Building an AAI Sparrowhawk
After completing a Van's RV-8A kit, I enjoyed flying it for several years before the yearn for building brought me to search for another aircraft building project. For my second effort, I chose the Sparrowhawk gyroplane. The kit is manufactured by American Autogyro Inc., a company based in Salt Lake City, Utah.
I needed a new project
Building an airplane changed me. While I was relieved to finish the project, I found myself yearning to be back out in my shop, music playing while I cut metal and pound rivets. I sold my Cessna 182, which provided some funds for a new project. Finally, in early 2004 I decided to build another airplane, a Lancair Legacy. This is a very high-performance, retractable gear aircraft that cruises at speeds in excess of 250 mph. In April, my wife, Mary and I flew the RV to Sun N Fun in Lakeland, FL so that I could fly the Lancair factory Legacy Demo. It was everything I thought it would be - sleek, fast, and very expensive to build.
And now for something completely different!
Something was bothering me, and it was more than just the money. When Mary and I landed at Plant City, we saw these funny-looking little helicopter-like aircraft landing and taking off. These were RAF gyroplanes going out for demo rides. I couldn't get these things out of my mind - it looked like so much fun! And isn't this flying thing supposed to be about fun? I talked to the RAF salesman at Sun N Fun and decided to go back to Plant City to take a demo ride. Mary and I flew simultaneously in different gyros. I was hooked!
Deciding on a gyro
Now it occurs to me that, if I build a Lancair Legacy, I am going to spend years of building and end up with something that is just a variation of what I already have - a fast, cross-country sport airplane. I decided after the demo flight to build a gyro instead. While mulling this over, we went out to Chopper City at Sun N Fun, where the helicopters and a few gyros are on display. There I found out that there is another gyroplane kit, the Sparrowhawk, which has a larger cabin and big horizontal and vertical stabilizers. I was convinced after talking to Devon Hansen, the American Autogyro rep, that this was the kit for me. I went back to Plant City one more time, this time to fly the AAI conversion (an RAF gyroplane with the Sparrowhawk tail). Even with less than an hour of total "gyro time," it's obvious that this thing is a whole lot easier to fly than the RAF. I made a deposit for the Sparrowhawk kit.
Learning to fly a gyroplane
So, now that I had ordered a kit, how was I supposed to learn how to fly a gyroplane? Fortunately, there is a well-know gyro CFI in Searcy, Arkansas, which is ninety nautical miles from my home airport, Charles Baker in Millington, TN. That's about thirty-five minutes in my sweet little RV-8A. Ron Menzie has been flying gyros for over thirty years. He is an excellent instructor, training students in his modified RAF. A flying gyro is not all that difficult to handle. Landings are fairly intuitive for a fixed-wing pilot - aim for the touchdown spot, pull back on the stick to flare while pulling the throttle to idle. It's the takeoffs and ground handling of that big, spinning rotor that is so different. A crosswind takeoff (a non-event in the RV) gets my FULL attention. And one must ALWAYS be aware of where the wind is coming from while taxiing. Nevertheless, I soloed and eventually got my gyroplane rating. So, now I can legally carry passengers. Check out Ron Menzie at http://www.ronsgyros.com/.
Buying an RAF gyroplane to fly
A friend of mine in Memphis and I found a great deal on an RAF gyroplane kit with an added horizontal stabilizer (RAF does not furnish a stabilizer with the kit). We bought the kit, finished it over in Searcy, had it inspected and flew off the forty hours while we were soloing there, then brought it back to Memphis after completing our training. Toward the end of my training, I flew the RV down to Crystal River, Fl to do a little cross-country work with Terry Eiland, another gyroplane CFI and Sparrowhawk builder\dealer. His is an excellent aircraft, made by an obviously talented craftsman.