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Junior Member
The 9th of March 1969 started just like any other Sunday. The weather was calm with good visibility, and a handy 8 knots of wind to aid a free spinning rotor. Ernie Brooks was in high spirits as he collected his nephew Trevor from their usual rendezvous on the way to the airfield, where this time they were to be joined by a potential investor, and Ernie was keen to show what his little gyroplane could do.
A practised flick of the propeller brought the engine to life, and Ernie waved to his crew with a cheery thumbs up as he taxied off towards the other side of the airfield, where the unsilenced roar of the Volkswagen engine heralded his departure. The small group of friends left behind, watched in eager anticipation as the dark speck climbed away to the north. Suddenly it changed, growing rapidly before their eyes and coming at them like a bullet just above the ground, skimming the top of the car in a blast of thunder and scattering those less stalwart than a thirteen year old schoolboy. Trevor was buzzing with excitement - that was his uncle Ernest, that was!
True to his word, Ernie wasn’t holding back, working through his repertoire to display the full capability of the machine with a masterful performance. Shallow dives became rapid low level passes transitioning fluidly with the momentum to swing skywards, gaining height to demonstrate slow flight and vertical descents. The tiny gyroplane pointed her nose to the sky, hanging gently on the wind like a dandelion seed, the steady whop whop beat of the rotor blades increasing as they took up the load, supporting the descent.
Time for another game of chicken. Leaving the others gathered around the car, Trevor walked away to stand his ground alone, defiantly facing down the snarling projectile that hurtled towards him and parted his hair with a gale of prop wash. Missed again! He ran back towards the car elated, when suddenly a loud bang stopped him in his tracks. All heads turned as one to where the Mosquito was silhouetted against the sky. Trevor knew that Ernie had been about to do what he called a ‘stall turn,’ a steep climb that stood the gyro on her tail before pivoting sharply down to the left and steaming back in for another pass - it was a regular part of their game. But this time Ernie had over done it.
Unable to keep pace with the rapid control input, the rotor blades quickly lost momentum and slammed down through the propeller and tail. It was a classic negative G tumble, and after that there was nothing that anyone could do. In the stunned silence that followed, Trevor evaded his companions and took to his heels as fast as he could go, running blindly towards the wreckage and the man who was his hero. There he stayed, disbelieving and numb with shock, yet more steadfast than any game of chicken: cradling Ernie’s head and refusing to leave his side even as the fire crew gently freed him, and until the ambulance finally took him away.

That was the terrible scene that changed many peoples’ lives 48 years ago, and set in motion a series of events that finally reached conclusion in the middle of England yesterday. Ernie Brooks was one of the first British gyro pioneers, who spent 8 years developing his Brookland Mosquito Mk2 after starting with a Bensen B7 in 1963. News of his creation travelled around the world, evidenced by a stack of international newspaper cuttings, press releases and correspondence from an age when the written word could take weeks to arrive. People from all nations, all walks of life were captivated by the tiny machine.
Yes, it was a flawed design. We know that now, smug with 50 years of accumulated knowledge that wasn’t available back then. Ernie Brooks was an ordinary man who achieved so much from a back street garage, yet he’s a virtual unknown in the gyro world. His devoted nephew Trevor, had been promised a Mosquito of his own for his 18th birthday, but sadly like so many from those early experimental years, Ernie did not live to fulfil that promise. But Trevor never forgot.

If we recount the facts of the Brookland story, how far along do we travel before a stroke of luck becomes something more tenacious? When the remaining stock of Ernie’s company was sold, it could’ve gone anywhere, even overseas. Instead it travelled 450 miles to the opposite corner of the country, bought by Tony Philpotts - a man who fifteen years later, would become a dear friend and autorotational mentor of mine. Gyro flying was the love of Tony’s life: the accompanying paperwork held no interest for him and so it remained in his cellar, forgotten and gradually buried over time.
After a cruel dementia wiped Tony’s mind almost entirely during his final decade, anyone could have been brought in to clear the amazing pile of junk that had grown beneath the house. All would have been lost had his wife (a frail little lady also in her eighties) not casually mentioned her daily effort in descending two flights of rickety wooden steps to fill a carrier bag with rubbish from the cellar, and bring it to the surface. I was horrified - she was all alone in that big house. And so by a gnat’s whisker, the precious archive was saved.
In 1968, Ernie had been assisted by a 16 year old lad named Jim Crawford. In 2009, Jim made a long forgotten internet post, referring to his employment with the late gyro pioneer. Two years later, inspired by the incredible mass of paperwork recovered from the cellar, I stumbled upon Jim’s comment while searching for information on Ernie’s work.
Who knows what after all that time, had made Trevor Brooks suddenly decide to try and find out what had happened to his beloved uncle’s gyros, and left a message on that same internet site just six months after I had found Jim. It was Jim who spotted Trevor’s query, and passed it on to me.
The autorotational journey that began with Ernie Brooks in 1960s County Durham, crossed the length and breadth of the British Isles, spanning the decades until the moment came when everything was in place. Yesterday the circle finally reached closure in a village that is almost exactly halfway between my home and Trevor’s, 450 miles apart. It was an absolute privilege to be able to fulfil Ernie’s promise and finally present Trevor with his own Mosquito. What were the chances of that?

