How often do you grin from ear to ear?
I mean, really grin?
Well, I did yesterday when I went up for my first ever flight in a gyrocopter. The M24 Orion Gyroplane, to be precise.
From the moment of waking up and making the 80-odd mile journey from Manchester to Rufforth aerodrome near York, I was buzzing. Singing to the radio top volume type of buzzing. Not pleasant for any passengers, but fortunately for the non-existent aforementioned, I was alone.
The sky was gloriously blue as I turned into the road leading up to the airfield, despite receiving an SMS from Gyrocopter Experience proprietor, Phil Harwood, warning of mist in the morning. Clearly the mist had all burnt off for what can only be described as perfect flying conditions in North Yorkshire (six words I never thought I’d say in the same sentence).
Getting an SMS from Phil was exciting in itself, as it was his amazing Top Gear-style video (made by a guy called Steve Nesbit) that had got my juices flowing about flying one of these extraordinary machines a couple of weeks previously. See this blog post to get the background to the story.
I caught my first glimpse of a gyro in the air as I was making my way past the potholes in the road (why do all airfields have potholed roads?). It was Phil, as his partner Kati pointed out before she gave me a fantastic tour of their gyro museum and hanger (including her very own Calidus in British Racing Green). As soon as I walked through the door of their place, I knew I was in safe hands and good company.
The museum itself was also a showroom. It was very interesting to see some single seat “gentleman’s personal rotary flying apparatus” sat next to the latest models of super-sleek, mini-airwolves in mood lighting. A bit like looking at some tractors next to a Ferrari.
One of the “tractors” was a single seat red kit-gyro that Phil had learned to fly in. Single seat? That’s what I said. He was taught with someone else on the end of a radio. He said “It was just after I’d managed to take this thing off when I realised that perhaps he should have talked me through how to land the bloody thing before I actually got airbourne”
In person, Phil was/is even more as infectiously enthusiastic about gyros as he is on video. The story of how he came to set up the Gyrocopter Experience is fascinating and inspiring. If you ever have the privilege of flying with Phil, you should ask him about it.
“Let’s have some fun!” Phil said for the second time, leading me toward the M24 Orion sat patiently on the apron. The first time, I had to pause him for a last minute pee in the clubhouse portacabin. Nerves? Adrenalin? Tea? Check. Check. Check.
Here he is explaining the detailed technical terms for entering the aircraft:
The next hour was simply breath-taking. Points of interest were:
TAKE OFF – it was all about building up the rotor rpm, not airspeed. The change of emphasis was interesting, which also meant that initially getting airbourne required some low level S&L during “transition” to get enough lift to move upwards. Consequently, I was taken aback by the distance required to get airbourne proper. I’m definitely going to have to get a bigger field 🙂
NO STALL – although I’ve done a few hours in choppers, it still felt very strange to hold off and watch the airspeed go rapidly backwards, past 40knots, past 20 knots and right down to zero knots, and still be happily flying. There was a buffet, but not one that made you fall out of the sky.
PFLs – when the engine gets switched off, you really do not have to worry about anything. The normal pressure is simply not there. Just pick a spot and wait patiently to get down to it.
LOW FLYING – never have I had to move out of the way of people walking their dogs whilst being in control of an aircraft before. Nor have I ever been able to wave back at them either! Phil have me descend to XXXft (I’m keeping it classified, just in case) and follow the curves of a very nice river at 70 knots. This was amazing, but nowhere near as good as the return leg (which Phil did) when we were at eye-level with the ducks for most of the way.
Just bloody brilliant flying.
LANDING – Far steeper angle of attack that I expected, but actually a simpler machine to land than either fixed wing or chopper. Just delighful, and an incredibly short stopping distance. I asked Phil to demonstrate a circuit with go-around. He duly obliged…
Back on the ground, Phil and Kati took me through the workings of the gyro simulator Phil has built for the Flying Show at the NEC. Turns out he’s not only one of only 11 (yes, Eleven) Gyro Instructors in the UK (servicing only 300 gyro pilots), he’s also the Chairman of the British Rotorcraft Association and a genius programmer that has not only created a fully functional computer simulator for gyrocopters (the first) but also has created a very nifty iPhone app that anyone who runs a flying school should be interested in.
Top Gear, top bloke. Thank you for a day I’ll never forget.
Oh, and here’s that grin…
I can’t remember if it was Sean Connery in Little Nellie in “You Only Live Twice”, or Jon Pertwee as Doctor Who in an extended chase sequence episode in his final six-part story “Planet of the Spiders” that first got me all excited about gyrocopters as a 5 year old in the seventies.
