Some thoughts on gyroplane flight instruction.

Vance

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From time to time I hear; “flying a gyroplane is not that hard so why don’t I just have my friend show me how to fly; that is the way Bensen did it. How different could it be than a fixed wing aircraft?”

Very few fixed wing pilots attempt to train themselves.

Igor Bensen was trying to market an aircraft everyone could afford and realized flight instruction was a big part of the cost of aviation so he wrote a procedure to learn to fly a gyroplane.

It involved time in a gyro glider and then progressed very slowly to powered flight. Many of the people I know who self-trained went through several sets of rotor blades and more than a few didn’t survive. Many tried to rush their training.

To this day a large part of the aviation community hears gyrocopter and thinks death trap. Most fixed wing pilots have some story of a gyrocopter accident.

When I first flew at Santa Maria the tower asked me to go somewhere else because “the last guy with one of those things here ended up dead over the river bed.” It turned out he was so drunk he fell out of his gyrocopter.

I went to the NTSB to see how self-training worked out and see if the reputation of gyrocopters was deserved. From 1970 to 1980 there were 181 reported gyroplane accidents (many were not reported because they were flown as ultralights) with 51 fatal accidents. That is more than one a month.

At the time many Bensen Gyrocopters were flown as ultralights which are considered a vehicle and the policy of the NTSB is not to count them as aviation accidents.

The reports typically read: Collision with ground/water and probable cause undetermined or improper use of flight controls.

There were so many gyroplane accidents the NTSB didn’t do much investigation and didn’t have many investigators who knew much about gyroplanes.

I feel safe in saying most were pilot error.

Some were experienced fixed wing pilots and some only flew gyroplanes.

Most were self-trained.

It is my observation that a single gyroplane accident typically costs more than getting properly trained.

One on one flight training is inherently expensive and the only option in a two place gyroplane.

For the knowledge test I have my clients take a canned course that saves a lot of money.

I love giving gyroplane flight instruction and would do it for free if it was practical.

In my opinion free flight instruction is not practical.

At some later date I will expand on what a gyroplane flight instructor does and teaches.
 

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Wop Genius

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Thanks for sharing Vance! I have seen lack of training damage machines, hurt people and sadly kill a few(I was fortunate to not be present for those). I love flying these wonderful machines, and was lucky to have a good CFI available when I found the sport 15 or so years ago. One of the hardest things for me to stomach is when someone wants to fly so bad, but I know they are not trained properly. I have a terrible pit in my stomach the whole time they are out there when I should be happy for them. Thank you for sharing your knowledge here so often, I find it very helpful. I hope it reaches people in the “danger zone” and gives them pause before they try something dangerous!

Nick
 

WaspAir

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In aviation related pursuits, I have done some skydiving, and have flown airplanes, seaplanes, gliders, helicopters, airships, balloons, and gyroplanes (and have instructed in many of those). Only in the gyroplane world is self-training even mentioned. I don't think that would-be gyronauts have any special talents or insights not shared with the others, or that everybody else is wasting time and money.

If you want to teach yourself to drive a car, you can find a big open area where there is nothing to hit, and you can dissipate unwanted energy quickly with the brakes. In aviation, there is always lots of ground beneath you to hit (a bad way to dissipate energy) and you have no choice but to start and finish there because gravity works 24/7/366 (leap years, too). Like the old joke says, there is danger at the edges of the air, which are recognizable by ground, buildings, trees, and water.
 

Doug Riley

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When the Bensen teach-yourself method is adduced for criticism, the critics' descriptions of it usually omit certain of its components. Typically not mentioned are

1. Indoor on-the-point simulator: The manual instructs you to make a tilting base for your gyro frame, out of a brake drum (remember those, boys and girls?) and an auto U-joint. This device is to be clamped to the keel at the point at which the gyro balances with a person in the seat. The handlebar of the overhead stick is to be hung with a rope from the ceiling in front of the pilot and the pilot is to practice balancing the frame by sitting in the seat and manipulating the handles. Note that, with the balance point BELOW the CG, the trainer was unstable and would try to fall in one direction or the other, fetching up on one wheel or the other; the student had continually to ''catch" it to keep all four wheels off the floor. an assistant can intentionally upset the rig to simulate gusts.

2. Outdoor on-the-point simulator: same rig as #1, but outdoors, with the real control stick, rotor head and rotor blades mounted. In a gentle breeze, spin up the rotor and perform the same balancing act as #1, but using the thrust of a rotor at partial RPM to do so.