This trickling path of a rambling pebble has now started a landslide: the interest raised in Ernie’s hometown is phenomenal. People who remember him flying over, people who helped him in some small manner – they’ve all come out of the woodwork to pledge support for the restoration of this battered and timeworn little gyroplane. The BBC have become involved, providing archive film of Ernie in action to be broadcast to a new generation. Even the original owner of Trevor’s Mosquito, now 84 years young, has been found, absolutely delighted to hear of the project and intends to make the journey to be reunited with his former flying machine. Once again Ernie Brooks is capturing the public imagination. He deserves it.



Active Member
When the autogyro got its second wind after WWII, half a century had passed since the heroic times of the first pilots advancing the understanding and the use of fixed wind aircraft. Many phenomena like dynamic instabiliy, flutter or Mach effects had been discovered which, at the time, were not understood and many daring pilots had given their lives in persuit of their dreams while encountering these phenomena until by sience and sacrifice a strong theory base had been laid, enabling designers to avoid these problems up front in their new aircraft. The memory of these daring fliers was honoured because so much had been changed through mastering the skies and the advent of air travel.

Those who devoted their lives to exploring the possibilities of the autogyro faced a similar lack of theory and again men and women died exploring the envelope until today autogyros are built whose flight characteristics are as safe as those of fixed wing aircraft. But because sience had such a prominent place in fixed wing aircraft at the time and the impact of the autogyro was so much less striking, the work of the early autogyro pioneers was not appreciated in the same way as had been that of the early fixed wing pioneers. It was rather seen as the folly of some Gyro Gearless type of tinkerers and amateurs who deserved pityfullness rather than acclaim or admiration. Amateurs they were, but not more amateurish and not less inventive, ingenious and devoted as e.g. one Louis Bleriot.

It is great, Shirley, that with this marvelous and very well told story you give due credit to the early pioneers by recalling one outstanding example. Thank you for sharing!
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Junior Member
No Title

Look at her now!
She'll be unveiled at a public event in Ernie's home town on 10th March, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his death, after which she will take her place in the Pioneers of Flight section of Sunderland Aircraft Museum.
Trevor has done his uncle proud.


Doug Riley

Platinum Member
There clearly are people who still feel the loss of Ernie Brooks quite keenly. News of his crash was in the very first issue of the PRA magazine I received as a kid, back in 1969. Shirley has recounted this event with great sensitivity.

Ernie's project foreshadowed the more elegant "Eurogyros" that have since put a serious dent in the market formerly occupied by open-frame gyros. But we've (re-) learned a lot since then.

It's OK to admire Ernie's design as a time capsule. We now know, however, that this configuration is pretty lethal: no H-stab, low CG, low-mounted pod, light blades and no roll or yaw torque compensation all make for a machine that badly wants to point anywhere but forward.

Moreover, the maneuver that killed Ernie has been explored by others who have barely come back in one piece. This abrupt yaw-about with stick back forces a large cyclic-pitch change into the rotor, possibly when its RPM is on the way down. The sudden increase in cyclic pitch can be enough to stall a blade. A pilot must be very careful about slewing the gyro around violently with rudder, unless the rotor disk is held flat. The Florida boys used to call this a "hammerhead."

C. Beaty

Gold Supporter
I have Igor Bensen’s copy of the AAIB report of Ernie Brooks’ fatal accident. Bensen, according to his notes scribbled in the margins, blamed the accident for the built in air-scoop effect of the open cockpit pod.

I can’t remember whether I’ve seen video of the accident or deduced from the accident report but I’m of the opinion that it was simply a combination bunt/torque roll. A horizontal stabilizer doesn’t do very much to compensate for an offset propeller thrustline at near zero airspeed.

A good many people in Florida used to perform this maneuver, calling it a hammerhead turn because it mimics a FW maneuver, a stall turn. Stand the gyro on its tail until it runs out of airspeed and kick it around with prop blast over the rudder.

I recall the late Lloyd Poston was doing a series of “hammerheads” in his Lycoming powered gyro a number of years ago when the gyro produced several “bangs” from the stalled rotor blades that sounded like a shotgun being fired. Lloyd immediately shut the throttle, neutralized the stick and let the machine sink until the rotor recovered.

Doug Riley

Platinum Member
In addition to the Florida pilots' experience with gyro hammerheads, we also can draw on the series of accidents and incidents awhile ago with "pedal turns" in gyros.

