More fun flying The Predator.


Gyroplane CFI
No Title

Max made short work of the cracked body mount.

I finished up the rotor head and trim spring.

The Predator is airworthy again.

I made my maintenance flight and checked that everything is complete and tight afterward.

I love even a simple flight in The Predator.

The paperwork is finished and most of the tools are put away as I head home into the sunset.



Gyroplane CFI
No Title

I can't always get what I want.

It has been raining a bit around Santa Maria and the hills are turning green. December seems a slow time for flight training so I hoped to go flying and take in the clean air and green hills.

Thirty seven degrees had me bundled up with thermals and a warm top under my flight suit so I felt like my movement was restricted as I worked through my preflight.

I was pleased to push her outside and check flight service. It looked like a lovely day to fly with the only slight negative being AIRMET Tango for moderate turbulence below 10,000 feet.

Training is very hard on helmets and headsets so I have three and get them repaired in Texas. In a recent training flight the helmet I use in the back seat with a mush mouth started squealing making it very hard to hear and I am very uncomfortable trusting my clients to catch everything the tower has to say. The squealing was from the active noise reduction so I unplugged it and just didn’t hear as well. If they fly too fast I can't hear and they have a hard time understanding me. I called Richard at Headsets Inc. and he felt it was a moisture problem making it squeal. It had stopped raining but it got warm in the afternoon and I was sweating a lot. I figured would deal with it later.

The next flight was with a primary student who has not transitioned to the front seat so I used my regular helmet in the front. My clients don't like using the mush mouth so this was all working out.

My client was having trouble hearing me and I figured it was because he had not properly adjusted his helmet and when we adjusted it he could hear me better.

I thought the client was imagining things.

In the back of my mind I suspected the headset because a client had egressed the aircraft while still plugged in and damaged the plug to the ANR.

I could not find an identical plug and had replaced it with a nearly identical one. I thought it had been working for several months.

I didn't want to send two helmets to Texas at the same time because I can’t train without two working headsets and helmets and even with fast turnaround I would be out of business for a week.

I hopped in and was ready to go until I plugged in my headset and it sounded like the engine was running when it wasn’t. I had talked to Richard at Headsets Inc. about this sort of noise and he said it was typically one of the ear cups were not sealing well. I tightened the strap up till it was making it difficult to breathe and it still made the noise. I have six new ear cups on the way.

No problem I thought, just use the other helmet. There is a little knob that you loosen to lower the face shield and if it is not tightened again it will come out. There is a screw to prevent this but if a client unscrews the knob too hard they break the screw. The knob and screw were missing.

I went to the helmet with the mush mouth and it had both the screw and the knob so I installed them in my client helmet. The little T screw that goes down into the visor had the screw to hold a loose knob broken off in it so I needed to replace it. Somehow I got it in my head that the easy way to change out the little T screw was to take the visor loose. I would come to learn that this is incorrect. My client helmet has the clear shield as an opting and I never liked the extra bulk so I decided to swap out the visors.

I began this project at 11:30 and finished just as the sun was setting.

There are lots and lots of little parts and several times I was convinced they were not interchangeable.

I started to go for a maintenance flight and discovered the intermittent nature of the ANR.

I got my original helmet out and rotated one of the ear cups about an eighth of an inch and it worked perfectly. I should have listened to Richard.

This all worked out for the best because I have three of the little knobs ordered and a new face shield coming. I will box up the helmet with the faulty plug and send it off to Texas.

This is all much better than going through this with a client that may have traveled several hundred miles waiting impatiently as I tried to get two helmets working or the client not being able to hear me as I gently guide him through the lesson in the sky.

I have hand signals but I feel it is less professional than having a radio and intercom that works.

So I can't always get what I want but if I try it seems I get what I need.

I will fly tomorrow.



Gyroplane CFI
No Title

Closing out the year properly.

After a day of frustration working on helmets/headsets I was ready for a gyroplane flight.

