Van Horn Aviation (VHA) assured customers that its composite rotor blades were safe on Friday following the crash last Tuesday of a 1981 Bell 206B III that was on a company test flight. The accident killed contract experimental test pilot Rucie Moore and Van Horn engineering manager Stephen Estes, the sole occupants. Registered to TRE Aviation in Wilmington, Delaware, the helicopter went down just after 7 a.m. local time in a field near Fountain Hills, Arizona, and was consumed by a post-crash fire.
Moore was flying the 206 in his capacity as an experimental test pilot with XP Services in Prescott, Arizona. He was also the full-time helicopter program chairman at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott and was a decorated Army helicopter pilot. Embry-Riddle Prescott chancellor Dr. Frank Ayers called Moore “an outstanding pilot and distinguished faculty member with deep experience in the flight-test arena. His many contributions to the education of our students, including his extensive real-world experience, was immeasurable.”
Estes held a master’s in aerospace engineering from Arizona State University and had been a VHA engineer for five years. He was also a licensed helicopter pilot. VHA president Dean Rosenlof said, “Both men contributed greatly to the design and development of our most recent rotor blade designs. Their passing will leave large holes in our company and they will both be missed personally and professionally.”
Rosenlof stressed that “current production blades were not on the [test] aircraft” when it crashed and that Moore and Estes “were performing experimental flight test maneuvers” immediately before the accident. “While we cannot comment on the ongoing investigation, we are confident that the NTSB will not find our blades to be the cause of this tragic accident,” he said. “Our customers should feel secure that Van Horn Aviation rotor blades are safe to fly.” Rosenlof encouraged customers to contact him directly, if they had been working with Estes on support issues.
Tempe, Arizona-based VHA was founded in 2001 and specializes in the design, test, certification, and manufacture of composite rotor blades for legacy Bell models—including the 206B, 206L, OH-58, and UH-1—and is developing replacement blades for other makes and models of helicopters.