View Full Version : SportCopter Crash
02-24-2004, 06:54 AM
From the NTSB report:
"On February 21, 2004, at 1355 Pacific standard time, an experimental Gillespie Sport Copter Vortex gyrocopter, N96XV, impacted a dry riverbed under unknown circumstances, approximately 1 mile southeast of the Sutter County Airport, Yuba City, California. The pilot/builder was operating the gyrocopter under the provisions of 14 CFR Part 91. The gyrocopter sustained substantial damage; the private pilot sustained fatal injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed, and no flight plan had been filed. The gyrocopter departed the Sutter County Airport at an unknown time for the local, personal flight.
A witness to the accident reported that he was standing in his yard. He saw the gyrocopter fly overhead at 50 feet, with the engine sputtering. It then entered a steep descent and impacted a dry riverbed about 45 yards away. At the wreckage site, approximately 1/2 tank of fuel was present; there was no fire."
02-24-2004, 08:42 AM
N96XV is Assigned
Serial Number 096 Type Registration Individual
Manufacturer Name GILLESPIE GREGORY S Certificate Issue Date 04/23/2003
Model SPORT COPTER VORTEX Status Valid
Type Aircraft Rotorcraft Type Engine Reciprocating
Pending Number Change None Dealer No
Date Change Authorized None Mode S Code 53255756
MFR Year 2003 Fractional Owner NO
Name GILLESPIE GREGORY S
Street 23255 CENTRAL HOUSE RD
City NEVADA CITY State CALIFORNIA Zip Code 95959-9141
Country UNITED STATES
02-24-2004, 09:55 AM
When the blades hit the prop, the sound is frequently reported as "engine sputtering." I don't know if that's the case here, but it has been in the past.
02-24-2004, 03:30 PM
On the other forum, someone who must know the guy who had this accident says that the pilot was just signed off for solo and was only approved for short crow hops on the runway, NOT to be out flying around. It was also noted that this area he was flying in is known for turbulent winds. It was windy and gusts blowing while the pilot was up flying. So it is likely wind related.
The only thing useful anyone here can learn from this crash is if your instructor doesn't think your ready to be up and off flying about, and says stay on the runway..... Well then maybe you ought to listen, He may know best for you.
02-24-2004, 03:32 PM
The witness says that he passed over at 50 feet AGL, then entered a steep descent. If he was trying to put the nose down at 50 feet to gain airspeed for a flare, he might not have had room to pull it off. If that turns out to be the case, that's awful...a straight vertical descent to a landing in a Vortex would have been expensive, but very likely a walk-away event.
This could end up being nothing more than a tragic lesson about minimum safe altitude.
02-24-2004, 04:35 PM
If that turns out to be the case, that's awful...a straight vertical descent to a landing in a Vortex would have been expensive, but very likely a walk-away event.
As a student gyro pilot, I am always trying to learn from others mistakes and to make sure that my thinking is correct.
It's my understanding that in most or all gyros a straight, vertical decent is generally, if not always, survivable. I have thought about this when imagining having an engine out over a heavily wooded area. It seems to me, that under those circumstances it might be best to find the least dense place and come straight down.
In the case of this most recent accident, if one has lost the engine and flares at too high an altitude, or inadvertantly raises the nose and looses too much airspeed to flare effectively, the safest thing to do would be to simply keep the cyclic pulled back and decend straight down. Lowering the nose to gain airspeed if one is too close to the ground can be very dangerous and turn a survivable, although expensive, accident into a fatal one.
Is my thinking on this correct?
02-24-2004, 04:39 PM
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02-24-2004, 05:51 PM
No I would not do a vertical straight down in any circumstance where I still had full control of the gyro. A vertical decent is most likely a walk away from event, but the gyro will be a total loss and there is a chance you could tweak your back or worse.
I would fly it down to the trees or water or whatever you want to or have to land on in a normal approach speed and manner. Once I am about to hit the trees or water or whatever I would try to flare to a stop right into them. This way I have much more control and will hit the trees with little to no vertical or horizontal movement. Yes the blades will hit stuff if it is water or trees etc... but the gyro and me will be in much better shape. IMHO
02-24-2004, 06:28 PM
I think, If you land in the trees you will most likely stop, flip upside down as you tumble to the ground. No matter how you hit them you are screwed.
The best thing to do is not fly over any thing you can't land on or glide over to a safe landing spot.
02-24-2004, 08:27 PM
Did we just find the origin of "Fell out of the Ugly tree and and hit every branch on the way down?"
02-25-2004, 12:45 AM
I respectfully totally disagree with you Ron.
02-25-2004, 03:33 AM
Phil: You said it best.....dont fly over anything you cant glide out of. That is my single most important thing that I have learned. After my first engine out in my Bensen back in 1985...I started losing confidence in any powertrain system. After my second engine out...I totally lost confidence.