3. Training trailer (a.k.a. boom trainer); this was an extra-cost option. The gyroglider's nosewheel was replaced with a rigid boom from the tow car's trailer hitch. The main wheels were castering. Its flight altitude was limited to a couple feet, and off-center landings did not lead to capsize because of the castering mains.

4. Kiting in a strong breeze, with a short tether attaching the glider to a fixed post.

5. Taxi practice, without blades.

Now...

All this took tremendous effort and self-restraint. Such qualities are in shorter supply now than they were for the post WWII "greatest generation." Such a plodding pace is insufferable to nearly all of of us now. We're accustomed to plunking down plastic at the local Sea-Doo or ATV dealer, and blasting off on the spot. Spend a year or two farting around with Bensen's training baby steps? No way!

IOW, the Bensen self-training program was not so much inadequate as it was culturally unrealistic.
 

Philbennett

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There is another side of this story too. The type of accidents have shifted and things are more nuanced. You can look through the archive of the PRA and see articles on the subject but it seems that low g was causal in the period for a variety of reasons - impromptu air display or low level high jinx, over controlling, lack of air mindedness about the weather and environmental factors and then another popular snag was the dreaded "down wind turn".... which we might all snigger about but you don't know what you don't know and of course if the focus is outside, low level with no reliable instruments I guess you get snagged.

Fast forward to today and we still get snagged its just in different areas and its less fatal, but I think in a way Doug is right the process of flying doesn't fit well with todays culture. Part of the reason I think this Pal-V will fail because the people likely to buy them won't have the mindset to fly them.
 

Greg Vos

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Off topic .... has anyone seen a Pal V flying....not computer gen pics?
as a vehicle is it as safe as a similar priced car? Pal V IMO is like an e Class merc....it suffers from an identity crisis...in reality I don’t think I will live long enough to witness this air travel they refer to in the marketing.. not only in the tech, consider worldwide legislation.

In South Africa, Nepal, Thailand, Brazil, to mention just some of the places I have given instruction, the people can hardly adhere to simple rules of the road? So the chances (IMO) of this becoming a successes story is worthy of debate...Look at Drone legislation as an example?

two vehicles colliding is one thing, a small aircraft flown by an idiot in controlled airspace endangering the lives of pax in commercial aviation is a different game.

one thing I am certain of, I would like to meet the man at Pal V who sold this to an investor because he with respect is the genius.

Back to the future....the move, Flintstones the toon series, flying cars have forever been a dream... and now the technology is here, however the bulk of the human race have not developed as fast as the tech, Now drop a bit of alcohol into the mix😳

Pal V ....De.....Lorain .....same bin diffrent years ,, na not happening ,,,,,hope I’m wrong cos I would enjoy a conversion on type 😁
 

DavePA11

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The multi-rotor vehicles will be adopted and controlled by flight management systems monitoring all other flying vehicles. Forget flying cars and the Pal V. The drones will be first for deliveries then manned multi-rotor vehicles.
 

Philbennett

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I think when you knock Pal-V as a vehicle it becomes referenced to price. But actually if you make the price that they are asking something that is fair in your own mind (so for me its something between £150-200K) then actually it works not too bad - although I still struggle to see how its usability works in practice (i.e. UK take off and land off airfield without having the police arrive at my house later that day).

You can see it fly on YouTube, although relevant to this thread is the fact that the flying controls and the driving controls are separate - i.e. you have a steering wheel for direction control on the road, a stick for flight. I wonder how many will default in a high stress situation?

The selling to investors is interesting but its less of a vehicle maker and more a technology/creator of IP that they hope is of value and gets bought by a (likely US) tech giant that finds it faster to acquire a project than to start again. I think the main investor is the Dutch government and I guess its hard to bankrupt an EU country on a project like this, at some point it all melts away and we'll be saying...remember that flying car thingy....
 

Doug Riley

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Phil, reference your post #5 -- Bensen had some design blind spots.

His B-8M design was nearly a perfect storm for porpoising and low-G accidents (the only ways to make it worse were to lower the seat and add a body pod or floats).

While not terribly HTL, the stock Bensen was somewhat HTL. It had grossly inadequate H-stab volume. Such H-stab as it had was located in dead air. Its rotor was light and flew at high RPM, leading to very low values of rotor damping compared to today's rotors. The nose came up when you cut power. IOW, it was generally pitch-unstable.