I had things to do in the morning so I did not make it to the airport till one.

Preflight took a while and to say the weather briefing was confusing would be an understatement. AIRMET Sierra was in effect for mountain obscuration, AIRMET Tango was in effect for moderate turbulence below fourteen thousand feet and AIRMET Zulu was in effect for icing above ten thousand feet. I decided on a local flight to see the effect the rain had on the nearby hills.

It had warmed up since the morning forty one degrees but there was still a bite in the air so I bundled up.

Winds at SMX were 024 degrees at eleven knots so runway zero two was in use. It seemed like a good opportunity to practice cross wind takeoffs so I asked for runway three zero with a left turn out and a turn to the south.

I watched the wind socks on my way to Alpha Eight and almost changed my mind. I asked the tower for wind checks twice. Several of the five winds socks were nearly straight out (fifteen knots) and blowing in different directions. Even the freight dogs were using runway zero two making for a long taxi to their terminal. The wind checks came back the same as the ATIS so I stuck with my plan.

The air felt cool and damp on my face as I used a lot of left rudder for takeoff. It was a textbook takeoff with a strong climb out in the minus six hundred sixty five foot density altitude making for a nice start for my last flight of twenty eighteen. I reached pattern altitude before making my left turn out. The Predator felt particularly muscular and capable as she transported me to the heavens.

As I turned south along California Highway One I was very busy with the throttle with strong up and down drafts. I climbed to thirteen hundred feet MSL (about a thousand feet above the ground) and marveled at the beauty the rains had brought to the hills and the intensity of the experience.

The ride was surprisingly smooth despite the strong up and down drafts. I climbed to two thousand feet over the hills flying around five hundred feet above the ground staying in the lift with the throttle well back (2050RPM). According to the GPS I was making thirty four knots of ground speed at sixty knots indicated air speed while working to catch the ridge lift.

As I approached each ridge it felt like I was speeding up as I neared the ground with an impression of sudden slowing as the earth dropped away on the other side of the ridge.

I dove down into some of the little valleys and rode the lift up out the windward side. I was overcome with a feeling of the mastery of the environment and cautioned myself aloud about overconfidence as though I was speaking to one of my clients who had become too aggressive.

I made my way over Los Alamos and Gary on my way up the river and called the Santa Maria Tower seven miles to the north, inbound with Lima.

I was to make left traffic for runway two and report midfield. Before I could report I was cleared to land and long landing approved.

I landed in the last two hundred feet of runway zero two and was to taxi to fuel via Alpha. As I neared Romeo I was nose to nose with a freight dog and ground had me exit taxiway Alpha at Quebec to parking.

I was filled with joy and wonder as I filled her up and carefully followed the check list aware that my mind was still in the heavens.

One of my CFI mentors stopped by and asked my about conditions for his Cub because he and his wife wanted to make a last flight for twenty eighteen. I cautioned him that I did not feel bumps in the same way and told him that the view was worth it.

I was not disappointed when I downloaded the picture and had a hard time selecting eight. I lost some pictures to the glare of the setting sun so most of the pictures are heading north or east.



Gyroplane CFI
No Title

Flight of Freedom.

I received a call from a potential client who wanted to learn about gyroplanes. I wanted to explain about polar moments and asked him his level of understanding. He is a mechanical engineer and when I asked him where he had graduated; he replied Russia.

I mentioned that I had a lot of Russian Facebook friends and they seemed very serious about their aviation.

He said when your freedom is limited you have a greater appreciation for the freedom of the skies.

This conversation was resonating in my head as I drove to the airport with the top down enjoying the fresh clean crisp air. I was living the dream of freedom and was about to experience the freedom of the skies. I had nothing pressing to do and the resources to fly. This is the very definition of freedom for me.

I had to pull myself back a little as I worked through preflight and got a weather briefing from flight service.

