Any Active Forum Members with Classic Vancraft experience?

The Guv'na

Window licker
I just so happen to have seen an old Vancraft project for sale on Ebay.

I've always loved the aesthetics of Chucks original design—though I know the modern SC is unquestionably more refined. Are there any aviators hanging around the board that have flown these classics at one time or another?

The Guv'na

Window licker
Kevin_Richey, was the bird you flew configured like the bird in the link? Semi-enclosed with the old fashioned tail and small h-stab?


Yamaha gyro...Oregon, USA
The Guv'na: The Vancraft Rotor Lightning that I co-owned & flew (75 hrs.) was a single seater. I did get a ride in one just like this one when I was first getting into gyros. Jim Vanek was giving rides @ one of the PRA Chapter 73 fly-ins when they held a yearly event down on the Oregon coast. He flew it so smoothly that I could not tell when we landed other than watching our shadow meet up w/ the ground!

There was some other aircraft in the pattern w/ us on downwind, so he just did what felt like came to a stop in the air to even out the aircraft spacing by adding engine power & pointing the nose upward for several seconds (about 10).

Having previously been along for rides in helicopters, and loving it, I knew I could never afford to own & fly one, so my interest was keen to learn more about the "Poor Man's Helicopter".

Learning to fly and then getting in 75 hrs. in a single place Vancraft was easy. It was relaxing and A JOY TO FLY! Pay attention to having more than sufficient ASI and it is like flying in your dreams!

I took the then-advice of the Vaneks of getting airplane training up to solo in a tail-dragger airplane such as an Aeronca Champ. Don't use a yoke-equipped tail-dragger.

Having a stick and the throttle position, along w/ the nose high attitude in both take-off & landing modes made transitioning into a gyro feel natural. I hadn't heard of the Bensen self-taught training manual @ that time, but had read Paul Abbott's book on how to fly a gyro several times.

A chapter member who was a former Army helicopter pilot who had purchased and flew a Vancraft sold ownership shares to four fellows, and coached us over a CB radio through our initial taxi around and balancing on the mains. He then did the same through short crow hops, and then progressively longer ones, & after flying the length of the runway, then adding gentle S-turns to a runway flight.

Then a trip around the patch, which was a delight & easy. I really believe a tail-dragger airplane w/ a stick & throttle position just like gyros have made a world of difference. It felt so natural for the pilot position to inclined back when taking off & landing.

In flight, the Vancraft stick has no pressures, just like the Sport Copter gyros. But, one cannot let go of it and fly around hands off, for after a few seconds, the machine begins to nose downward. There is no spring(s) to hold the stick back. But, having no pressure to counter against, either in taxiing or taking off or landing, is great!

The tail, which looks surprisingly small back behind the Vancraft/Sport Copter fairing/enclosure, actually had enough rudder authority for even crosswind landings. When first learning, however, to balance on the mains, the tail feathers are less effective when lifting off, making for a wallowing around in yaw if done too slow.

I believe it is a combination of being a shade too slow, for the rudder to work well, and the large fairing/enclosure blocking a lot of the airflow, making the tail feathers less effective.The answer is to not lift off too slow!

The problem revolves around having to be quite a bit more nose-high while balancing on the mains, than in other single-place machines, which I believe is a result of a longer wheel base than a standard Bensen/Brock/Air Command-type of gyro.
Jim & Chuck Vanek were proud of how their model of gyro didn't sit back on it's "haunches" while @ rest on the ground, but was always level in it's stance.

As I learned later, those other types of gyros are so easy to balance on the mains! If a puff of wind hits you from in front or off to one side as you are balancing on the mains, and the gyro slow slightly as a result of the additional air being blown into the rotor disc, the nose starts to drop down, and is easily brought back up w/ the stick. Just like being in an airplane. Without adding power, pulling back on the yoke or stick, exposes more wing surface to the oncoming airflow, and then the aircraft slows down in airspeed, and then lowering the wing, lessening the airflow, as the airplane starts back flying faster again.

I even practised w/ an fellow chapter member's Air Command gyroplane. While balancing on the mains, I could pull back on the stick enough to slow the machine so that the nose wheel started to descend to being back on the ground. I could let it almost touch the ground, and since the machine had started to gain airspeed because the rotor disc then had less profile into the incoming air, could stop the nose wheel from touching by pulling back again. There was plenty of movement to do this repeatedly.

This could not be done in the Vancraft Rotor Lightning while balancing on the mains. If that puff of wind came into the rotor disc, whether from the front, side, or from behind (and you can feel that puff on your arms and body), that nose wheel was going back onto the ground, and one could not stop it, even by pulling all the way back on the stick! Since one of the requirements to being able to start runway crow hops was to balance on the mains the entire length of the runway, that puff of wind ruined one length of the runway balancing, and one had to repeat it again. Consequently, the Vancraft needs to be more nose high to balance on the mains than most single place ones.

