A Great Summer of Flying

As I sit down to write this article Sheila and I are in the motorhome on our way California where I will be providing flight instruction for Jan Mensink in his Rotorway 162F. We made a stop in Lake Havasu City, Arizona to visit some old friends before making the final leg of the trip to Jan’s home in Tehachepi, Ca. This is my second trip to Jan’s home and at the completion of this flight training segment, he should be soloed to altitude in his helicopter. This will be just the next step in a lifelong dream that Jan has had to build and fly his own helicopter.

Last night we camped next to a couple from Louisiana. The husband is a former helicopter pilot. He told me that he at one time owned a brand new Jet Ranger. One day he decided to fly a friend to a favorite restaurant that was located down town in a major Louisiana city. When they landed in the empty portion of the parking lot they were soon surrounded by police vehicles and the Jet Ranger was impounded by the city. It took several weeks to recover the helicopter. The owner was forced to dismantle it and have the pieces trucked away. He also lost his FAA pilots certificate and was fined several thousand dollars. Make sure that you have permission from the proper authorities before landing your helicopter within the city limits of it may not go well with you.

This summer has been quite busy with helicopter flight instructing, attending the Central Sierra Rotorcraft flyin near Yosemite National Park, and both Homer Bell’s fly-in and then onto the Oshkosh event. I have also spent a good deal of time working with Andrew Burr on his new VP engine for the Rotorway Helicopters. When Andrew purchased his helicopter he hired me to inspect it and to give him a list of items that needed fixing. When we discussed the engine, Andrew told me that the technology was available to make this engine both reliable and to have a TBO in the neighborhood of 1500 to 2000 hours of flight. We decided to partner on developing a new engine for the Rotorway helicopters that would give the owners an option to improve their utility.

While at the Central Sierra Rotorcraft meet I met Karen Damiata who was Rotorway’s representative there. She spoke with Tony Colbert and I about our concerns with the Rotorway product for over two hours. She was a tremendous asset for Rotorway.

At the air shows, Andrew did a lot of show and tell to Rotorway owners to bring them up to speed on the many improvements that are now available for their engines. We also met with nine of Rotorway’s representatives to show them SOME of what we have developed. They seemed to be impressed with what we showed them and indicated that they would love to see everything that we have developed when we are finished with all of the systems that we are working on. It was encouraging to see that the Factory was open to looking at and possibly incorporating new ideas on the ships that they plan on producing.

I would like to state that this year I have had fewer in-flight failures than in any of the past 10 years. It shows me that builders are listening to the advice given by others and on web sites such as the Rotorway Owners Group and my own web site If every experimental helicopter owner would take the time to insure that every system on their ships is built to the highest standard possible, the rate of failures and accidents should be drastically reduced.

As the ships that we fly are built to a standard that approaches or even exceeds the standards for certified aircraft, they prove to be more and more reliable. Issues that have been problems in the past are being dealt with and corrected. On the Rotorway helicopters, the chain drive is history. The factory is now offering the greatly improved AP cog drive system. We have learned the importance of checking the tail belt tension prior to every flight and to make adjustments as they are needed. We have also made great strides in developing a state of the art engine for the Rotorway Helicopters that should provide a great increase in reliability and longevity. The future is looking brighter and I can see that we will soon have a way to make our experimental helicopters the fun and reliable machines that we have always wanted them to be.

It is always a joy to attend a fly-in and see many of my former students flying and enjoying their helicopters. I know that in some small way I have had something to do with their achieving their dream of rotor wing flight. It is also a great time to sit down with my friend and fellow flight instructor Mark Peterson and share experiences.

Just prior to Homer’s fly-in I traveled to the Charlotte area to provide basic flight training to a proud new owner of a nice Rotorway 162F. It took several hours of tweeking and adjusting his newly purchased helicopter before we began his flight training but once we had it in shape, we began.

While I was there, Justin Travis and Pat Swank asked Rolin and me if we would like to fly out to lunch with them. We agreed on a time and right on cue Justin arrived in his Hughes 500 followed by Pat in his R22 BII. I assisted Rolin in getting strapped into Pat’s ship and then I climbed into Justin’s ship. The 500 had just completed a very extensive overhaul and is just beautiful.

We flew several miles to field behind an IHOP restaurant where we landed. Justin had obtained prior approval before he landed there as it is inside the city limits. We had a great lunch and then launched for a little fun flying. Justin allowed me to shoot some approaches, autos, and quick stops in his ship, what a blast I had!! It was soon time to get back to Rolin’s flight instruction so we headed back to our training field and bid Pat and Justin goodbye. This was just one more example that reminded me that I have the best job in the world, flying helicopters and teaching others to do so.

Following Rolin’s training, I arrived home at around 1am the following day. After a few hours of sleep, it was time to get the motor home out and pack it for Homer’s annual helicopter meet. By the time that I got the bus ready, Andrew Burr pulled in with his Rotorway 162F aka: Frankenstein (named for the conglomeration of unique parts and systems that Andrew has designed and added to his ship). We hooked Andrew’s trailer to the back of the motor home and headed for Homers meet.

At the fly-in Andrew demonstrated the new VP engine for the Rotorway helicopters that we have been working on for over 2 years now. We have only recently disclosed our project publicly since it’s development is nearly complete. This engine is designed to give true reliability to the RW helicopters that they will be installed in. The design will give much longer intervals between overhauls and fix once and for all the issues of: cylinder to sleeve corrosion, improper rocker arm geometry, shaft mounted valve rocker arms that cannot fall off the valve stem ( an issue that has caused problems in the stock configuration), and nearly every part of the engine replaced with state of the art components built to give reliability for over 1500 hours of operation.

The engine was still in hover testing so we did not take Frankenstein to altitude during the shows. There were so many people walking around that we limited the hover time to keep the moving parts away from the crowds.

The Rotorway factory sent two representatives to meet everyone at Homer’s fly-in. Both Darrin and Larry spent a great deal of time with anyone who wanted to speak with them. I was saddened to find out recently that Larry is no longer employed by the factory.

At Oshkosh, the Rotorway factory set up a hospitality tent where they provided cold drinks 24/7 and also served breakfast, lunch, and dinner to anyone who was either a rotorcraft owner or an ultralight owner. They must have served 100 persons for every meal. The Rotorway factory also paid the entry fees and event passes for anyone who brought a ship to the Oshkosh air show. Karen Damiata of Rotorway and her team did an incredible job of taking care of the Rotorway community at the air show. I am also saddened to find out that following the air show, Karen is no longer employed by the factory.

Following the air shows, it was back to work. Andrew is continuing to test the new engine and the first customer unit is being built for beta testing as I write this article. I am looking forward to great improvements in the Rotorway helicopters over the next year as new systems are tested and incorporated into the Rotorway fleet. I anticipate that we will begin to see more owners keeping their helicopters and flying them more as they become even more safe and reliable.

If you are the owner of a Rotorway helicopter and have been debating whether or not to keep or sell it, be patient, good things are in the works and it may just be worth waiting a few more months before you make the final decision.

I am looking forward to flying with the students that I still have scheduled for the rest of the year. Next year should be even better for the experimental helicopter community with all of the great new products that are in the works.

Fly safe and enjoy these wonderful flying machines, I certainly plan to.