Winds were two six zero degrees at seven knots, temperature was thirty eight degrees Fahrenheit and the density altitude was one thousand two hundred feet below sea-level.

I rolled her outside and she came to life stumbling a little from the cold with the sound resonating off the hangars. She soon settled down to a steady idle as I worked my way through my pre-takeoff check list.

One of my helmets had just been repaired and a volume control added, so I wanted to try it solo before I flew with a client. As expected there were some challenges to work through. I thought it wasn’t working because there was very little side tone but soon discovered it had to do with my new volume control. The new ear pads took a bit of adjusting but soon did a superior job and the active noise reduction was working well. I liked the volume control a lot.

As I taxied out to runway three zero I marveled at the blue skies and green hills. There was a Robinson 44 and a Robinson 22 near the self-serve and I wondered at their willingness to taxi up to self-serve. They returned my wave and it added to the feeling camaraderie in aviation and specifically rotorcraft. I felt the palm trees in the background gave the picture a nice Californian touch.

I asked for a left turn out with a turn to the south and it was approved as requested.

The Predator leapt into the air and seemed to climb out effortlessly in the cool dense air. I pulled the power back leveling off at thirteen hundred feet rumbling along only turning about two thousand RPM at sixty knots.

I loved the feel of the air on my face; clean, cold and crisp. There was a little turbulence that we sort of floated through.

I was soon to the hills above my practice area and climbed to two thousand two hundred feet and just sort of rumbled along dipping down into the little valleys and marveling at the beauty a little rain had added to the hills.

I was suddenly overcome with a desire to express the freedom of the skies and started maneuvering around aggressively with no particular goal in mind. Eventually I climbed up to 3,500 feet, pulled the engine to idle and descended nearly straight down into a little valley just because I could; laughing with exuberance all the while with the swish of the rotor being the dominant sound.

I flew over Los Alamos and headed north east toward Twitchell Reservoir.

I checked the ATIS and called the tower ten miles to the southeast inbound with Bravo.

There were two helicopters headed my way at 1,300 feet so I stayed high and then another experimental was coming in from the north and a heading of two four zero was suggested. I then heard; “resume on navigation, runway three zero clear to land.”

We floated in and touched down as nice as could be and taxied to fuel.

The joyous feeling of freedom from the flight is with me still.



Gyroplane CFI
No Title

I received a call from a woman in Boston with a great voice when I was in Florida asking about a flight in a gyroplane in California. Sue was going to visit with her son Rick in the San Francisco Bay area (both single engine land pilots) and drive down the coast to Santa Maria. Rick was curious about gyroplanes too.

It was overcast as I worked through my introduction, explanations, preflight and safety briefing. Sue is an electrical engineer and asked some great questions that sounded as though she had a good grasp of mechanical engineering. Rick didn’t say much.

The ceiling was still a little low at 1,600 feet when we departed and headed for the beach. I gave Sue the controls and her airspeed control was exceptional as we made our way across the Santa Maria Valley. I did not sense any trepidation. Once out of SMX airspace I demonstrate steep turns, slow flight, pedals turns and a power off vertical descent.

I gave her back the controls and Sue flew very well. She had all the aircraft controls when I was taking the pictures. If someone is making me nervous the camera stays in my pocket.

She adjusted well to the slower response on the controls with a gyroplane compared to a fixed wing. I could feel her trying to get a feel for the response pushing at things in a very progressive way.

The ceiling was a little low to do proper ground reference maneuvers so we cut our flight a little short and I made the landing.

I love the people I meet as a flight instructor and love sharing the joy I find at the controls of a gyroplane.

I enjoyed Sue’s enthusiasm a lot and she is a quick learner. Adding Sport Pilot Gyroplane to her private pilot certificate should be quick and fun.



Gyroplane CFI
No Title

Jonah is an amazing young man full of enthusiasm and focus. He approached our adventure with great resolve to become a gyroplane pilot.