It was the best lesson for me in my early years of flying. I do not fly over anything hostlile that I cant glide out of. This of course is water..wooded areas....and even cornfields. I ended up with one engine out in my Quicksilver MX 7 engine outs in my mac powered Bensen...and 10 engine outs in my Air Command. I attribute having no damage in 18 engine outs to my very first engine out early in my flying.
My RAF probably will have a better record. But "probably" isnt good enough. I still will fly it like the engine is going to quit at anytime.
So my best advice is to fly with a constant awareness of forced landing sites.
I also have trained myself by while flying along to on a "whim..." I will cut the throttle and just seehow I handle the situation at hand. I bring it down to the point where I evaluate myself as to whether I would have been incident free or would have torn something up. My logbook shows a few notations where I did not like the situation had it been real. This is my way of engraining in my head to keep aware of what I am doing all the time.
02-25-2004, 06:30 AM
Well tell me why you disagree Paul.
To anyone who is flying their gyro or if taking lessons at this point get your instructor to just do this...... Go up to 1000 feet AGL, and put the gyro in a vertical decent. Look at the Alitimeter or Vertical speed indicator if you got one and figure out how fast or falling. If your in a open style gyro you will be able to feel the rush of wind coming up between your legs and see the yaw string standing straight up. Then you decide how you want to hit the ground or trees or water or whatever.
Like I said if - I - had a choice I would prefer to hit the ground with as little movement in any direction as possible. A good gyro pilot can land just about anywhere with full control and no Roll out. Engine running or not. Why would you want to come straight down with little control and traveling at 10-20 mph straight down???? Just doesn't seem like the smartest thing to do.
I will say that if your over a area where the choice is a place just big enough for the gyro to fit - say a 40 foot circle of clear land - surrounded by 100 foot tall pine trees, Then I would do a vertical decent down to the clearing. I know there is no way to make a approach to flare in such a small space with the tall trees all the way around, and I know I would rather trash the machine than be stuck in a tree 100 feet from the ground. But in most cases there is going to be somewhere a steep approach to a flare can be made and even if it is into a tree I would still do it as long as the tree isn't more than 40 or so feet tall.
I do think Phil said it best, you ought to not fly over places that leave you no place to land.
02-25-2004, 11:37 AM
I agree that one should avoid flying over areas where landing would be hazerdous, or where getting help after landing would be very difficult -- for example, the middle of the dessert in summer. I was just raising a hypothetical question about the best way to land and maybe survive in an area with lots of vertical obstructions, e.g. Trees.
In my second hypothetical scenario I was assuming that the pilot had already screwed up and exhausted most options except either lowering the nose close to the ground or going in vertically. It sounds like this may have been what happened in this most recent accident. Certainly flaring too early/too fast and raising the nose too much during a steep descent are both common beginner mistakes. Making either of these mistakes during an actual engine out landing can very quickly limit your options:o Proper training, experience, and lots of engine out landing practice should prevent a pilot from making either of these mistakes.
It's sad to hear of another new person in our sport having a fatal accident.
If he was just cleared to solo, and the wind was gusting, he probably had little hope of landing his machine successfully. I can clearly remember 3 times in my early hours being surprised by the difficulty of landing in gusty winds I should not have taken off in. Fortunately for me, I realized my mistake before I left the airport. But in all 3 cases, my pucker factor was at 11, and it took me several tries to actually land successfully. On the last bad decision, I actually landed off the runway since the crosswind was too difficult for me to handle. Fortunately, each time I underestimated the winds, they weren't too grossly out of my capabilities. What I do now if I have any question about the winds is to fly the runway at 4 feet before departing, landing, and then making the decision whether to continue flying or not.
One good thing for me was that my instructor drilled the necessity of practicing landings on me so well that my first 10 hours solo were spent doing nothing but landings, never leaving the pattern, until I could repeatedly do a 180 degree simulated emergency landing without having to do a power recovery.
The other great thing my instructor taught me was the same thing Stan does, I never fly over anything I can't land on. I even skipped one of our club's fly-ins, because the airstrip was surrounded on all four sides by standing corn, and the airstrip was shorter than my comfort factor for a hot summer day.
A lot of patience and a little frustration by following some basic yet simple rules as a new gyro pilot goes a long way toward increasing your safety factor, and geometrically increases your pleasure later.
I'm not sure why yet, but for some reason our machines seem to make people feel they are invincible way earlier in their flying experiences than other machines do.
02-25-2004, 07:13 PM
Very well stated Mark!
02-26-2004, 05:12 AM
Hey Mark G.
Will you be attending the Illinois Ultralight safety seminar this weekend in Springfield, IL. at the State Fairgrounds.