Here’s James Bond in a Gyro…
and you can see the good Doctor in action on youtube here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ME_7kNUeio (it wouldn’t let me embed it)
Whichever it was, I know that I am about to consummate this love affair now that I’ve booked my trial flight in one of the new generation of gyrocopters that are shaking up light aviation right now.
If you don’t know much about gyros, this is what wikipedia has to say (and you may be suprised by how long these machines have been in existance):
“An autogyro (from Spanish autogiro), also known as gyroplane, gyrocopter, or rotaplane, is a type of rotorcraft which uses an unpowered rotor in autorotation to develop lift, and an engine-powered propeller, similar to that of a fixed-wing aircraft, to provide thrust. While similar to a helicopter rotor in appearance, the autogyro’s rotor must have air flowing through the rotor disc in order to generate rotation. Invented by the Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva to create an aircraft that could safely fly at slow speeds, the autogyro was first flown on 9 January 1923, at Cuatro Vientos Airfield in Madrid. De la Cierva’s aircraft resembled the fixed-wing aircraft of the day, with a front-mounted engine and propeller in a tractor configuration to pull the aircraft through the air. Under license from Cierva in the 1920s and 1930s, the Pitcairn & Kellett companies made further innovations. Late-model autogyros patterned after Dr. Igor Bensen’s designs feature a rear-mounted engine and propeller in a pusher configuration. The term Autogiro was a trademark of the Cierva Autogiro Company, and the term Gyrocopter was used by E. Burke Wilford who developed the Reiseler Kreiser feathering rotor equipped gyroplane in the first half of the twentieth century. The latter term was later adopted as a trademark by Bensen Aircraft.”
The full entry is here.
What’s facilitating this revolution is the fact that these new German and Italian gyros are factory-built (you could only get kit form gyros until about 5 years ago). Mix this with incredible performance, safety and low costs, and you’ve got a real winner. The lynchpin for me, however, if the fun factor. I mean, just look at some of the machines you can get now for £50k-ish:
You can get a better look on this brilliant video by Phil Harwood at the Gyrocopter Experience. Look out in particular for the beautiful Magni M24 Orion:
This video from Andrew Lysser at Chris Jones Gyroplanes is worthy of mention, particularly for the low level stuff in the Lake District (I shall be paying a visit):
I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this amazing aircraft handles. As someone with a few very expensive helicopter hours under my belt, it’s going to be interesting to see just how viable an alternative to the rather dangerous Robinson R22 this type of closed cockpit gyroplane is.
I’ve booked to fly either the M24 Orion or the Calidus, and shall report back here when I have done so. In the meantime, I’d love to know if you’ve had any gyro experiences worth sharing?
I had the pleasure of flying this very nice Italian aircraft recently in the company of a great pilot, Dave Northwood.
Here’s Dave next to one of his most treasured possessions, the Quicksilver 2:
For those that are interested (like me), I found an informative video about the Quicksilver here:
And here’s Dave post-flight with the P200…
This was the first time I have flown a P200, and I found it to be a very nimble and slippery aircraft that was like a flying version of a Fiat 500: small, nippy and good looking. Typically Italian, in other words (although the P200 refrained from pinching my wife’s backside).
One aspect that made it interesting was the electric flap (I like the heavy manual variety) and the P200’s desire to constantly exceed the never-exceed flap speed, a characteristic you need to be aware of before taking-off to avoid any embarrassment, or death.
The manufacturer describes their product like this:
– Functional design with high visibility
– Wood construction
– smooth forgiving flight design
– Modular design construction
– 100 knot cruise @ 75% power
– 12 – 14 ltr / Hour fuel consumption
– 80Hp Rotax 912 UL Engine
– Low wing design features
– Fixed pitch propeller
– Light weight fabric covered wings
– Impeccable Italian design, fit and finish
..and I have to say, I agree with it all!
It’s been a week since I took her up, but I’m already yearning to go back. So, thank you Dave for a great flight – see you soon!
Finally, in the spirit of this blog I found a great video of an inspirational young guy called Harrison Nall flying the very same aircraft in the Algarve with it’s owner, the legendary Gerry Breen that I thought you would enjoy…
I hope you’re still flying, Harrison!
Here is a quick shot I took recently of the “Lagos Municipal Aerodrome”, just North of the town of Lagos in the Algarve, Portugal. It’s also home to Gerry Breen’s Airsports Centre, which Gerry set up in 1985! Get the full lowdown on the school here.
I can see what attracted him there (click to enlarge)…
I don’t quite know how to react to this video:
1. Desire: I want one, where can I buy the technology and bring out a range of personal flying machines??
2. Anger: WTF??? What could 40 years more development have done for this amazing concept??
3. Intrigue: If this tech existed in 1974, what the hell are they developing behind closed doors?
Check the incredibly brief wikipedia entry here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Williams_X-Jet
In fact, go back even further to the fifties: