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zRegalpony logo imageBensen gyrocopter over river*1








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  • The fun of flying low over the river
  • It's good to have three fuel tanks
  • What is the purpose of a good pre-flight?
NTSB - Bensen B8M Crash

Accident occurred Weekend of December, 2006.
Bensen B8M, Injuries: 1 Uninjured.

The pilot stated a pre-flight inspection and no anomalies were noted and the gyrocopter had about 5 gallons of fuel on board. The pilot departed and flew to an area located Southeast of the airport at 500 feet AGL*, and conducted some performance checks of the gyrocopter.
Once the checks were completed, the pilot continued his flight above the river.
While in cruise flight the engine quit. The pilot turned on the fuel boost pump and attempted an engine restart. The engine started and quit again. The pilot switched fuel tanks, attempted another engine restart with negative results, and initiated an emergency descent to the river.
The gyrocopter rolled over on its left side and started to sink. The pilot waited until the gyrocopter was submerged in the water, and the rotor blades had stopped turning, before he unbuckled his seat belt and exited the gyrocopter. The pilot came to the surface, swam over to the marsh area, and exited the water.

A witness, who is also a helicopter pilot, stated that: "I heard an aircraft approaching my location and observed the gyrocopter in straight and level flight above the river travelling toward the ocean between 75 to 100 feet AGL. I heard a change in engine noise as if the gyrocopter had run out of fuel, or had water in the fuel tank. The engine quit, started, and quit again. The gyrocopter entered a descent and made a forced landing to the river."

The Sheriff's Department arrived at the witness' home and used her boat-lift to recover the gyrocopter from the river onto her boat dock.
No smell of fuel was present nor was any fuel observed draining from the gyrocopter during the recovery. Examination of the gyrocopter fuel system revealed that the seat fuel tank, and that the left and right auxiliary fuel tanks were not ruptured and no water was present. All three fuel filler caps were intact with a tight zeal. No fuel was present in the seat fuel tank. The left auxiliary fuel tank had one eighth of an inch of fuel in the fuel tank, and the right auxiliary fuel tank had one and one-quarter inch of fuel in the fuel tank.
The fuel line type fuel filter was removed and no fuel or water was present. The fuel selector was in the seat fuel tank position. The fuel selector was moved to the "side" position and about one ounce of fuel was collected, and no water was present.
The carburettor bowl was removed and less than one ounce of water was present.
The ignition system was examined. The distributor cap was crushed during recovery. The ignition harness was not damaged. The propeller was reinstalled and turned by hand. Valve and drive train continuity was observed, and compression and suction was obtained on all cylinders. The engine oil plug was removed, oil and water were drained from the oil sump, and other than the water, no contaminants were present. The oil filter was removed and no contaminants were present. The air filter was removed and no anomalies were noted.
The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows: The pilots improper pre-flight planning and decision resulting in a total loss of engine power due to fuel exhaustion.

What Went Wrong? What could have been the outcome?
  • Flying too low for too long
  • Not having an emergency landing area always in view
  • Not knowing range of aircraft
  • Not knowing fuel status
Further design modifications to existing fuel storage systems on gyroplanes could see the replacement of large tanks to store fuel with multiple units. Large single tanks have a nasty habit of becoming vapour containers. In a crash situation, on land, they catch fire easily. The solution seems to be in using multiple linked, 2 litre containers with bladders. Spread out over the frame, the bladders shrink inside the containers as the fuel is consumed. Air fills the area between container and bladder.
Should gyroplane seats be fuel tanks? Although convenient for distributing weight, this puts the pilot right over the fuel in a crash situation.

I have a friend and gyroplane pilot, whom I've never met face to face. We corresponded a lot for a while. He was an airline pilot who wanted to fly a gyroplane on his farm at a time when there was no testing available to get a licence. That wasn't too many years ago. He told me he had to beg the licensing agent to stop off during a trip to watch him solo in his gyroplane. He got his licence. My friend had two things against him, for flying a gyroplane. He had the reflexes of an airline pilot, he had no one to train him. He has flown it, as far as I know, for over ten years, until he could no longer pass the medical requirements. Many years later, in the same model aircraft, configured the same way, another man with the same qualifications, rolled his into the ground on take off. The aircraft was repaired and he repeated the roll over again and was killed on take off. Luck? Bad luck?


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  *1 Regalpony illustration  
  * AGL (above ground level)