Adding to the fun, the B-8M had a short vertical tail. This leads to a huge amount of torque reaction in yaw and roll. Many, many non-fatal gyro accidents on the runway happen(ed) because new pilots didn't get the hang of mashing one rudder pedal when powering up (and un-mashing it when powering down).

Over the years, we've found ways to correct these design issues.
 

Vance

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In aviation related pursuits, I have done some skydiving, and have flown airplanes, seaplanes, gliders, helicopters, airships, balloons, and gyroplanes (and have instructed in many of those). Only in the gyroplane world is self-training even mentioned. I don't think that would-be gyronauts have any special talents or insights not shared with the others, or that everybody else is wasting time and money.

If you want to teach yourself to drive a car, you can find a big open area where there is nothing to hit, and you can dissipate unwanted energy quickly with the brakes. In aviation, there is always lots of ground beneath you to hit (a bad way to dissipate energy) and you have no choice but to start and finish there because gravity works 24/7/366 (leap years, too). Like the old joke says, there is danger at the edges of the air, which are recognizable by ground, buildings, trees, and water.

In my opinion the self-training mind set is not unique to gyroplanes.

I know several local farmers who self-trained in their standard category aircraft and have been flying for more than fifty years without a pilot certificate in aircraft that have not had an annual in years.

I have had several clients who self-trained in their fixed wing ultralight aircraft and wanted to just brush up a little before they started flying a recently purchased gyroplane.

I was not able to find a way to explain the Federal Aviation Regulations in a way that they felt there was value in complying. I even went so far as to describe some of the accidents that led to the regulations.

When I explained that they still needed a minimum of 15 hours of dual and five hours of solo to earn a sport pilot gyroplane certificate; each explained to me they didn’t need a sport pilot license to fly a gyroplane.

When I explained the ultralight limitations they each admitted that their “ultralight gyroplane” didn’t meet the ultralight limitations and the fellow they purchased it from had been flying it for years or he had purchased it from someone who had been flying it for years and they had just not got around to learning to fly a gyroplane.

Training didn’t go well with some of them and none of them earned a pilot certificate.

Most sold their “ultralight gyroplane” and I did not hear back from them or the new owners.

At least one destroyed his aircraft.
 

Vance

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When the Bensen teach-yourself method is adduced for criticism, the critics' descriptions of it usually omit certain of its components. Typically not mentioned are

1. Indoor on-the-point simulator: The manual instructs you to make a tilting base for your gyro frame, out of a brake drum (remember those, boys and girls?) and an auto U-joint. This device is to be clamped to the keel at the point at which the gyro balances with a person in the seat. The handlebar of the overhead stick is to be hung with a rope from the ceiling in front of the pilot and the pilot is to practice balancing the frame by sitting in the seat and manipulating the handles. Note that, with the balance point BELOW the CG, the trainer was unstable and would try to fall in one direction or the other, fetching up on one wheel or the other; the student had continually to ''catch" it to keep all four wheels off the floor. an assistant can intentionally upset the rig to simulate gusts.

2. Outdoor on-the-point simulator: same rig as #1, but outdoors, with the real control stick, rotor head and rotor blades mounted. In a gentle breeze, spin up the rotor and perform the same balancing act as #1, but using the thrust of a rotor at partial RPM to do so.

3. Training trailer (a.k.a. boom trainer); this was an extra-cost option. The gyroglider's nosewheel was replaced with a rigid boom from the tow car's trailer hitch. The main wheels were castering. Its flight altitude was limited to a couple feet, and off-center landings did not lead to capsize because of the castering mains.

4. Kiting in a strong breeze, with a short tether attaching the glider to a fixed post.

5. Taxi practice, without blades.

Now...

All this took tremendous effort and self-restraint. Such qualities are in shorter supply now than they were for the post WWII "greatest generation." Such a plodding pace is insufferable to nearly all of of us now. We're accustomed to plunking down plastic at the local Sea-Doo or ATV dealer, and blasting off on the spot. Spend a year or two farting around with Bensen's training baby steps? No way!

IOW, the Bensen self-training program was not so much inadequate as it was culturally unrealistic.

Thank you for your input Doug,

I have had several friends tell me they followed the Bensen training manual to the letter and yet none have described what you describe.

None had described the on-the-point simulator.

Most did not have glider time and most didn’t have a wind limit for their first pattern.

Most wrecked at least one set of blades and bent the landing gear at least once.

I know a few who had an incident free gyroplane self-training experience.
 