There was a fad for awhile to yaw a gyro about rapidly without banking. The pilot would stomp a rudder pedal while holding back stick and plenty of power. The resulting motion of the gyro's rotor spindle is a little hard to visualize, but it's something like stirring cake batter -- with the bowl of your spoon pinned to the bottom of the batter bowl and the handle touching the rim and circling it. This feeds a large cyclic pitch change into the rotor, as the rotor tries to remain tipped toward the tail while the tail spins away from it. The rate of cyclic pitch change can be high enough to stall a blade. There were at least two fatal accidents likely attributable to this maneuver -- one taking the life of gyro CFI Jim DiGaetano.

Yawing a gyro without banking (if you must do it at all) should not be performed with a lot of back stick applied. For example, vertical-descent pirouettes are a continuous unbanked turn, but done with a neutral stick and very low/idle power.


Junior Member
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It’s difficult to process the range of emotions that weighed so heavily during my first visit to Ernie’s hometown, on the 50th anniversary of his death. Bored to tears on the A1 after a seemingly endless drive up from Cornwall, I perked up considerably as familiar names began to appear on the road signs – ooh look! – Newton Aycliffe, Ferryhill, Spennymoor, Tudhoe! All the places I had heard so much about while trying to record some of Ernie’s life, I was almost childlike with wonder.

The next morning March 9th, fifty years to the day, I found myself driving along Attwood Terrace on the way to meet Trevor, passing Ernie’s former home at number 45. The sense of karma was overwhelming. If I could only knock on that door of fifty years ago, and warn him about the dangerous manoeuvre he would perform just five hours and thirty minutes later – but of course I couldn’t – I was five decades too late. Yet somehow, I felt powerless.

We walked the short distance from Trevor’s home to where G-AWIF was hidden, careful to avoid the prying eyes of local yobs, who would have no hesitation in mindlessly wrecking a unique piece of autorotational history. Trevor unlocked the door and there she was: the battered and timeworn little gyroplane I had last seen in May 2017, now transformed in the guise of Ernie’s own G-AVYW. She looked stunning in her fresh green paint with white trim, and proudly bolted to the airframe her crowning glory – the rare Brookland Aero Engine that providence had so generously provided just over a year ago. It was an awful a shame that the original spindle rotor head had been stolen, but the replacement offset gimbal didn’t look too out of place. Working covertly in a basic lock-up garage with nothing but hand tools, Trevor had done wonders.

Early next morning we made a brief detour to Coulson Street, stopping outside the unit where Ernie had once climbed on the roof to paint the words ‘Brookland Garage,’ a legend long since weathered away. The echoes from the past were very strong and would intensify as the day progressed. Being in possession of the only tow-bar, it became my privilege to drive Trevor and his gyroplane down through the streets of Ernie’s hometown, stopping for a celebratory gathering at the Daleside Arms, where we manoeuvred the enormous trailer and its precious cargo into position for everyone to admire. The rain had been increasing steadily all morning, but it couldn’t dampen our spirits. Elderly gentlemen were drawn to the miniature rotorcraft like moths to the flame, beaming with pleasure at the impossible sight of an authentic Brookland Mosquito. It was wonderful! Eyes shining, the years fell away as they spoke of Ernie flying over the villages, how they would scan the sky for him, and the shattering roar of the Volkswagen engine that heralded his arrival. Such a compliment to Ernie, that they remember him so fondly after all those years .

Time to leave for Teesside Airport, where a film crew was waiting to record the historic return of a Brookland Mosquito gyroplane – and I was struggling again. How could this be? Every Sunday afternoon, Ernie had collected the young Trevor on his way to Teesside Airport, towing the little rotorcraft behind them. Fifty years and one day after his death, I found myself sat beside Trevor, towing a Mosquito down the exact same route on a Sunday afternoon. I couldn’t get my head around it at all. Past and present collided big style when we reached the airport. Instantly familiar, there was the distinctive control tower and original wartime hangar that formed the backdrop to several monochrome photos found in Tony’s cellar. Physics and Relativity went screaming out of the window. It was all too much.

The rain had given way to shine, but a bitter wind was now howling across the open expanse of airfield, threatening to tear the tiny gyroplane apart. We clung to the rotor blades for dear life as she was positioned in front of Number 2 hangar to recreate the scene from one of those iconic photographs. Trevor’s son James took centre stage, kitted out by his father in orange overalls and brown leather jacket, exactly as Ernie had been when he posed with the Mosquito in front of that same hangar back in 1968 – Trevor had even painted the crash helmet to replicate his uncle’s. It was uncanny to be stood at that very spot as past merged with present and fused inextricably as one. The boundaries of space and time simply imploded. Watching Ernie’s family and friends gather round to record their own mementoes, I was swamped by the magnitude of it all, helpless in a confusion of disbelief, sadness and delight.

For the last lap of a momentous day, we headed north to Sunderland where, with James named as trustee, G-AWIF was handed over as G-AVYW to the North East Land Sea and Air Museum, to be displayed as a permanent (and long overdue) tribute to Ernie Brooks, British gyroplane pioneer.

That has to be the most satisfying thing I have ever done in my life.