Designer of ultra-light helicopter ID'd as pilot killed in crash southeast of Calgary

The pilot who died when a ultra-light helicopter crashed on the banks of the Highwood River southeast of Calgary has been identified by friends as John Uptigrove, who co-designed the machine he was flying.

John Uptigrove co-designed the Mosquito XE 285 ultra-light helicopter he was piloting when it crashed

John Uptigrove was piloting a Mosquito XE 285 ultra-light helicopter, similar to the one shown here, when it crashed on Sunday. Uptigrove co-designed the machine. (Composite-FX)

The pilot killed in a ultra-light helicopter crash southeast of Calgary has been identified by friends as John Uptigrove, who co-designed the machine he was flying.

Uptigrove was piloting a Mosquito XE 285 about 5:30 p.m. on Sunday when it crashed on the banks of the Highwood River near the Davisburg Bridge on Highway 552, according to an RCMP release.

A former mechanical engineer in the oil and gas industry, Uptigrove designed the original Mosquito ultra-light helicopter through his company, Innovator Technologies, which had an open concept model with a single seat.

Soon after, he partnered with Dwight Junkin, of Composite FX, and the pair created the XE series, which was more robust than the original and featured a closed compartment for the pilot.

The XE 285 model is described on the company website as "a piston powered, water cooled, oil injected, fuel injected, electronic programmable ignition, 800 cc, 85HP experimental helicopter."

Experienced pilot

"He actually taught himself to fly," said Junkin.

The pair met at an airshow in Florida in the early 2000s. Uptigrove flew his machine at airshows in the U.S. as rules there allow ultra-lights to be flown without a licence.

He obtained a Canadian licence several years ago, however, and was very experienced, said Junkin.

"He's got several hundred hours flying that style of machine he knew it very well," he said. "Everybody is pretty much in disbelief, in shock. It's a fairly small, tight-knit community so everybody is concerned about the family, making sure their needs are taken care of."

Uptigrove was married and had two adult children — a son and a daughter.

"I've spoken to his wife several times in the last few days," said Junkin. "She's doing the best she can."

Despite its small size, Junkin said the Mosquito machines have a good safety record.

"It's no [more] dangerous than flying any aircraft," he said. "In fact the safety record of the Mosquito, that's one of the things about it, it has one of the best safety records."

Yellow tape was placed at the site on the Highwood River where an amateur-built ultra-light helicopter crashed on Sunday afternoon southeast of Calgary. (CBC)

TSB investivgates

The Transportation Safety Board is now investigating the cause of the crash.

Two investigators from Edmonton examined the crash site Monday to determine if a full investigation is needed. A TSB spokesperson said it doesn't investigate crashes involving ultra-light helicopters very often.

"Something had to have gone terribly wrong," said Junkin. "It could be as simple as a bird strike, it could as complicated as telephone wires. It could be mechanical failure, it could be anything … The investigation needs to be completed so we know, really, what happened."

Junkin said Uptigrove was well-liked in the ultra-light community.

"He was an honest guy, a religious guy, he loved his family and he was a smart guy," he said. "A good engineer."