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…