A few of the guys from PRA Chapter 18 in Lansing, IL and Chapter 80 from Indiania wil be attending. Plus a few other Gyro people from around the state.
I'm always interested in meeting other Gyro people. So if you attend I'll see you there.
02-26-2004, 10:28 AM
I live in Oregon, where in almost any direction a cross-country flight will involve something you wouldn't want to land on. I look forward to these flights, and plan to take the same precautions I do in the 1940s-vintage taildraggers I learned in...stay near roads, cruise at the highest practical altitude, and overfly airports when possible, even if it means zig-zagging a little.
I know you're a skilled pilot, because I've seen you fly, but I think worrying about whether the gyro comes out OK is an unnecessary risk. I'd bet many of the fatalities in gyros could have been avoided if the pilots had been more willing to sacrifice the aircraft. That expensive Sport Copter seat and its support tubes are designed to progressively collapse under the pilot without breaking the separate fuel cell. A vertical landing should cost only money.
If I was flying with a seat tank, I'm not sure I'd feel the same. That seems like a guaranteed gasoline bath on impact.
I'm sorry, but I'm not attending the Safety seminar this year. I'm a member of the St. Louis Rotorcraft club, and our club meeting is the same day. Originally I planned on going to Springfield, but when I found out Greg G. was doing a seminar on ground school plus flight characteristics of gyros, I decided that my time would be better spent learning gyro specific knowledge.
I will miss the Safety seminar, been there three years running up to this year.
Look forward to meeting you, though. Have heard a lot about you. By the way, I met Tommy down at Shelbyville a couple of years ago. In fact, Tommy's son helped me pull my gyro out of a bean field at that fly-in. Had my first engine out at 50 hours of experience, and hardly got my machine dusty landing. Ask Tommy if he remembers the red Air Command Centerline thrust single place. That was me.
Thanks for asking, though. Any time I can get together and listen to gyro nuts, I try hard not to miss it.
02-27-2004, 05:39 AM
Paul I will make this short and simple. Internet Talk is cheap, doing things in real life is not. All I ask is for anyone who hasn't totally made up their mind in how they would like to put down in a emergency, Is to go up and put the gyro in a sustained vertical decent and observe the rate of decent and then decide if you would want to hit the ground at that speed or fly it as normal to just above the intended target and flare to a full stop and then drop a few feet to the ground or into the tree or whatever.
I don't think most of you have done a sustained vertical and while in it, gave much thought to hitting the ground at that speed. I don't think the impact would kill you but I know the gyro will be total loss, and there is a strong chance of back injury, neck injury, broken bones, cuts, etc.....
02-27-2004, 06:29 AM
If you do a full flare, of course, you've started a vertical descent. If you flare low enough, however, you'll contact the ground before you build up to your stabilized vertical-descent speed. That speed is about 15-20 mph straight down.
Several incidents have involved vertical descents straight in from altitude -- more often during a vertical-descending piroutte (rudder spin). In all cases, the gyro was pretty well obliterated. In two that happened in my area, there were no injuries. In another reported in the PRA mag (O'Connor?), the pilot had some compression fractures in his spine.
We may be arguing about nothing. There's no point in verticalling in from way up; if you're right over you chosen target, you can S-turn or circle to get down while still maintaining airspeed. That airspeed will help you arrest your descent at the bottom if you can time your flare right. (I successfully put down in a horse corral out in the woodsy hill country a few years ago using this technique. Fortunately, it didn't seem to upset the horses. Of course, the engine had quit so there wasn't much noise.)
IF the Sportcopter accident was a result of inexperience, maybe our teaching syllabus has to eliminate the whole notion of "signed off to fly over the runway." With as many accidents as have occurred when people accidentally got too high to get back down on the runway, it seems that this type of solo operation by green pilots isn't justifiable anymore.
The only Dominator fatality that I know of was in New Hampshire under just these circumstances. The pilot just lost it in a turn and plowed into the bank of a pond.
02-27-2004, 06:42 AM
Doug what you described is exactly what I am reccomending. No reason to add risk to injury and no reason to trash your gyro.
Any landing you can walk away from - is a good landing.
Any landing in which your gyro stays in tact - is a great landing.
You should be willing to sacrifice the gyro for your own safety.
Having said that, the only justification I can see for coming in to land in a vertical descent is to avoid flying into objects. With the gyro's steep descent angle this is rarely an issue. I would go into vertical descent if I found myself inside clouds in a hostile territory. But there is no reason for that to ever happen.
I must agree with your thinking ; confidence is another factor on deciding on a vertical decent. If the pilot is a low hour student who may be a little low on their ability to flare into a tight spot ,then a vertical decent would be the answer. I was taught if all else fails pull the stick right back. However its been said a dozen times here - dont fly over it.......etc.
Sorry to hear of the fatality.
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