appear. A spot to look at at annual? Magnaflux?

    Coincidentally – well, no, it’s why Citabrias are on my mind … our club is soon to buy a Citabria 7ECA. It’s a cute airplane, I’m looking forward to learning to land all over again ( 1st glider, then trikes, now a *real* airplane ).

    We see a lot of CT’s at Stanton (KSYN), my home gliderport. It is their “modern light sport” of choice. They are nice little airplanes.

  9. James B says:

    FYI, prop strikes at idle don’t always cause
    engine damage. The engine should still be
    torn down and examined, but if you’re sure
    it was at idle, there is a chance all is ok.

  10. However, turning the prop on the ground after the accident revealed that the effort required was non-uniform as you went around the 360 degrees. It was a lot worse than before the accident.

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  12. Mike j says:

    Back in 1985 we had the same problem with our 7gcbc. Right gear snapped exactly the same way. Fatigue and or heat treatment of the gear? Ours was a 1981 model as I recall. The gear popped up and hit the bottom of the right wing. It didn’t hit anything internal- the fabric slowed it down quite a bit. Luckily it didn’t bend the prop or damage the motor as the field was grass and bordered a freshly plowed field.. We welded the gear up and ended up ferrying the plane for repair..

  13. ana aslan says:

    all is well when its ends well

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  15. aldojsibi says:

    Your airplane has been repaired and is flying again..This is a common event for the Citabria…Hope you enjoy your new one..I recommend the Aluminum gear…from ACA….Grove wont sell to get ready to take it in the rear….Goodluck!

  16. W.H.M says:

    Anybody know where you can get replacement steel gear ? It’s hard to justify the $6,500 price tag for the aluminum gear. The airpalne value won’t go up at all.

    • Michael Hall says:

      I have noticed an increase in “splay” in my 1974 400 hours 7ECA Citabria landing gear, more flexible than other machines.
      Experienced persons tell me “not to worry.”
      Should I?

  17. As to flying the Citabria is an excellent performing airplane; but always tricky if not secure with the stick on the landing. I have flown over 700hrs in the Pawnee and as a tow pilot and glider instructor. I, too, have flown the Husky..very simple and comfortable airplane. But, in this moment…I was hoping to hook up with a flying club utilizing a Citabria 7ECA…sad to see this damage. Let me know if you plan for another. I need to fly and to teach. A place with a Citabria will be nice. Good article and great to see these responses. BHLiebig

  18. Al Sibi says:

    So this airplane is alive and well in MT..Unless they get rolled up in a ball..They are almost no they are always repaied.Just not by the insurance co..By folks like myself..who specialize in Tube and fabric aircraft..This and most tube and fabric airplane will outlive us forever..Just so long as they are not completely destroyed. Totaled by the insurance company is a misnomer..Airplanes dont have titles..They are like houses..The insurance co can write it off..I can buy ig from the insrance co…Fix it..other than a log book goes kn for the airplane..

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