Best Of The Web: Surviving A Rotor Wash Crash


On Jan.3, 2022, a Cessna 120 flown by a 1000-hour pilot and CFI encountered rotor wash from a Huey helicopter that passed just in front of it. The aircraft rolled uncontrollably at under 100 feet and crashed nose first. Improbably, the pilot suffered only a minor injury. The video was posted by Aviation Safety Network. For a more extensive discussion of the accident, see today’s AVweb blog.

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  1. Huey prop wash is huge, I’m surprised the tower flew them so close together or one of the aircraft didn’t follow atc instructions?! I’m just glad the pilot survived with only minor injuries!

      • This is consistent with my experience. Nontowered heli operations are the Wild West. I also think you should have put in a plug for Hooker (shoulder) harnesses here, as without them this guy is unlikely to have escaped eating the metal dashboard of his (my) 140. Last quibble is the the right wing hit before the nose. This was luck but certainly spread impact energy across time and across the airframe.

  2. Wow- just a theory: does it look like the rotorwash actually minimized the impact enough for survival? Once inverted it looks like the wash kept pushing the plane to the right and the upwind wing at an angle sufficiently tilted to force it upwards a bit. I know sounds crazy, but usually the vertical drop of an airplane seems more pronounced in other videos where the plane stall/spins vs wash.

  3. I’ll second the notion that the rotorwash from a Huey is nothing to play around with.

    When I was in Army flight school 40+ years ago, I was in my last phase of training – the “Tactics” segment. We would fly our Hueys around the Alabama countryside practicing navigating on the fly with 1:10,000 scale topo maps under the watchful gaze of our active-duty instructor pilots.

    One day we were coming into a small uncontrolled rural airstrip to change out student pilots. We did this as often as necessary, and would land for just a couple of minutes – just long enough for whichever of us was riding in the jump seat to trade seats with our stick buddy who had just spent an hour in the right seat.

    On this particular day an AGwagon-type crop duster was working the pattern at the strip doing touch-and-gos, and was getting a little aggressive as he crowded us in the pattern. I made our landing to a 5-foot hover-taxi down the runway, at which point our IP took the controls. He quickly hovered us sideways to the right, off the runway, pivoted about the mast so our nose was pointing toward the runway and perpendicular to it, and set us down on a parking pad.

    The AGwagon was on short final approach. As he floated down the runway toward us, our IP said “watch this.” He raised the collective pitch control, pulling in power and bringing the Huey light on the skids. Since we hadn’t broken ground, there wasn’t any obvious outward visible indication that our aircraft was, in fact, generating a huge vortex of rotorwash.

    As the AGwagon floated past us his right wing was suddenly lifted by our rotorwash, and I could only imagine the dance that pilot was doing on his controls to accommodate the sudden change in aerodynamics he was experiencing. Our IP chuckled and said that it served they guy right for being a jerk. My stick buddy and I were mildly amused, but we really didn’t have enough experience at that point in our careers to realize just what a dangerously stupid move our IP had made – or how much it made him equally a jerk.

    • Apparently there will always be some animosity between fixed wingers and rotary aircraft. Performing a simulated engine out autorotation from 2000′ feet for my ppl, my examiner called out as I prepped on final approach. A fixed winger called in long final and expressed his desire for us to “Hurry up”. My examiner snapped back, “Cut us a break! Student performing practical!” Silence followed as I completed my auto with a power on recovery to a hover. At that exact moment, the fixed winger flew by our port side less than 200′ and never called “missed approach” to admit he was attempting to land when I still had the runway. This is a non towered airport with zero conflict between fixed wing and helicopters. A NJ PGE MD-500 would fly into this a/p to pickup linemen in summertime.

      • I did my training and helicopter rating ride at KVNY in 1962. We had a different pattern than fixed wing, and our own tower frequency. There were never conflicts. The moral of the story to me: helicopter training works best at an airport with an operating control tower and separate patterns, etc, for fixed wing and rotocraft.

        • I am at VNY now. My Hangar lies immediately adjacent to the heli tour operator and the Fox news jet ranger pad. I agree completely that large jet helicopters belong at towered facilities when possible. I very nearly was swatted out of the sky in my 140 on short final at F70 when a Eurocopter elected to take off across the runway immediately in front of us. My cfi, who was previously an F18 guy, keyed the mike “Hey helicopter you’re killing us with your rotor wash. If we ball this up, it’s on you buddy”. No response. Apparently we were close enough that we got under him before the wake hit us. We had nowhere else to go. Busy uncontrolled airport.

  4. I could argue to be AGRESSIVE about avoiding helo wash! Even the tower screws up only too often and needs to be reminded. I’ve had them air taxi a helicopter right in front of my, in which I told the tower to stop, and I’d gladly move and let the helo do his thing, just give me the time. I don’t want his wash trying to flip me or scattering pebbles at me.
    At a non towered airport, I’ll often tell the helo what we’re going to do and not to fly over or in front of me no matter what… I’ll move.
    Helos and fixed wing DONT MIX!

  5. We have a Cobra at that is regularly flown at our local airport. I’m going to start paying a lot more attention to where he is and where he’s been. Wow.

  6. I’d like to know what restraint system the aircraft had installed, and what part it played in his surviving with only minor injuries. Surely it was a factor.