Autorotational musings

And that was that

So farewell 2019, and most enjoyable it was too. Highlights being the successful culmination of the Brookland Rotorcraft project: a rare Mosquito gyroplane preserved for posterity, and the place of Ernie Brooks now officially cemented in British autorotational history. Well done, Trevor and Peter! How do we top that…

It goes without saying, two wonderful trips to Bois de la Pierre to reunite with my Delta-J and make sure the Pyrenees are still there. Helping out with another safe and successful annual Gyro Club rassemblement is an essential part of every year. We had all kinds of weather: dramatic thunderstorms, torrential rain and howling winds to searing heat and skies of clearest blue. Delicious flights over a panoramic landscape with the song of the rotor blades in my ears, made even more special when shared with friends. How did I get to be so lucky?

August saw the 20th anniversary of Thenac aerodrome, near Bergerac. It was a pleasure to be part of the celebrations, despite the relentless heat that flattened the two visiting Brits! A fun weekend of feasting and ultralight flying in great company. Congratulations to Marie and Martial, ably abetted by the Patrouille de Thenac.

It was during that weekend that I was treated to the wildest ride I’ve yet experienced in a gyroplane. Actually, I’m not sure it’s possible to get any wilder and still use the aircraft again afterwards. Ye gods, I enjoyed it thoroughly – afterwards – when my brain had caught up with the rest of me! Wow. Having flown with Patrick at Sainte Foy in 2012, I had an idea of what to expect, but that was a gentle stroll in comparison. He has an aversion to flying straight and level in his immaculate M16, and routinely pushes normal flight parameters.

Unlike me, Patrick is a very skilled and assured gyronaut. We’re total polar opposites. He knows his machine inside out and exactly what it’s capable of. The fact he has survived pulling those manoeuvres for all these years is confirmation of his excellent piloting skills, and a real testament to the strength and quality of Magni engineering. No way would I strap myself to a stainless steel airframe to be flown like that. Personally though, I’d be happier if he allowed himself a little more of a safety margin – especially when down in the dirt!

The very generous intention had been to let me take the controls in the front seat, but short-arse here couldn’t reach the rudder pedals and moving them back proved to be a little more problematic than anticipated. Patrick had been busy giving flights all morning and it was getting close to lunchtime, so I was happy to take the back seat, although he still insisted on bolting on the rear control stick for me to play with – not that I had it for long!

Snug in the rear of the high-sided pod, clad only in T-shirt and shorts, headset and sunglasses (no crash helmet), I fastened the lap strap as tightly as it would go. It’s a big regret that I didn’t have time to grab my video camera, what a film that would’ve been. All that remains of that epic flight are the snap-shot images in my head, such as peering straight down at the ground barely a rotor’s length away, with the disc bisecting the horizon at ninety degrees! But what a ride.

The temperature was a stifling 32 degrees C, with barely a breath of air to ruffle the windsock: my little Cricket would have struggled horribly in such conditions. A powerful beast is that M16, and Patrick didn’t waste any time. Barely attaining 300 feet on climb out, he stood it on its tail and pivoted the big machine through a 180, powering back in a low pass along the runway to swing up over the field of sunflowers at the end. We went up, we went down, fast and fluid, our wheels seemingly inches above the dry earth as we blasted between the trees at impossible angles, accompanied by the heavy beat of hard-working rotor blades. No roller coaster could ever produce such a thrill. Supremely confident and smooth on the controls, Patrick was in his element as he handled the big Magni like a jet fighter, twisting round in his seat to give me a beaming thumps-up, which I was delighted to return.

Back over the sunflowers again, we roared down the runway at a matter of inches, using the momentum to swing up and stand the machine on its tail for the obligatory hammer head. Poised in mid air, nose to the sky, the airframe spun like a compass needle beneath the span of rotor disc to point back from whence we came, floating in for a gentle touch down as the rotors expended their energy in triumphant song. Hell yeah – that was absolutely awesome!

Autorotational musings

G-YROX goes global

Norman Surplus is a very brave man. Having overcome a life-theatening battle with bowel cancer, he went out and learned to fly a gyroplane, shortly after which, in 2010 he promptly set out to fly it around the world. After many setbacks that would have thwarted a lesser individual, Norman and G-YROX returned safely to the playing field in Larne, Northern Ireland, from where they had taken off on their epic adventure, five years earlier.

Photo, Larne RFC

I will never forget being glued to the little dot that represented Norman’s GPS tracker, watching it cross from the American continent to Greenland, all the way down the coast of that inhospitable terrain and over the dangerous waters of the north Atlantic, willing it on to the relative safety of Iceland. I was at my desk supposedly at work, flicking rapidly between the multiple databases of military logistics and Norman’s website, unable to tear myself away from the magnetic pull of his progress. Then the long awaited final stretch, down from Iceland to Scotland and back across to Larne, triumphant!

All alone around the world. A microscopic dot above the heartless expanse of oceans, mountains and tundra, wholly dependant on a single engine in an open cockpit machine with the gliding ability of a house brick. To say that Norman Surplus is a very brave man, doesn’t do him justice.

