Born: India
Primarily active in: Canada

1964 - 2018

John Walter Uptigrove, 54, was killed on July 15, when he crashed in his Mosquito XE285 helicopter southeast of Calgary, Alberta, Canada (about 120 miles or 200 km north of the border with Montana, USA). Uptigrove was born April 19, 1964, in Mahabaleshwar, India (south of Mumbai) to missionary parents. The family returned to Canada in 1976 and Uptigrove grew up in Three Hills, Alberta, then obtained a BS in mechanical engineering from the University of Calgary in 1987. He began his career with Nova Chemicals, but soon pursued his passion for helicopters by establishing Innovator Technologies to design and manufacture ultralight helicopters.

Uptigrove began with the open frame Mosquito kit (later designated the Mosquito Air), which first became available in 2002 for $20,000 USD and was under the 254 lb (115kg) ultralight empty weight limit. He partnered with Dwight Junkin of Composite FX in Trenton, Florida, to develop the enclosed XE and XEL (with floats to again qualify as an ultralight) models in 2004 for $23,000 USD. The 2-stroke piston-powered kits took 200–300 hours to build, or Innovator Technologies would assemble them for an extra $4,000 USD (today’s prices are approximately 50% greater). Later models include the more powerful 2-stroke 85 hp (64 kW) powered XE285 and the 90 hp (67 kW) Solar turbine-powered XET (see Vertiflite, Nov/Dec 2015), and were classified as “experimental” aircraft, as they were over the ultralight weight limits. A 2-seat Swift kit-helicopter with a shrouded tail rotor is in development.

More than 300 of the XE family aircraft had been sold in kit or factory finished form. The XE285 model that Uptigrove was flying is described on the company website as “a piston powered, water cooled, oil injected, fuel injected, electronic programmable ignition, 800 cc, 85HP experimental helicopter.” Junkin told CBC News that “it has one of the best safety records.” (2016 photo by Kenneth I. Swartz).

VFS Vertiflite: September/October 2018