Aviation

Little progress on the Hornet this month, but I did get some important parts. The Rotax 447 engine is being put back together and fortunately didn’t need any major repairs. It appears to have around 100Hrs, which is great news! I already spent $1500 in the engine ($1000 purchase, $500 parts and labor), there will be more.

Rotax 447

Rotax 447

Rotax 447

Rotax 447

The 40HP this engine delivers is the minimum for a gyroplane. A good propeller will either make or break the propulsion package. I plan on using a two-blade 64 to 66” wood propeller from Tennessee Propellers Inc.

I did manage to put the front wheel on, after much filing:

Hornet Front Wheel

Hornet Front Wheel

Also delivered yesterday was my carbon fiber seat from Sportcopter. To say it is light is an understatement: Less than 2Lbs! It could have been narrower by 4” however, and looks like it was built for the “New American,” a 400Lbs pilot. Price was $350 plus $126 shipping because of the bulk. Hard to swallow.. The most expensive ounces on an aircraft are those not there..

Carbon fiber seat

Carbon fiber seat

The weight savings will hopefully help me stay under the 254Lbs ultralight limit and use a drag racing fuel cell for a tank (8Lbs), as I hope, for safety reasons.

Next step will be getting the seat braces and landing gear parts, including the main wheels; next year!

Well, just when you thought I was too busy with P90X to do anything else.. Today I managed to bolt the first airframe parts of my Hornet Gyrocopter, and work on Dagny!

Hornet Gyro Airframe

Hornet Gyro Airframe

Also on the program was working on Dagny’s steel deck with a needle gun, then priming with POR15. It will be followed by two coats of Ameron Amerlock 400, then some garage floor epoxy I found at Home Depot. Larry helped me, but the area was so bad, we only managed to scrape and prime about 4-5 Sq.Ft. in three hours.. Next time I’ll use ear protection, I am deaf enough as it is!

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Tomorrow is Monday; back to the grind and P90X day 69, legs and back plus Ab-Ripper-X. I am having a hard time dropping the last few pounds of fat, but my arms are getting bigger and I can see my abs coming out. I have already decided to go for a second round.

I have been interested in gyroplanes since the 80s. I was flying ultralights at the time, and those machines seemed so nimble. I still want to build a CH-701 from a kit, but the total cost of the project would probably be around $30k. A single-seat gyroplane will set me back about $9k. So, I will apply the saying here “Go small, go now!” The two-seater airplane will have to wait a few years..

I chose a design based on a well known safe gyro, the Gyrobee. The new model, called a Hornet, has some improvements, including, and most importantly, a line of thrust aligned with the center of gravity. It also has a large horizontal stabilizer. Those two safety features, though the Gyrobee has a great reputation of stability, will make the Hornet even more stable. Hopefully, it will reduce the risk of bunt-over to near-zero. Bunts are what unrecoverable flat spins are to airplanes.. You make the wrong mistake and wham, lights out, forever. That is why I will also seek professional instruction, even though I know enough to take-off and fly around..

Here are the parts I am starting with:

Airframe Parts

Airframe Parts

I will describe the whole building process here, on the Rotary Forum.

If you are curious about the helicopter’s Grand-Daddy, keep reading…

Gyroplanes are probably the least known and most intriguing flying machines. Invented in 1923 by Juan de la Cierva, a Spanish civil Engineer and pilot, they are the precursor of the helicopter. The first gyroplanes, or autogiros, had an airplane fuselage with a rotor mounted on top of a mast. The engine and propeller were mounted forward, as on a regular airplane. The rotor blades are not powered by the engine, but spin freely. they must be pre-rotated before takeoff, either by hand or using a mechanical system. The propeller ensures forward movement.

The most famous gyroplane is without a doubt “Little Nellie,” piloted by Ken Wallis in the James Bond movie “You Only Live Twice.” There was one also in the Mad-Max movie “The Road Warrior.”

The early machines had an excellent safety record. A gyroplane can not stall like a fixed-wing aircraft. However, a gyro can’t hover without a strong enough head-wind, which prompted the development of the helicopter. These amazing machines faded out of our aviation landscape, and probably would have disappeared if it wasn’t for one Russian immigrant, Igor Bensen, who simplified the design in 1955 by reducing it to a keel tube and mast, with a pusher engine in the back and a seat up-front. Bensen created the Popular Rotorcraft Association (PRA) in 1962, and the aircraft made a huge comeback in the 70s and 80s.

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Unfortunately, people tend to modify designs, install bigger engines, and try new configurations. Many did not have Bensen’s understanding of the aerodynamics of rotorcrafts. Many of these machines did not have a horizontal stabilizer, and their high thrust-line above the center of gravity sometimes caused them to bunt-over. Pilots started dying, and the gyroplane developed a bad reputation. Today’s machines are much safer. Although much of them are based on the Bensen, a few went back to the tractor design of old days; notably the Little Wing models, which I find very attractive.

The Mecca of gyroplanes in the United States is in Wauchula Florida, where the Sunstate Wings & Rotors Club organizes the annual Bensen Days fly-in. That is where I met Joe Pires, a Bensen Days organizer who was kind enough to arrange a ride for me, and give me the information I needed for this article. Joe told me that the movement actually started in Immokalee Florida. When instructor Dave Seace left town for Wauchula, some followed, and the rest is history, as they say. Dave has trained a good number of pilots on his Dominator gyroplane, and I was eager to get a ride in his machine. The Wauchula airport welcomes gyroplanes, unlike many others, thanks to it’s manager, Jim Hay. About eight machines are based on the airport, in a hangar area called “Moron Ville,” name for which I didn’t get an explanation, but would probably be an interesting story. Around eighty five machines were parked on the tarmac, mostly Dominators from Rotor Fligh Dynamics, a few modified RAF-2000s, and numerous other designs such as the Monarch, Gyrobee, Sportcopter, to name a few. More are expected tomorrow, along with a few hundred visitors. Club President Scott Lewis also organizes fly-ins on the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve, though this week-end’s event is the largest.

A great gyro flying video by Shawn Adams
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I have always wanted to build an airplane. I did build three ultralights from kits, flew them, and I am still here, so I must have been doing something right. A small airplane should not be much different, just take more time. Right now I am stuck restoring my boat, so it will have to wait a year or two, but I can’t still dream an plan ahead, right?

I used to want a fast plane, one of those formula one racers with stubby wings and a big engine flying at 200Kts+. But flying, if it is about the thrill, is also about sharing the fun with others. For that, you need a two-seater. I used to own a VW-powered biplane of a very original design:

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I used this one to tow banners along the French coast and take people for ride$. It was hard and dangerous work, but a lot of fun. There is something magical about landing on a grass field or a beach, I can’t explain it. I wish I still owned it, I would have packed it in a container and shipped it over here. So, now, being a bit more responsible, I am contemplating a small two-seater, capable of landing anywhere, easy to build and safe to fly. I found one, the Zenith CH701.
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You can build one of those for around $20K, which over a few years is perfectly feasible. My work leaves me enough free time. That’s really all I want to build in my life, a boat and a plane! That plane doesn’t cost more than a decent car, if you don’t count your work, which is substantial.

So, I will keep dreaming for now. After all, that’s what keeps us going. If I didn’t have those two projects, I would be rather depressed. I need to work with my hands, that computer business of mine doesn’t fill that need. But, oh, wait, they have a starter kit to build the tail for $375! And my friend Erin has that broken Volkswagen bug in the car port… Hum…