Vance

Gyroplane CFI
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There is another side of this story too. The type of accidents have shifted and things are more nuanced. You can look through the archive of the PRA and see articles on the subject but it seems that low g was causal in the period for a variety of reasons - impromptu air display or low level high jinx, over controlling, lack of air mindedness about the weather and environmental factors and then another popular snag was the dreaded "down wind turn".... which we might all snigger about but you don't know what you don't know and of course if the focus is outside, low level with no reliable instruments I guess you get snagged.

Fast forward to today and we still get snagged its just in different areas and its less fatal, but I think in a way Doug is right the process of flying doesn't fit well with todays culture. Part of the reason I think this Pal-V will fail because the people likely to buy them won't have the mindset to fly them.
I picked ten NTSB accident reports from 2017 because it takes a while for the final report to come out.

It does not appear to me from these gyroplane accidents from 2017 that the causes have shifted significantly or are more nuanced.

Getting lost and running out of gas or hitting wires is still happening.

Improper operation of controls is still happening.

Collision with trees and terrain still kill people.

Aircraft Main rotor control - Incorrect use/operation (Cause)

Personnel issues Aircraft control - Pilot (Cause)

Environmental issues Gusts - Effect on equipment

The pilot's failure to maintain situational and geographic awareness during the flight, which resulted in him becoming lost and exhausting the gyroplane's fuel.

Impact with trees and terrain for reasons that could not be determined based on available evidence.

Aircraft landing flare - Not attained/maintained (Cause)

Directional control - Not attained/maintained (Cause)

Personnel issues Aircraft control - Pilot (Cause)

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot's failure to maintain lateral control during the landing roll.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot's failure to maintain clearance from a power line during landing.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot's improper response to a total loss of engine power, which resulted in main rotor blade contact with the rudder and vertical stabilizer, and a subsequent uncontrolled descent. The loss of engine power was due to the separation of the electrical connector to the coil of the crank triggered ignition system.

The pilot concluded, "This accident was the result of pilot error. There was no malfunction [of the gyroplane, flight controls, or engine]."

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The pilot's failure to maintain clearance from terrain.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident to be: The student pilot's improper landing flare, which resulted in a hard landing.

These people all had training and it gives me something to aim at as a flight instructor to study these accidents.
 

SpyderMike

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I guess I am a lucky anomoly...self taught in hanggliders at a youngish age...15 or so (1975). Private pilot at 17 in 1977. Got interested in gyros in 1981 or so. I self taught in a Bensen I found in the high desert (Leo Boatright was the previous owner's name) after rebuilding it. I was probably late 20s and I flew at El Mirage.

I self taught in hanggliding because there were no instructors in 1975 that I could find. I used an instructor for the Private at KSLE because it was readily available. I self taught, with the help of a short VCR tape, on the Bensen. The video I watched was helpful. No audio, just hand jestures. You could get the idea of what was happening. I think I still have that video somewhere. I don't recall any manual being available. I don't recall having any instructors or any real training available then (late 1980s or so) anywhere near me (So Cal). There was no internet, no forums, no connectivity per se. You either knew people or you didn't. PRA was a far way away. The meet at El Mirage was once a year and not many people showed up. I don't really recall seeing or meeting anyone else at El Mirage who flew gyros. I did meet Ken Brock and his wife who stopped by once to say "fly safe", but that was it and they were in a car. I remember hearing about one gyro flyer dying there back then. My recollection is that it was due to low level high bank manuevering....but that was a while ago. I did fly as an unregistered aircraft.

I didn't destroy the gyro or damage anything due to my flying. The first motor was a VW direct drive and it barely got off the ground with it. I did destroy the second motor (Mac 72) when my friend forgot to thoroughly/properly mix the oil/fuel and I had some pistons melt. I had to dead stick it in. No problem there...plenty of places to land. I started out staying low and getting a feel for the gyro. It took a while before I got up high...

The lack of readily available training and my strong desire to fly got me interested in giving it a try by myself. Had there been training, and/or had there been a way to find training, I would have used it.
 

DavePA11

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WaspAir - Lots of ultralight pilots also try to self-teach, and seen many encounter the ground to dissipate energy too. Sad to say since often so much time spent on building the aircraft only to see it wrecked after one or few flights.