It was hell of a trip that he made, setting several world records in the process, but due to political and bureaucratic complications, pieces of the puzzle were missing. There were unavoidable gaps in his achievement. But not anymore. Accompanied by another gyroplane pilot who is trying to equal their success, Norman and G-YROX have crossed the vast expanse of Russia and this week they have reached the Pacific coast. Fantastic effort! And they’re not done yet.

Norman is raising money and awareness for his cancer charity. Please support him and give a donation to the cause.

http://g-yroxtimeline.yolasite.com

https://www.facebook.com/GyroxGoesGlobal-143540602375581

Autorotational musings

Salute to the past.

I wrote this in 2015, after an idyllic afternoon with my gyroplane on a special day. It was only meant as a private musing, but it’s from the heart so I’ll put it here in tribute to those who have been part of our autorotational journey.

G-BVDJ is 21 years old today. It was exactly 21 years ago on a Sunday afternoon at St. Merryn, when Chris Julian took her into the air for the very first time. The pile of metal we had carefully cut, shaped and bolted together now transformed, the process of creation hadn’t been in vain. I still remember how elated I was, how pretty she looked in the sky – how impossibly tiny. There were teething troubles naturally, little niggles to be ironed out over the following months, but now I owned a real flying machine. How cool was that!

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that 21 years later (29th May 2015 to be exact) we would be in the south of France, stirring the air together under the imperious gaze of the Pyrenees. Back then I had rarely left British shores and certainly had never ventured abroad by myself. To actually drive alone, some 800 miles on the wrong side of the road in a language I can barely speak, not to mention towing the most important part of my life behind on a trailer – nah, don’t be daft! Yet here we are, and it’s all thanks to gyroplanes.

21 years. That little red machine changed my life completely. With the encouragement of the late, great Ken Wallis, I left my home and moved 200 miles to be near our beloved airfield at St. Merryn, where a small group of veteran gyronauts patiently kept me the right way up as they shared their wisdom with the neophyte. ‘She won’t fly’ said the critics, ‘girls don‘t fly gyros.’ ‘She flies’ said my mentors, ‘like a bit of silk.’ And thanks to them and the gyro-glider, I did. They’re all gone now, the gurus whose autorotational roots traced back to the 1960’s, but the memories we made together and the skill they gave me to survive lives on, encapsulated in Delta-J. The little red machine they helped me to create and to master exists because of Chris Julian and Tony Philpotts. Along with Bob Partridge and Les Cload, their knowledge and friendship remains a vital part of the fabric that made me a gyronaut. They fly with us always.

As does the man who has done (and continues to do) more for the ordinary British gyronaut than any other – the unassuming and unsung hero that is Tony Melody. He took this gyro-glider fledgling who some said would never fly, and defied expectations by moulding a bundle of nerves into a qualified gyro pilot. A female one at that. Whatever next! And not forgetting Mark Hayward, who with his yellow Bensen lead us on many adventures, helping to build this new gyronaut’s confidence in straying from the local patch. Tony and Mark, to share your experience and great sense of fun has been an honour and a pleasure. You too will always be part of us.

That little red machine changed my life. Cursed with shyness, it’s almost impossible for me to make friends. People don’t notice you when you’re shy, normally I’m invisible. Delta-J defines me: with her, I become someone. People see who I really am and want to talk – ‘What is it? How does it work? Do you fly it?’ Since I took my first step on the autorotational path in 1990, all the friends I have are the direct result of becoming a gyronaut. People all over the world – many of whom I have never met – but brought together by the love of my little red flying machine. There are people who travelled many miles to trust me with their lives, learning vital skills while enchanted with the magic of the gyro-glider; even now they keep in touch. I’m truly privileged.

The pioneering spirit that infused St. Merryn no longer survives in Britain these days. Any sign of enthusiasm for the homebuilt gyro is immediately crushed by the ignorant, and with it dies the innovation and curiosity to evolve. My veterans would be saddened by what we’ve become. Individuality is frowned upon and commercial clones have no soul. Even the basic skills are gone, the essential now re-labelled ‘old fashioned’ by those with no clue. But cross the English Channel and a whole new world of possibility opens up, and it’s here that Delta-J and me have rediscovered what we thought irretrievably lost.

21 years of memories, the strong roots that hold us firm as we begin our new incarnation with the friends who have become as important to me now as those of old. On this beautiful grass airstrip of Bois de la Pierre, the Gyro Club Toulouse has embraced our lost soul and given us new purpose. A positive attitude does wonders, innovation and ingenuity are alive and flourishing. The spirit of adventure and shared passion for gyro flight binds us in a strong community that’s joyful to be part of. The few commercially built machines co-exist in harmony with the homebuilts, just as it should be. If only the Brits could be so open minded.

So it’s nicely fitting that Delta-J should commemorate her 21st birthday with a flight from Bois de la Pierre today. A very different landscape from that where we began: huge open countryside with no sparkle of ocean on the horizon, just a colossal barrier of snow capped mountains to the south. It was an emotive flight through an overcast sky as we celebrated her coming of age, and remembered all those who had made it possible. She’s more than just a machine, you see – every part of her holds a memory.

Sometimes I just can’t believe how lucky I am – and it all stems from Delta-J. I can’t imagine where life would’ve led me if I hadn’t discovered gyroplanes, but I’m sure it wouldn’t be a patch on this!