... Along with the prototype. The staff at CarterCopter, in Olney, Texas, was busy on Friday afternoon preparing a press release about that morning's success -- they had finally achieved an aerodynamic breakthrough they'd been working on for years -- when news came in that the one-of-a-kind prototype gyrocopter had been destroyed in a crash. Pilots Larry Neal and Brad King were out on a test flight when something went wrong. "We don't know what it was," CEO Jay Carter Jr. told AVweb on Saturday. "Things happened really fast. It was like somebody slammed on the brakes. The nose pitched down and it started rolling to the left. Larry thought it was going inverted." The aircraft righted itself, and Neal and King were able to regain some pitch control just before they hit mesquite trees. The rotor provided enough lift in the descent that it essentially acted as a built-in parachute, Carter said.
The aircraft plowed through the trees at about 70 mph, Carter said, and hit the ground. The landing gear absorbed much of the impact. The cockpit remained intact, but everything else was torn apart. The pilots walked out of the woods to a nearby road, where they were found by CarterCopter staff about 20 minutes later. "That pressurized fuselage is so super-strong, it saved their lives," Carter said. The fuel tank is in the cockpit, a design that some were uncomfortable with, but Carter said this accident proved the wisdom of it. That was the best-protected place, and there was no fuel spill and no fire. The aircraft is not repairable, Carter said.