just returned from a flight instructing trip in California where
I was with two new Rotorway Helicopter owners. The first owner built
his helicopter from the factory kit and did all of the construction
work himself. The second owner purchased his previously built kit
The fellow who purchased his kit new spent several
years building it. He took a great deal of pride constructing his
helicopter. He called me during the process and we spoke several
times about proper methods and procedures to incorporate in the
construction process to insure an airworthy helicopter when the
project was complete. He then hired me to travel to his location
to inspect his work. Following that inspection I provided a list
of items that needed attention prior to having the FAA do his airworthiness
When I arrived at the airport along the coast of
central California, Dave took me to his hangar where his pride and
joy was awaiting my inspection. His hangar was neat and clean with
plenty of work room and every tool that we would need for the tasks
that we would be performing. It was the middle of December when
we were working on the helicopter so being inside a snug hangar
and out of the cold wind was a necessity. Good lighting made the
process that much more enjoyable.
Together we did the static balance and lead-lag
adjustments on the main rotor system, we rigged all of the flight
controls, tracked and rigged the tail rotor, and adjusted numerous
other items. I then left him to get his airworthiness inspection,
operating limitations, and registration so that the helicopter would
be legal to fly on my return trip.
The second owner who I visited hired me to inspect
his new Ebay purchase and to assist him in determining what was
needed prior to scheduling his flight instruction. When I arrived
at his home in central California, also in December, Larry took
me outside into his side yard where his helicopter was parked. He
had a fabric car cover draped over the entire helicopter to keep
the moisture off. We removed the cover and began inspection of Larry’s
I noticed that much of the workmanship was poorly
done and in need of redoing. Most of the static adjustments were
incorrect and the quality of construction along with attention to
detail was blatantly absent. Working on the helicopter was less
than pleasant due to the cold damp wind blowing through his yard,
lack of sufficient light, and his owning very few tools.
We made a trip to Home Depot and purchased some
of the basic hand tools that he would need to rebuild and maintain
his helicopter. He needed several sets of wrenches, screwdrivers,
socket sets, etc. With new tools in hand we began checking out the
various systems on the helicopter to insure that it was ready to
see if the engine would start. By the end of the day we had the
engine running, and the drive train spinning. I also made a long
list of items that needed work prior to our being able to start
Larry’s flight training.
When reviewing the paperwork that Larry received
with the helicopter I noticed that it had been purchased from a
fellow named Ron who I have known for some years.
I first met Ron when he purchased an Ultrasport
496 kit helicopter for $50,000.00 from a fellow who built it in
Minnesota. This helicopter had never flown and did not have an engine.
He told me that he was going to purchase the Hirth H30 engine that
the Ultrasport company recommended and asked if I would give him
flight training in his new machine once he had the engine installed.
I informed Ron that the engine that he was planning
on installing would only last a matter of hours, not even tens of
hours before failing in this application (personal experience).
With more research he realized that he had purchased a helicopter
that would never fly so he sold it on Ebay for $15,000.00, taking
a $35,000.00 loss. He called me once the helicopter was sold and
asked me if there was any way that he could get a helicopter at
a reasonable price, he really wanted to learn how to fly.
I told him about the Rotorway kits and he decided
to look for one. I knew of one for sale in Arkansas. This helicopter
had been purchased by Steve after being flown for 296 hours by the
original owner. Steve had hired me to give him his flight training
in this Exec 90. The original owner paid an A&P mechanic/Rotorway
reseller to build and maintain it. During Steve’s hover training,
actually during the first 30 minutes, the engine experienced a catastrophic
failure due to a stuck valve going through a cylinder.
Steve had purchased this helicopter with a fresh
annual inspection signed by the A&P, with all maintenance logs
completed including all valve adjustments logged. We pulled the
engine and sent it to Rotorway for overhaul. They determined that
the valves had not been adjusted in over 100 hours of operation
for them to be in such bad shape. When the engine was rebuilt for
Steve at the factory and shipped back, it was installed and we completed
Steve’s hover training. We had started his altitude training but
had to cut it short due to Steve developing a very painful hernia
that prevented him from continuing. We had not yet done any autos.
When Steve had recovered from the hernia surgery
he called to reschedule some more flight instruction. My wife was
in the hospital when he called so I told him it would be at least
a few weeks before I would be able to continue his flight training.
A few days later, while my wife was in the operating room undergoing
a heart transplant my cell phone rang. I thought that it would be
someone lending moral support, it was Steve. He told me that he
had some good news and some bad news. The good news was that he
walked away from the wreckage with only 2 broken ribs, the bad news
was that he had crashed his Rotorway.