He listened intently to the briefing and had lots of good questions.

Jonah has no gyroplane piloting experience and a lot of desire.

I gave him the controls soon after liftoff and he quickly became familiar with them.

I demonstrated steep turns, pedal turns and slow flight followed by a vertical descent and gave him back the controls.

The winds were coming up as we made our way toward the Pacific and he managed the rolling air off the beach well.

He learned quickly and would respond to the slightest instruction with immediate improvement.

It was windy by the time we reached San Luis Obispo and his wife met us for lunch.

Jonah did very well on the way back to Santa Maria and we did some ground reference maneuvers.

He didn’t feel comfortable landing so I landed her.

He listened attentively during our debriefing.

I have no doubt he will apply everything we talked about and he made an appointment for the very next Sunday.

I am looking forward to it.



Gyroplane CFI
No Title

Some people are so bursting with energy they are a joy to be around; that is how I feel about Richard.

Richard is the first client that showed up at the gate where we just couldn’t fly. We did five hours of ground school in the hopes the winds would calm down. His enthusiasm was unyielding.

This is a man that wants to learn to fly and we set a date for his next lesson.

He had already purchased an Air Command gyroplane and sought me out at the Ken Brock Freedom Fly in.

He has more questions than any three clients I have trained and keeping him on track will likely be our greatest challenge.

Because we had already done my standard introduction and preflight brief we moved quickly to flight. There is still the mandatory seat belt, helmet and emergencies brief and we breezed through it.

He was wound a little tight till I demonstrated how The Predator could be thrown around with some steep turns and a power off vertical descent and then he relaxed a little. If he has fear I could not find it.

We went out to my practice area and did turns about a point and S turns over a road. To say he did well would be an understatement. Except for my coaching he would have passed that part of his practical test.

His turns around a point were to practical test standards going left and after finding the right tree and farm house good to the right too. His S turns over a road were slightly irregular but still to practical test standards for airspeed and altitude.

The flight back to the airport was as good as I could have done with smooth control inputs and good speed and altitude control.

He did so well that when we returned to Santa Maria I never took the controls as I promised. I just talked him through it and he landed as nice as could be. I had not demonstrated a landing and usually take the controls when the client gets near the ground and make the round out and flare myself.

Richard didn’t want to waste time for lunch so we went up again after a careful debriefing. I made a right and then a left pattern with and gave Richard the controls. His very first intentional landing was a nice as could be. His second required a little added power. I never saw any signs of tightening up despite our somewhat precarious flight path.

I noticed the voltage was a little low and a minor oil leek had put enough oil on the alternator belt that it was slipping. I took it to the Fixed Base Operator and he cleaned the engine bay carefully and after 20 minutes of running we could not find the leak. The engine was as clean as could be.

This put an end to today’s flying; we scheduled for the next Monday.

We found the leak the next day and repaired it.

And a week goes by.

Richard called me at zero dark hundred and asked me what I thought of the weather because it was raining in Ventura about 90 miles to the south east.

I could hear the patter of rain on my window. I fired up my computer and it was supposed to stop raining at Santa Maria (SMX) before 11:00 and continue to be above weather minimums for visual flight rules till eight PM. Winds were not supposed to get over six knots.

The man in charge of the particular weather we were looking at is proud if he is correct 65% of the time so there was considerable weather risk particularly for low clouds.

We decided to meet at SMX at 10:00.

It was still drizzling when I went to the gate to let Richard in with gray dominating the sky. Winds were 320 degrees at 3kts, six miles visibility with a ceiling of six hundred feet; this is below weather minimums for visual flight rules (VFR).

As we worked through preflight toward the end is inspect the alternator belt. Because a Lycoming turns so slowly the drive sheave is big and the sheave on the alternator is small meaning it needs to be tight or it will slip. Part of the inspection is also to look for exposed chords in the belt. As I was explaining that I saw some cracks in the belt and discovered it was coming apart along about 25% of its length. Replacing the belt requires removing the spinner, propeller and propeller spacer. This is not a small job and takes around an hour. Richard took the setback with a smile even when I could not find my extra belt in the hangar.

