Mid-air Collision over OshKosh

1 Sep 23 8 Comments

On the 29th of July 2023, a mid-air collision of a helicopter and a gyrocopter at Oshkosh left two dead and two seriously injured.

The helicopter, registration N193AZ, was a RotorWay Exec 162F: a kit-built aircraft manufactured by RoterWay International.

The gyrocopter, registration N221EL, was an ELA 10 Eclipse: a two-seater Spanish model. It was apparently a demonstration flight for a potential buyer.

In each was the pilot/owner of the aircraft and a passenger. They were general aviation personal flights: all four on board were attending the EEA event at Oshkosh.

EAA Ultralight/Homebuilt Rotorcraft flight pattern with approximate collision point

It was shortly past noon local time when both aircraft approached Ultralight/Homebuilt Rotorcraft runway from the south for runway 36L. The gyrocopter, first in line for landing, turned left as it turned on the base leg, executing a 360° turn.

At the same time, the helicopter, which had been positioned behind the gyrocopter in the traffic pattern, followed the north-south road.

Still in the turn and at about 250 feet above the ground, the gyrocopter flew into the left side of the helicopter. Both aircraft fell to the ground through the debris from the impact.

The helicopter inverted as it fell and crashed upside down onto the ground. The fuel seeping from the tank quickly caught fire; the helicopter and its occupants were destroyed in the blaze.

N193AZ Rotorway 162F helicopter wreckage

The gyrocopter crashed on a Mooney M20F which had been parked between the north/south paved road and runway 36L. Both were destroyed and the pilot and passenger were seriously injured. No one on the ground was hurt.

N221EL ELA Eclipse 10 gyroplane and unoccupied parked Mooney

The initial report documents significant damage to both copters but no sign of any damage or malfunctions before the collision. They have ruled out mechanical failure as a contributing factor.

It seems clear from the preliminary report that the gyrocopter impacted the helicopter’s main rotor blades, as the blades had white paint transfers (the gyrocopter was white) and impact marks.

Separated outboard sections of the helicopter’s main rotor blades

The gyrocopter’s main rotor mast had been cut off, with the sliced area matching the shape and size of the helicopter’s main rotor blade.

The upper photograph depicts the gyroplane’s separated right horizontal stabilizer
and lower vertical stabilizer. The lower photograph depicts the separated stabilizer section in
comparison with the helicopter main rotor blade contact witness marks and white paint

The passenger who was killed in the helicopter had built a helicopter and just finished it before Oshkosh, but decided not to take it with him that year. The pilot was a CFI with thousands of hours flying and instructing in helicopters.

The owner of the Mooney wrote that they were on their way back from the seaplane base.

My plane for the past 6 years was destroyed today. Two ultralights collided on approach and one of the planes came down on top of my plane.

We were on our way back from the seaplane base, had we decided to take the South 40 bus instead of main gate we, and my children, likely would have been at the tent when it happened.

Note tent on far side of the aircraft.

In this photograph, you can see their tent right on the other side of the Mooney. Other photographs show it right behind the left wing. All aircraft flying in the pattern must attend daily briefings and are explicitly told not to overfly the aircraft parking areas, so the actual position of the collision, over the road or over the parking, will be a relevant point. The Mooney pilot claims in the same thread that other attendees said that the gyrocopter pilot had been warned about unauthorized procedures in the pattern. However, it is unclear whether the 360° turn was a valid manoeuvre as a part of the safety briefing or not. The pilot also says that the gyrocopter was not insured.

The whole thing is looking to be very, very messy.


  • Isn’t a 360° turn just the same as going straight, perhaps with a pause to rotate before continuing in the same direction?

  • Is the ultralight runway really called 36L? It looks like it’s at about 320 deg.

    Was the Eclipse gyrocopter flying the deprecated red-white route?

    • Good eye. Looking at the image, runway 36L is clearly visible at the top, to the right of the parking. I clearly was just searching for a runway reference and picked the first one I saw!

  • Well, it seems that it flew into the helicopter, not the other way around, and that the 360 was key… so that doesn’t sound like just continuing straight. But I’ve not seen the manoeuvre described with any clarify so far.

  • A 360 sounds like it means that the aircraft wasn’t going forward in the pattern; the gyro could have outright run into the copter if the 360 took space as well as time, or it could simply have been in space the copter expected to have clear.

  • After the gyro’s main mast was severed, there was nothing to slow its drop — it went down hard from about 250 feet. The photo indicates that the only reason the occupants of the gyro survived was because they miraculously fell onto a nice soft Mooney. Six feet in any direction and they would have been crushed to a pulp.

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