On July 23, 2000, at 1958 Eastern Daylight Time, a homebuilt RotorWay Exec 90 helicopter, N651GE, was substantially damaged when it collided with a utility pole and wires after take-off from a field in Circleville, Ohio. The non-certificated pilot/owner sustained serious injuries and the passenger sustained minor injuries. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed for the personal flight conducted under 14 CFR Part 91. Use your browsers 'back' function to return to synopsisReturn to Query Page
The pilot was interviewed over the telephone on August 8, 2000. According to the summary of interview:
"On the day of the accident, he flew the helicopter in the morning out of his neighbor's field. He said the helicopter worked fine and there were no problems. He then trailered the helicopter back to his house and relaxed for a while. Later that day, one of his friend's wives wanted a ride since she had never been in a helicopter before. He then trailered the helicopter back over to his neighbor's field. Prior to departure, the pilot gave the female passenger a long pre-flight briefing and basic terminology about the helicopter. He checked the helicopter and all was fine, with no reason not to fly. He started up the helicopter and all gauges were in the green. All checks were fine. He lifted the helicopter up 'half way up into the dead mans zone.' There was no wind. He departed straight ahead above buildings when the power deteriorated. He saw the power lines and he stated that he needed to turn back to the open field. He pumped the collective to get rpm. The engine rpm gauge was in the high green, and the rotor rpm was deteriorating. He wanted to clear the buildings and banked hard over to the left. He decided, based on his Vietnam helicopter training, to run the blades into the pole because he feared a hard landing would cause the blades to enter into the cabin and fatally strike his passenger and himself. He put both blades into the pole and the helicopter fell to the ground on the left side as he had hoped. He said he chopped the top 6-foot section of the pole off."
The pilot was then asked to break down the events from the time he had hovered up until the accident occurred. The pilot continued:
"He said he hovered for about 5 minutes and maneuvered the helicopter to another part of the field where he was 300 feet from the buildings. He made a climbing left hand turn over North Street. His airspeed was about 40 mph in the climb at an altitude of 45-50 feet above the ground. The rotor rpm started to deteriorate and he had no forward airspeed. He noted the engine rpm needle was in the high green arc, and both rotor rpm gauges agreed with each other and were starting to split. He did not hear the low rotor rpm warning horn. At this point, the helicopter started to shake and he knew he had to put the helicopter down in the open field. He maneuvered the helicopter over the buildings, and made a sharp left turn and aimed the rotor blades into the pole."
The pilot also stated that the engine was operating normally and there were no mechanical deficiencies with the engine or the helicopter. He stated he had flown for over 31 years and accrued over 3,300 hours in helicopters. He flew helicopters for the Army during his tour in Vietnam. The pilot stated that if the accident weren't caused by a mechanical malfunction then the cause of the accident would be pilot error.
In a written statement, the passenger said:
"At approximately 1945, I went to the [pilot's] house to see if he was still going to allow me to ride in the helicopter. We had made plans earlier to fly. I entered the helicopter which was set up in the grassy area...the [pilot] raised the helicopter off the ground approximately 2 feet, went around in a circle and explained the controls and the lights. We then went up approximately 25-30 feet, slightly above tree level. We circled over North Court Street and then back over the buildings towards the grassy area. It appeared we were close to a power pole. I said, 'it looks like we are close', and he said, 'just hold on.' I felt a jolt and heard a sound and we just fell to the ground."
Several witnesses observed the helicopter's flight. In a written statement, a witness said:
"While standing on my back porch...I watched the chopper take-off [from] the ground. He made a turn and went up over the chiropractic building. He made a turn back left over the dentist building and hit the pole, electrical lines, and crashed."
In a written statement, a second witness said:
"I was standing in the backyard of [address] when a helicopter took off feet behind me and hovered for about 5 minutes. He made a 360 degree turn then lifted off over the chiropractic building, made a sharp left turn inches from the roof, went over the dentist building next to it, hit a pole, and spun. He hit transformer, nose diving into the ground."
In a written statement, a third witness said:
"..The chopper came up over the building, turned to the left over North Court Street. It was so close, then all of a sudden, he hit the pole and went down."
A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) inspector performed and on-scene examination on July 24, 2000. The inspector stated the helicopter collided with a 30-foot utility pole and wires. The helicopter landed at the base of the utility pole on its left side. The distance from the take-off point to the office buildings and the accident site was less than 50 feet.
On August 21, 2000, a representative from RotorWay International and an FAA inspector examined the helicopter and visited the accident site. The RotorWay International representative reported that the helicopter was being operated out of a "very confined area."
The RotorWay International representative stated that the pilot reported an oil leak around the secondary drive shaft area that he would clean up before or after each flight. Examination of the helicopter revealed there was a film of oil throughout the engine area that had collected a layer of dirt, which could have resulted from a chain oil bath leak. There was no restriction in turning the rotor system in one direction only, which indicated that secondary shaft system did not break, and that the sprag clutch was operating as normal.
On July 16, 1999, an FAA inspector endorsed the helicopter's logbook. The endorsement stated:
"I find that the aircraft meets the requirements for the certification requested and have issued a special airworthiness certificate date July 16, 1999. The next inspection is due August 1, 2000."
There were no other endorsements made by the FAA in the logbook after July 16, 1999.
The FAA also provided the pilot an Experimental Amateur Built Aircraft Operating Limitations form on July 16, 1999, that was to be signed when Phase I, Initial Flight Test in Assigned Flight Area, was completed. However, examination of the form revealed that the pilot had not signed the form. There were 7 limitations set forth in Phase I. Two of those limitations included:
"No person may be carried in the aircraft during flight test unless that person is a required flight crew member and/or person(s) required to record flight test data that cannot be practicably recorded by a required flight crew member.'
"Following satisfactory completion of the required number of flight hours in the flight test area, the pilot shall certify in the logbook that the aircraft has been shown to comply with FAR 91.319."
Examination of the engine, aircraft, and propeller logbooks revealed that the pilot did not make any endorsements that Phase I had been completed.
The pilot did not hold any FAA flight certificates or ratings, but had a current unrestricted FAA second-class medical.
According to FAA publication AC 61-13B, Basic Helicopter Handbook, it stated:
"A low rotor RPM condition is the result of having an angle of attack on the main rotor blades (induced by too much upward collective pitch) that has created a drag so great that engine power available, or being utilized, is not sufficient to maintain normal rotor operating RPM.'
The pilot reported a total of 3,300 hours, of which 240 hours were in make and model.