By Howard Deevers
A training symposium for gyroplane flying called “Mastering the Gyroplane” was held October 26 and 27 at the Biosphere 2 here in Arizona. The Biosphere 2 is a large research facility located north of Tucson, near the town of Oracle. My first thought when I learned about this event was why is an aviation event being held at the Biosphere 2? San Manuel airport is just over the hill to the east, and they have the largest gyrocopter training site in the state of AZ. There are not many meeting spaces available that far away from the population center of Tucson, but the Biosphere 2 has very good meeting rooms and facilities, and wi-fi service as well.
My first interest in gyrocopters came when I was in high school and read an article in Popular Mechanics about the Benson Gyrocopter. Almost every pilot has heard of the Benson Gyrocopter. There were plans showing how to build one in the magazine. I wanted to build one, but never did. First of all, I had no idea where to buy that large propeller that looks like a helicopter blade. I don't remember the issue or the date, but nowhere in the article did it talk about how to fly the thing after you had built it. Since it was a single seat, there was no place for an instructor to sit. It is probably a good thing that I never did build one.
The presenter at the symposium was Dr. Phil Harwood, PHD. He has written the book on gyroplane flying. A native of Scotland in the UK, he does have that Scot accent, but made a joke about it: “If you need me to repeat anything, I will try to do it in English.” He started the program with the basics. Some talk, and illustrations, about gyroplanes in general. He even did mention the Benson Gyrocopter and had a picture of one.
Gyroplanes have come a long way since the Benson Gyrocopter. They are now two seats, some side by side, others tandem. The exteriors are very modern looking and actually invite you to “take a look.” The pusher engines are modern, too, mostly using the Rotax engines that are also used in many home built airplanes. And, let us not forget the electronic panels, modern avionics and flat screen displays. The only thing I did not hear about was an autopilot.
Next up was a presentation on what makes a gyroplane fly and the differences between them and fixed-wing airplanes. This was a real eye opener for me. Anyone that has a pilot’s license and thinks that they could easily fly a gyroplane is crazy. There are big differences, and those differences could kill you if you don't know about them. I can't stress enough how important it would be to get thorough instruction in a gyroplane before attempting any flight in one.
The next session was even more interesting. Dr Harwood said that gyroplanes are more stable while flying than fixed-wing airplanes, but while on the ground you must exercise even more caution. The landing gear are closer together than on fixed wing planes, and you have that big overhead rotor that could strike objects. Crosswinds can cause the plane to tip slightly, and even slightly could cause a rotor strike. NEVER approach a Gyro plane when the rotor is turning even slightly. If that rotor hits you..... it's gonna hurt!
A gyroplane is not a helicopter. You cannot hover in it. You must have forward motion to keep the rotor turning and to supply lift. However, if you have enough headwind, it can look like you are making a landing just like a helicopter; at least a very short takeoff and landing. If your engine quits, the plane will auto rotate and you can land very easily in a small space.
The symposium was a two day event with about 50 pilots, student pilots, and instructors attending. Some people traveled here from other states just for this event. I was not able to stay for the full two days, but the reports were that this was a very good event.
San Manuel is northeast of Tucson, and just east of Oracle. San Manuel Airport (E77) is easy to get to and well-maintained, with self-service fuel. If you are interested in learning more about gyroplanes, fly or drive into San Manuel. You will probably find gyros flying almost any day.
For more information you can look at www.gyropedia.com and see gyroplanes flying and many tutorials.