SpyderMike - I have found there are pilots with a lot of experience flying (different aircrafts and types) that can pick up flying different aircraft (gyros) with no or minimal instruction. It’s the low time pilots or students that tend to get in accidents more often. One guy at my last home airport was amazing at flying ultralights, trikes, fixed wing and gyros. Think he might be a gyro CFI now. Always amazed he didn’t reverse control inputs when going from trike to fixed wing...
 
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Philbennett

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Its interesting ref: the none fatal Bensen era accidents and relationship to yaw. In EU that is still a major factor and its surprising that neither AutoGyro, nor Magni have engineered that out. Not one of those accidents in 2017 was low g, which would seem to me to have been the main area of concern through the Bensen era and into the Air Command era (if one can call it that?). I can't speak for the USA but in the UK effectively we have no low g accidents, no CFIT's and actually almost no accidents where things have either failed aircraft or pilot wise in mid-air. Of course our aircraft types are very limited to a degree where you can almost suggest the UK gyroplane active pilots are exclusively flying Magni or AutoGyro product - but accidents to these are in the main take off and landing mishandling - which I without wishing to battle seems the common theme of your US 2017 accidents.
 

Doug Riley

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Phil:

I'd agree with you about the much-improved low G accident rate EXCEPT for the odd slip-yaw coupling accident. These may indeed have low G as a contributing factor. Obviously, the rotor disk is circular, and, if it's sliding sideways, the leading edge of the disk at that moment is what would otherwise be its side. If that "temporary" disk leading edge dips low enough, you'll have a zero disk AOA and hence low G. As the G's go down, so equally does the control power available to get you out of trouble.

Vance, I'll rummage for my old Bensen gyroglider manual and try scanning in some of the material about on-the-point training. It was quite elaborate. The gyroglider manual was Part I of the powered gyrocopter manual.

My intention is not to advocate self-training (by using point trainers, gyrogliders or anything else). Self-training happened to work out for me as a 16-year-old nerd with teenage reflexes, an appetite for memorizing the manual and a 1500cc VW that wouldn't LET me get off the ground anyway.

Instead, my points really are two:

1. Self-teaching is a long and tedious process, when done responsibly, and
2. Bensen did not, as many think all these years later, advocate teaching yourself to fly by starting with crow-hops. His method was very slow and cautious -- and was enough to try almost anyone's patience. Crow hops were about Step 15. Very few people bothered with all the steps.

IOW, it was impractical in the real world.
 

StanFoster

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I followed the Bensen plan as per the instructions I had at that time back in the late 70's. When I went to our grass farm runway..I taxied for 3 weeks getting the feel of it. I had a ppsel at that time flying my dads Cherokee 180 and my Quicksilver MX ultralight.

One day I was adding more and more power while balancing on tbe mains....when there was this strange smoothness. I glanced at my tire and there was air under it! I was flying and had a decision to make. Do I land now and wreck or do I just climb out, enjoy flying fir half an hour...and then wreck? I decided since the biggesr surprise was that there was no surprise at all flying it....I went and enjoyed a 30 minute flight. Came in and landed nice and slow....and 41 years later...after flying my Bensen, Air Command, RAF 2000, SparrowHawk, I never scratched myself or machine. The Helicycle demanded training of course in an R22....

I strongly do not recommend trying this however.. I did not know of any instructors back then, but having survived self trsining, it kind of went along with training mysrlf how to build curved stairways.
 

Philbennett

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Hi Doug - yes I think the fatal accident at the world air games in Dubai was due to the circumstances you describe. One of the tests was a slalom course set out with pylons (similar to as you see in the old Red Bull air races) set against the clock. Anecdotally the pilot tried to gain an advantage in the turn with the use of full rudder and the aircrafts momentum rolled the aircraft (on film it actually looks like a semi completed split-S manoeuvre) before it hit the ground (actually water in this case).
 

Vance

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Hi Doug - yes I think the fatal accident at the world air games in Dubai was due to the circumstances you describe. One of the tests was a slalom course set out with pylons (similar to as you see in the old Red Bull air races) set against the clock. Anecdotally the pilot tried to gain an advantage in the turn with the use of full rudder and the aircrafts momentum rolled the aircraft (on film it actually looks like a semi completed split-S manoeuvre) before it hit the ground (actually water in this case).
Based on the video of the accident at the World Air Games in Dubai some here feel the distraction of his helmet coming off caused some unintentional maneuvers resulting in a low g event and a torque roll or slip roll coupling.

That was covered in the Piloting Technique / Accident Discussions forum rather than the Training Forum.
 
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