It is with great sadness that Van Horn Aviation reports the loss of two friends and colleagues on board a Bell 206B JetRanger that was involved in an accident on April 16, 2019. Contract experimental test pilot Rucie Moore and VHA engineering manager Stephen Estes were the only two people on board the helicopter when it went down in a field near Fountain Hills, Arizona.
Rucie, an experimental test pilot with XP Services in Prescott, Ariz., was a former helicopter test pilot for the U.S. Army and was also serving as a full-time faculty member at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Prescott campus. Prior to becoming a full-time faculty member, Rucie had served as an adjunct professor for ERAU’s Prescott and Worldwide campuses for five years. In addition, he had also been a member of ERAU’s College of Aviation Industry Advisory Board.
“Our dear colleague, Rucie Moore, was an outstanding pilot, an Army veteran and distinguished faculty member with deep experience in the flight test arena,” said Dr. Frank Ayers, Chancellor of Embry-Riddle’s Prescott campus, in a statement issued by the university after learning of Rucie’s passing. “His many contributions to the education of our students, including his extensive real world experience, was immeasurable. The entire Embry-Riddle family, our faculty, students and staff, feel his loss and extend our thoughts and prayers to his family.”
Stephen was an Arizona State University alumnus with bachelor of mechanical engineering and master of aerospace engineering degrees. His drive and determination were evident even in college when as an ASU Sun Devil swimmer he competed in the 2012 Olympic Trials just eight months after suffering brain injuries caused by being struck by one vehicle while trying to help occupants of another stopped vehicle on the freeway in October 2011.
Stephen joined VHA in 2014 while finishing his master’s degree. During his five years on VHA’s engineering staff, he grew into the role of flight test engineer including redesigning and installing the data acquisition system, strain-gaging the blades, and assisting the flight test pilot in the aircraft with various data measurements during sorties. Stephen also took the initiative to earn a private helicopter pilot certificate so that he understood not only the aerodynamic theories involved with rotor blade design, but also the nuances involved with actually flying the blades. Recently promoted to engineering manager, Stephen was instrumental in the design and analysis of VHA current main rotor blade products and went above and beyond in providing excellent technical and customer support.
“We mourn the loss of our friends during this tragic accident,” said VHA president Dean Rosenlof. “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.”
VHA has reached out in support of the families. The Estes family provided the following statement shortly after Stephen’s passing: “We are mourning the loss of Stephen, a beloved husband, son, brother, grandson, nephew, uncle, cousin, and friend. While the grief is immeasurable, we are thankful for over 28 years of living in the midst of his infectious smile, competitive spirit, kind heart, and commitment to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We nearly lost Stephen 7 years ago when he was struck by a truck, and suffered a traumatic brain injury while helping an elderly couple involved in a wreck on the 202 near ASU. Stephen had a heart of gold that shone brightly wherever he went. His death leaves us grief stricken, but not without hope. If Stephen could, he would remind us that “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.”
VHA representatives are working with local, state and federal authorities in their investigation of the accident.