This particular Vancraft Rotor Lightning was powered by a Rotax 503, single carb engine. Marginal power except for the proverbial 160# pilot. Our fellow chapter member that sold us shares in his machine was in that category.
Last edited:


Yamaha gyro...Oregon, USA
Adding to the above post, our little group later switched to a dual carb set-up, and w/ those additional six or so horses that provided, made balancing on the mains easier, since we weren't at just about full throttle as was the case of the single carb 503 was. Once the nose wheel was up off the ground and stabilized, one could then simply add throttle to lift off nicely.

With those extra ponies, and letting the nose wheel drop down towards the ground by slightly pushing forward on the stick while adding full throttle, made it easy to fly. The rudder pedals are connected to the nose wheel steering on those gyros. Not so in the Sport Copter models.

If while balancing on the mains in the Vancraft, and having a crosswind, and countering that crosswind w/ the rudder pedals, one allows the nose wheel to contact the ground, then it becomes an expensive event. That is one of the reasons Jim Vanek went w/ differential braking (and castering nose wheel) in his Sport Copter. A landing that didn't go right-event w/ a very pregnant Kelly Vanek @ the controls was the main factor.

Now, w/ a castering nose wheel in a gyro, one can take off while the nose wheel is the last to leave the tarmac, land crooked, or even let the nose wheel touch just prior to the mains, w/out any bad repercussions!

I found out by accident, in my Sport Copter gyroplane that has the castering nose wheel, that I can easily take off when the nose wheel is still tracking on the ground w/ no ill effect. I used to have a Rotax 503, twin carbed, engine on it. Now I have four stroke Yamaha power, more than doubling the HP of that 503.

When attending the El Mirage & ROTR fly-ins, due to the altitude at those much higher elevations than around here near sea level, I could not lift off by balancing on the mains & adding full throttle, unless it was in the cool morning air. Climbing out was slow and quite lengthy, too.
I weighed around 215# then.

As I was attempting to balance on the mains, there wasn't enough horsepower for the altitude & the gross weight of the gyro!

As the nose wheel rose up when the rotor blades became ready to fly, I then pushed forward on the stick (lowering the rotor disc into the oncoming airflow). A little bit more forward stick added airspeed, but it still wasn't enough. By putting the nose wheel back on the ground to allow the gyro to accelerate w/ the stick in the usual flying position, soon I felt the mains feel "funny" as they started to lift off. I then relaxed my pushing forward on the stick slightly to let the nose wheel do likewise.

The nose wheel brake in the Vancraft gyroplanes was a weak point. Taxiing around under power, and w/out having the rotors spinning up near flight speed to give that braking effect, that short piece of rubber v-belt became overheated from use, warping the little aluminum pulley mounted on the front wheel. Then the v-belt becomes glazed from the overheating and doesn't work well to stop any ground roll. It never had sufficient power to adequately stop the engine's thrust @ idle. The pulley, when warped, is useless, becoming ineffective.

I found that since that brake was weak, I to flip the ignition off, then on, several times to stop the fast roll caused by the Rotax running along @ about 2,200 rpms to keep the gearbox from shaking & rattling.

Also, even though Sport Copter is Jim Vanek's company, & that he & his father, Chuck Vanek, worked the Vancraft gyroplane business together, there is no factory support for Vancraft parts if one needs to replace any bent airframe tubing, nor tails that might be destroyed in a take off or landing accident.

1. The Sport Copter fairing/enclosure is identical to the Vancraft one except they cut out the part that said "Vancraft Rotor Lightning" at the rear top. So, it is still available to be purchased.

2. The windscreen is just a sheet of lexan screwed into the fairing, so replacing it if scratched or yellowed w/ age is easy.

3. Any accidents to the welded airframe tubing could be repaired, if not too severely bent, by any good welder.

4. The mast and keel are regular aluminum round 6061 T-6 tubing.

5. The rotor head is not the same kind as the Sport Copter one. It has the nut end of the spindle accessible from below to allow the hand-crank prerotator to turn the rotors up to about 80 rrpms, sufficient to start slowly taxiing to build up to flight speed prior to lift off.

6. The tail feathers can be replaced w/ any kind of constructed material, such as aluminum, or fiberglass over foam, if needed.

7. Same as for the rotor blades, which Vancraft made w/ wood covered by fiberglass.

I did go onto that eBay listing and asked the seller re: the condition of those rotor blades. Hopefully you get a published response in time prior to the auction's end, sometime tomorrow.

