Springfield Chapter Missouri Pilots Association

September 2003

Flying Journal - Always more lessons

I finally got to the Perryville airport, just south of Ste. Genevieve, oldest settlement in Missouri, near the Mississippi River, to fly with gyroplane CFI Greg Gremminger. After four hours of flight training and 20+ hours of formal and informal ground training I’m still reeling from sensory overload.

I learned so much about my (actually Phil Horras’) machine, #10 of the 20 or so Twinstarrs that were built. I learned a lot more about gyroplanes in general, both official and unofficial knowledge. I learned ways that my airplane experience could possibly lead me to misunderstand some gyroplane stability and safety issues. That information will probably prove ultimately to be the most valuable for me (and my future students, both rotorcraft and fixed wing). Finally, I gained worthwhile insights into the “corporate culture” (and “UN-corporate cultures!) of the ultralight, experimental, and Sport Pilot (to be) rotorcraft industries and flying fraternities.

That’s all I’ll say for now. I think I may have the seeds of several possible future essay ideas, but since the most important thing I learned was how much more I need to learn (with some associated humility) I have to digest this material more fully before I’ll be sure what I should say about some of those issues. On top of my sensory overload, I had almost 6 hours of scenic cross-country flying in the open cockpit Twinstarr to and from Perryville.
That’s another story, too, but for now, I’ll just fast-forward two weeks to Shelbyville, Illinois to the annual fly-in of the St. Louis Chapter of the Popular Rotorcraft Association.

More sensory overload. A dozen different makes and models of gyroplanes and helicopters as well as the people who love them. We got to watch an experimental single seat helicopter hover for the first time with a new power plant, a 95 horsepower turbine, originally the APU for a larger aircraft. If my slides turn out OK, we might have a slide show. I haven’t done one for a while, antique technology that it now is.

I flew again with my instructor, Greg, in his sleek tandem Magni M-16 gyroplane from Italy. I also had a great introductory flight in a Dominator trainer with Joe Swanton from Clinton, Iowa (let’s hear it for all us Iowa farm boys). The Dominator is known as a single-seat sport gyro. Joe’s is one of a few, if not the only, trainer version of the Dominator, seating two side-by-side.

The seats are molded plastic, doubling as fuel tanks. It’s a very basic design, with the seats in the front totally exposed to the airflow, unlike the Magni or our Twinstarr with half cockpits and windscreens. There is a small tube formed up in front of you to provide a pitch reference and yaw string.

I recently reached 3300 total hours in the air, but this was a new experience, or perhaps an OLDER experience of flying, very elemental, relating to the elements directly, with total forward visibility, not even a bubble under you like a belly gunner or a helicopter pilot. Yes, there’s a 30-foot rotor providing lift overhead and 150 horsepower at 7000 rpm behind us providing thrust, but we are OUT THERE! I could imagine that we flying like an angel or Superman or on a magic carpet, the wind numbing the skin of our arms and legs as we pushed directly through the air, just helmet and goggles and seat belts protecting us.

A corollary of being so directly exposed to the relative wind is that a thinking person is reminded vividly that all the potential danger is right there, not hidden “out of sight” as we hunker behind tall instrument panels (although that’s fine for penetrating hailstorms!).

Enough said. Yes, I was humbled. But I needed it. Yes, I still want to train pilots to safely enjoy the special flight characteristics of gyroplanes. No, I’m not quite ready yet, but close. Yes, I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, whatever you fly, fly it safely and share the joy (while it’s allowed!)


[Copyright 2003 - Earl Holmer]