We headed off to lunch and the auto parts store.

The rain had stopped and SMX had visibility of eight miles winds of 300 at six knots with a ceiling of a thousand feet (VFR).

As we returned to SMX with the belt in hand; instead of being grumpy about the lost flight time Richard was excited to learn about working on the aircraft and excited to learn how to safety wire things correctly. Richard has a nice feel for tools and he did a nice safety wire job on the six propeller bolts. I am not a mechanic by trade so no charge for the safety wire instruction.

Every client is different and I try to modify my approach to suit the client.

Richard listens well and responds to verbal instructions well so after the takeoff I gave Richard the controls and had him fly the pattern. Most people forget things even in a week. Richard flew beautifully on the first pattern and his first landing was so nice we both laughed aloud. The second was less elegant needing a little bust of power and a “my aircraft” in the final moments before touch down.

The most task intensive part of flying a gyroplane is the takeoff so I usually teach that after the client has mastered landings. Before the third takeoff I gave Richard the controls and his learning accelerated. By the end of the point eight hour lesson (48 minutes) his takeoffs were pretty good and the seventh and last landing was nearly as elegant as the first.

In the debrief Richard made it clear he felt comfortable flying and was ready for more.

There is a lot going on with little time to rest in a single pattern and seven landings will wear most people out.

At that time my 5:00 appointment called to say he would be late so off we went. I saw both steady improvement and new errors in the next five landings over the half hour mission.

During the debriefing I realized that despite my instruction and demonstration Richard still believed in his heart that the rudder steers the aircraft.

We have an exercise planned for next Monday to change that.

I love giving people like Richard flight instruction because of his good attitude and strong desire to learn.

In summary after 2.7 hours of dual flight instruction Richard, a client with very limited aviation experience can do the required air maneuvers to practical test standards and land and takeoff without instructor intervention. Fifteen hours of dual instruction is the minimum required for Sport Pilot, Gyroplane.

We still have to do different takeoffs and landings a few air maneuvers and a cross country. I suspect we will make it in the minimum times.



Gyroplane CFI
No Title

Some repairs on The Predator.

The Predator has treated me well for 1,750 flight hours that I have owned her.

One of the items on the pre-flight check list is engine leaks? The answer is always yes.

The question then becomes how much will her IO-320 B1A leak before it is too much and she is not airworthy.

The other day on her preflight inspection I found oil on the firewall and began a quest to stop the fuel pump from leaking oil.

After two half measures I decided it was time to put a heli-coil in one of the bolt holes that mount the fuel pump.

On the Predator the firewall is very close to the engine and there was no way to ensure drilling hole square with the engine in place.

I wanted to change the engine mounts anyway because they were starting to check from their exposure to sunlight. The Predator has no cowl.

I felt removing the accessory case was the best way to manage the repair and the resulting chips. It is usually best to remove and replace the sump at the same time to minimize the leaks.

As long as we had the engine hanging around we replaced the crankshaft seal.

I was pleased with how clean the inside of the engine was.

It took two days and two friends to take her apart and three and a half days to get her airworthy again.

Before my test flight I double checked everything and Jim, an Airframe and Powerplant mechanic gave her a through preflight inspection and managed the paperwork.

The test flight went well and I felt like the engine was a little smoother. It may just be an impression because of my lighter wallet.

I canceled one flight and one aviation event while she was down.

The Predator is a working girl.



Staff member

I still enjoy your enthusiasm and excitement for this sport. I haven't flown my gyro in over 10 years and I think a trip to California for some training with you might be in order soon....


Gyroplane CFI
I would like that a lot Todd.

I have learned a lot on the Rotary Wing Forum and would love to give some of it back to you.