8. The VW power is questionable. Just about all folks don't use them anymore for flight. Heavy, lack of longevity, and power output were problems in pusher gyros, due to insufficient airflow over the heads for proper cooling, @ high rpms.

VWs works fine for Sonex airplanes, since airplanes don't create as much drag as a gyroplane does. The prices of a built up VW engine are up there, but still not as high as Rotax's 900 series engine lineup.

Someone who knows VW engines well might be suited for keeping that engine on the gyro, since parts are still widely available. Better performing, more reliable engines are now available, such as Rotax or other four strokes.

A consideration could be removing the VW engine from the gyro, and derive some $$ from it's sale to someone who loves them and appreciates the components present in it's current state, further lowering the $$ involved in purchasing this machine.

The draggy-ness of a gyro's rotor blade disc are a handicap from a fuel consumption and cruising speed standpoint. But the extreme maneuverability at all flight regimes are great advantages, especially w/ it's low landing speeds. All aircraft have their advantages and disadvantages over other kinds of flying machines. It depends what mode one wishes.

If someone wanted to purchase this gyroplane up for auction @ this listing, if it were me, I'd make contact w/ the seller, and express my interest, but wouldn't pay the asking price, since I view the engine as a handicap that needs to be replaced for reliability reasons.

The seller has the option available to Make An Offer. I'd try $3,500. The engine as well as the rotor blades condition are two big factors. If the buy sells it for that amount, and the rotor blades turn out to be in excellent condition, there is nothing wrong w/ paying a little bit more to him/her upon arrival and inspection.

The rotor blades may have been smacked on the ground during a ground loop incident. That would be evident by a crack or sharp wood showing through the fiberglass. Being a wooden core, moisture may have gotten in, and done it's damage through the years. The listing shows a Michigan location. Ludington (Could be the source of Luddites, and it's associated lack of welcome to progress?)

The humidity of the mid-west might have caused problems concerning rust as well as the wooden-core rotor blades. If stored in a dry location, such as a heated or air conditioned shop or garage may have preserved it well. From the photos, the gyro appears to have been well-kept.

I would recommend this not be a machine someone learns how to fly a gyro w/, because of no replacement parts or advice is available if it suffers damage during the learning process. Although the second seat is below & behind the pilot, it works fine for taking someone along on a flight! Comfortable, although somewhat unconventional...
Last edited:


Yamaha gyro...Oregon, USA
RE: Asking a question to the eBay seller. Instead of answering on their eBay listing, I received an brief answer from the seller in my email this AM. Their answer was that each rotorblade is 12' long. The seller has re-listed this auction, w/ out the previously listing's Make An Offer section in it. I replied to that 12' answer by re-asking the condition portion of the question, as well as requesting closeup photos of the edges of the RB. If I receive another reply, I'll post here what it is, unless they add it to their listing.

I wrote above that parts are not available in case of a ground loop or minor crash. Aside from the airframe portion for the engine mount and seat supports that meet up the mast @ the base of the rotorhead assembly (steel tubing welded, then spray painted black) , the bulk of the rest of the gyroplane components can be sourced by various vendors of metal supply & aircraft parts houses.

The rotorhead assembly is also welded steel plates. Jim V. related to me years back that his father wanted to provide a gyroplane that guys could easily afford, or build themselves out of inexpensive materials, so that the everyday guy could fly affordably.


Yamaha gyro...Oregon, USA
Jonathan: I attempted to send you a PM. You apparently have not enabled your PM feature. Please send me one.


Yamaha gyro...Oregon, USA
Sorry, everyone, I guess I got carried away w/ responding RE: the Vancraft gyroplane!
I could have simply written that it (the single place version) was easy to learn how to fly, and flew nicely in all regimes of flight.

New, modern brakes on the mains would solve the issue of the weak, original nose wheel one. Consequently, then changing to a castering nose wheel would remove any possibility of having an accident on the ground because of the original nose wheel set up being tied into the rudder pedals.

A fellow in Hawaii removed the fairing/partial enclosure on his two Vancrafts and flew them "naked". More recently, John Pipe in Georgia did the same. Last I read, it had been test-flown successfully by another chapter member. A youtube video was posted showing that.

RE: That round hub bar "fairing" was found to make a difference in performance, similar to the streamlined McCutchen Skywheels rotors hub bar.
Last edited:


FW and Gyros
Kevin, thanks for the great historical synopsis of the earlier Vancrafts. I'm glad that you got "carried away"!



My VanCraft is up for sale. Having spent a lot of time working on it and having it test flown for me, my health is not going to let me fly it.
It is ready to fly but I am not.
See For Sale Forum.

John Pipe