Hornet Gyro

Hornet gyrocopter build log.

One year already since I let my domain name expire. I was lucky to get it back. A lot of things changed of course, not all for the best. My health isn’t very good right now. I am not quite sure what is going on, but it isn’t good. I started thinking about my build projects, the Fafnir sailboat and the Hornet gyrocopter. I love building stuff, but let’s face it, it takes an aweful lot of time. So I was browsing the sailboat ads last year, just out of boredom one day, and thought that I might just be able to afford a small boat, one already built that I wouldn’t have to wait three years to sail. Because who knows…

I hate not finishing projects mind you, but sometimes better things come along and you need to let go. I sold the gyro project. The Fafnir jig and keelson are still under my car port, and I have the floor board, a bulkhead, stringers and other pieces of wood which were going to be used in the construction. If anyone is interested, let me know. I might get back to boat building in a few years, but I had to look for a boat I could use now, or at least, soon.

It wasn’t going to be easy because my requirements were pretty specific. The boat had to be able to cross an ocean in relative safety. For me, that meant a somewhat heavy displacement hull, full keel, and double-ender if possible. So I kept on browsing.. I saw a Pacific Seacraft 25 at a good price, but it was in California. I had a Southern Cross 31 surveyed in St. Petersbug, but unfortunately the deck was soaked with water and the cabin had been attacked by a wannabe electrician with a one-inch hole cutter.

Then there was one ad for a Morris Frances 26. I hadn’t heard of that model before, but knew the designer’s reputation, Chuck Paine. And a reputable boat it certainly is. It is said that at least one has circumnavigated. The boat was named “Carol Anne” but had changed names before from “Rachael” and “Fancy.” Now she is “Dagny.” When I saw it the deck had just a coat of grey primer. The inside was fine, except for three small rot spots. The single cylinder Volvo Penta 2001 model ran fine. We took it on a short trial with the owner, the surveyor and my friend Patrick.

Awesome lines! There is no standing headroom, and that is a problem for me being 6’2″ (188cm). Have a look at the inside before I started any work:

Then the deck needed attention. I started by sanding it lightly, with the help of my friend Shane, then applied one coat of epoxy to seal the plywood. Then, my friend Brooke and I applied two coats of Pettit white EasyPoxy paint; the one-part kind. It was also a good time to glue solar panels on deck. I chose Aurinco because they seemed to be getting good reviews and are assembled in the United States. They aren’t cheap but can be walked on. I now have two 26W panels and two 18W. Solar charge controllers are two Genasun 4A models.

The deck once painted was very slippery so I bought some KiwiGrip, which is an awesome product and very easy to apply.

I’ll spare you the minute details of little projects that went into making the boat ready to sail. Let’s just say that I intended to leave for a long cruise in April, and we are now in mid August. It still isn’t finished, but the light is visible at the end of the tunnel. My friend Christine painted the name on the stern last month.

There is still quite a bit of painting to be done on the inside, a few square feet of KiwiGrip to apply, a couple small spots of rot left, and unfortunately the companionway hatch is warping, so that will be another project. The rudder is at my house, being 40% repainted at this time. But really, aside from a few electrical details and finishing touches, it is almost ready.

So, where am I going? Well, the Bahamas for a start, since it is only forty miles from the East Coast. Then South to the Turk and Caicos, then who knows.. The Panama Canal, French Polynesia? I am dreaming here, but let’s just say I will go as far as I feel comfortable and safe at the time.. It might end-up being a few miles from my dock, or around the world, I have no idea. I certainly hope to leave in October at the latest. You can follow the preparations, and hopefully the trip at SVDagny.com.

Numerous people have helped me work on the boat, given me rides, advise, gear and encouragements. I can’t thank them enough. I must mention, in no special order, Patrick, Ted, Christine, Brooke, Michael, Shane, Ed, Phil, Dave, and I am horrified right now about forgetting anyone. I even had to refuse help at times. You guys don’t even understand how much it means to me. I have been living here for more than twenty one years now, and leaving for an undetermined lenght of time, leaving my best friends behind is going to be very hard. If I get to leave… So many things can go wrong. The last straight line before the finish is always the longest and most treacherous, so I am crossing my fingers…

Ha! And you thought I had given up on the Hornet gyro. No, the frame is in my living room.. I am pretty broke after that two-month tour of the country with Kris, but it was a blast. The videos are on my Youtube channel (link on the left). I am still broke, mind you, but just received the missing delrin blocks needed for the landing gear, flight controls and mast reinforcement for the rotor head. The whole aircraft can be built with a drill-press and other run-of-the-mill tools, but for a few items that must be machined. I had purchased a set of used parts from a disenchanted seller on the Rotary Wing Forum. He had bought the parts from a third party, whom I shall not name.. I can’t blame him for giving up on his project, because honestly, I wouldn’t have used parts of that quality, or lack thereof, to build a tricycle, never mind an aircraft. I found off-center holes and double-drilled holes throughout. Those parts went to the trash. Not being a machinist, and without equipment, I worried about spending a small fortune by having a machine shop make the parts.. This is why a forum of dedicated gyro-nuts is your greatest asset! It didn’t take me long to find help in the person of Denis S., CNC-machinist-extraordinaire, who made the most precise parts I have ever seen, and for a price that won’t have me eat rice and pasta for a month.. Thanks again Denis!

Delrin blocks

Delrin blocks

I know some people are waiting for new build videos. Please be patient. You can’t cut corners when building something your life will depend on. When I can afford the aviation-grade hardware and materials, I will build the landing gear and put the engine on. That will be a big step forward, and probably will boost my motivation to see it take shape. I don’t want to give myself a deadline, but I certainly haven’t abandoned the project. The secret to finishing anything is to keep at it, no matter how long it takes, or how little you do at a time. Getting those blocks was an important step forward. Stay tuned for more!

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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