Steve had been impatient and had decided to take
the helicopter up into the pattern to practice the approaches that
we had been working on. While in the pattern his water pump belt,
which was new, lost a six inch piece of rubber leaving only the
backing. It fell off the water pump causing the engine to overheat
and seize. Steve had read about autos so he knew to lower the collective
and then flare at the bottom. He actually did a good job considering
that he walked away from an engine failure at altitude with no auto
experience or training.
I told Ron that Steve was rebuilding his helicopter
and would probably sell it for a reasonable price as he had told
me that he was considering replacing it with a certified ship. Ron
drove down to Missouri, picked me up, and we drove to meet Steve
in Arkansas. I voiced my concern to Steve and Ron that the engine
would most likely need a factory overhaul after seizing due to overheating.
Steve’s A&P mechanic said that he had checked the engine out,
bore-scoped it, ran it, and found that it was just fine. Steve did
state that if there was a problem with the engine, he would make
Ron decided to purchase the partially rebuilt Exec
90 so a deal was made. Ron pulled it home and he found an “Expert
builder’s helper” to rebuild the helicopter. In several subsequent
conversations with Ron I learned that the engine would not run once
the helicopter was completely rebuilt. I told him to call Steve,
which he did. Steve paid for the engine to be shipped to Rotorway
and for it to be completely overhauled. Now that is the mark of
a man with integrity! He had given Ron his word, and when asked
to stand by his word, he did so without hesitation. Steve Foster
is now a helicopter flight instructor who runs his own helicopter
and fixed wing school in Searcy Arkansas. He is also the Designated
Pilot Examiner that I send my Rotorway students to for their private
pilot practical tests (check rides).
Under the GRADUATES area of this web site you can
see a photo of Steve in front of the Blue R22 next to me standing
in front of Tweety Bird, my yellow R22 trainer during our rice pollinating
together in Arkansas last year.
After many thousands of dollars paid to the “builder’s helper” and
several years of time lost during the rebuild, Ron developed a heart
condition and lost his medical. He placed his Rotorway on Ebay and
it was Larry who had the winning bid. For around $27,000 Larry got
an Exec 90 with a new main and tail rotor system, new secondary
drive, rebuilt engine, Al’s cog belt and clutch system. New skids,tail
boom, and wind screen essentially made this a new helicopter. It
would have been a perfect deal if the Expert Builder's Helper had
done even a decent job of putting the helicopter back together,
but he had not.
To summarize this story, the first owner purchased
a new kit and paid someone to build it and maintain it for him.
He then had this A&P sell it for him but the maintenance had
not been performed as stated in the log books (per Rotorway Factory’s
assessment). Due improper valve clearances, the engine failed within
30 minutes of the new owners’ flight training. He had the engine
rebuilt and around 40 hours later had a new v-belt delaminate. He
was not watching his coolant temp so the engine seized from excessive
heat. He had not received any auto training, nor was he endorsed
for altitude, but he flew the helicopter to altitude anyway.
Steve then sold it to Ron who paid another “expert”
to rebuild it. Once it was finished he lost his medical and sold
it to Larry. Larry got a helicopter with mostly all new components,
just sloppy workmanship in the overhaul. Larry will now completely
rebuild the helicopter to proper airworthy standards, receive his
flight training from me, and enjoy his helicopter for years to come.
(I spoke with Larry now a year after I wrote this article and he
has decided to sell the helicopter as he is not interested in rebuilding
it with his limited mechanical skills. He actually thought that
it could be flown in and out of his back yard in a congested residential
area of a large metropolitan city).
The quality of the build is such an important factor
in purchasing a pre-built kit helicopter. Most new owners do not
know what to look for so they end up getting taken. I see this all
too often. It is best to have someone who is very familiar with
the model of helicopter you are considering purchasing, inspect
it prior to laying out your hard earned $$.
Following working with Larry, I again traveled
to Dave’s hangar. His helicopter passed the FAA airworthiness inspection,
all paper work was in order, and we began his flight training. There
is a photo of Dave in his first solo hover in his new Rotorway 162F
in the GRADUATES area of this web site.
If you build your own Experimental helicopter, build it like a certified
ship. Take no shortcuts, have it inspected as you build. If you
purchase a previously built ship, have some one check it out first
so that you will know what you are actually buying and how much
work it will take to make it airworthy.
Orv Neisingh email@example.com