For years my wife Sheila
and I have wanted to attend the annual fly-in at Homer and Sharon
Bell’s Bell Air Ranch located near Hillsboro, Ohio. We first met
Homer many years back at one of our west coast Western States Fly-in
at Orland, Ca. At the time I was the president of the Sierra Rotorcraft
club and our ranks included around 20 to 30 Rotorway helicopters
as well as several certified ships. We had perhaps the most active
Rotorway owners group in the country and our numerous Camp-out-fly-ins
throughout the year were thoroughly enjoyed by all of us.
I was able to talk with Homer over the several years that he attended
our Western States Fly In and hear of some of the adventures that
he had in his Rotorway Exec 152. Homer pretty much wrote the book
on utilizing the Rotorway helicopter to its full potential. The
most memorable story for me was Homer’s coast to coast flight in
his helicopter. Remember now, that this was before FADECs, no fuel
injection, and only one ignition system run by a small VW-type distributor
and ignition coil. Homer had faith in his little Exec and he proved
not only the helicopters’ dependability (there were only one or
two minor setbacks along the way as I recall) but his endurance
and skill that allowed him to make the coast to coast flight. I
have not heard of anyone duplicating Homer’s accomplishment since
then so as far as I know, his record still stands.
The last time that I saw Homer in person was at Rotorway International’s
grand opening/customer appreciation celebration at the new factory
in Chandler, AZ. A group of us from the Sierra Rotorcraft Club flew
from a point in Southern California to the factory, which is South
and East of Phoenix, AZ. I was flying with Nathan Fronsman in his
Exec 152, Steve Lewis was piloting his new green and gold Exec 90,
Dan Vanduesen was flying “Tazz”(named for the large Tasmanian devil
painted on the underside of the tub), his Exec 152. Bringing up
the rear of the formation was Terry Kuensli(sp?) with his silver
Exec 152, the first Rotorway that Sheila and I ever got a ride in
at our first Western States fly in. The only one of those helicopters
that had dual ignition and dual spark plugs was Steve’s new Exec
See the Pictorial
Story under "Cool Rotorway Stuff" button on the Home Page
As we made our way across the Arizona desert we kept the folks
already at the Rotorway factory appraised of our progress. We would
place an update telephone call at each fuel stop. On the last leg
of the trip as we were circumnavigating greater Phoenix to the south
we were met by Phil Verbek and his son in their Exec 90 and by Jeff
Dunham and Homer in Jeff’s beautifully air-brushed Exec 90 that
Homer had been helping him with. Then the 6 helicopters entered
a “V” formation and made our grand entrance for the factory crowd
with several flyovers after which we all landed as a group.
For years I had heard of the great times and fun flying at Homers
fly-in but being the president of a swimming pool construction business
in California kept me tied to the job all summer long. I planned
to some day attend, but just could never quite make it work out.
In 1996 I sold the business and we moved to the Midwest to “retire”.
My dream was to devote full time to teaching others to fly helicopters
and now with my free time, that dream became a reality. I was flying
certified helicopters and found that I was unable to find a CFI
liability insurance policy that did not specifically exclude coverage
while instructing in experimental helicopters so I continued to
avoid instructing in experimentals.
Over the last several years I have been following the NTSB reports
on Rotorway crashes and noticed that nearly all of them are a result
of either poor maintenance procedures, shoddy preflight inspections,
lack of performing a pre-boarding walk around, or inadequate flight
training. Several potential students contacted me after hearing
that I was a CFI with Rotorway experience and that I had built and
put over 360 hours on my own Exec and a number of other Rotorway
helicopters of every model produced. Following discussions with
my wife and with my attorney I decided that I would once again begin
providing flight instruction in Rotorway helicopters and I have
loved every minute that I have been doing it, albeit without liability
This year one of my students from the East Coast asked me to meet
him at Homer’s so that I could give him some additional flight training.
We thought that was a great idea and it just happened that I would
be returning from training a student in Baton Rouge, LA just in
time to pack up the motor home and drive up to Homers. We arrived
at the Bell Air Ranch on Wed. afternoon and thought that we might
just be the first ones there- wrong. A number of RVs were already
set up, helicopters were coming off their trailers, and blades were
being attached. Homer’s brother Ted met us at the entrance and after
some good-natured harassing from him we were directed to a camping
Homer and Sharon are farmers and the Bell Air Ranch is a producing
working ranch with hundreds of acres of crops. Each year they set
aside quite a few acres of would-be productive farm land for the
fly-in. This is done so that the attendees of the fly-in will have
a place to park their campers and RV’s, park their trailers, pitch
their tents, have room to park and maneuver their helicopters, and
to provide a runway to be used as the focal point of the traffic
pattern. This large area is mowed and is a perfect surface for the
helicopters. I counted three porta-toilets on site for the convenience
of attendees and Homer hauls in water (there is not a well near
the festivities) in a huge truck so that there is plenty of water
for anyone that needs it. This tuck also doubles as a fire truck
should it be required.
As they arrive at Homers, each person is asked to sign in, put
on a name tag, and to also sign a “hold harmless agreement” that
says that you are responsible for yourself while you are on the
Bell Air Ranch. At the sign-in booth there is also a coffee can
sitting on the table for donations to help defray the cost of hosting
the event. Despite the cost of putting on this incredible event
year after year, Homer and Sharon do not charge admission. They
always hope that the donations will pay most of the costs of the
fly-in but somehow that doesn’t ever seem to happen. This year Homer
asked that anyone who profited from the event donate a portion of
what they earned to help with the costs, and I believe that helped
As more helicopters and enthusiasts arrived, introductions were
made and I was able to match many faces with names for the first
time. It was great to see a lot of old friends from years past and
to meet many more recent ones. Each morning Homer gave us all a
wake-up call by being the first helicopter in the air and doing
his best to vibrate everything in the RV with the Chop Chop Chop
of his Exec’s main rotors. What a great way to start the morning,
engines firing, rotors turning, and helicopters flying everywhere.
Between 9 and 10am Homer would conduct a safety briefing for all
pilots to insure that everyone knew the particulars for the day.
Then all day long, anyone who wanted to go for a ride in a helicopter
could catch a ride in any of a number of ships that seemed to be
I was thrilled to be able to ride in and even was handed the controls
of the beautiful Bell 47 owned by Brett and Scott Newhart. I had
always heard that the old Bell 47 was a clunker that would rattle
the fillings loose from your teeth. The Newhart brothers’ Bell 47
certainly puts that myth to rest. I was amazed at how smooth it
was from engine start, liftoff to hover, and into cruise flight.
It is amazing what properly dynamically balancing of the rotor system
does for the smoothness of the helicopter. These twin brothers are
really something special and they made themselves available to anyone
who wanted to go flying. They also spent considerable time helping
others get their helicopters airworthy and rigged properly.
Steve Walton was there with his Jet Exec that we have all been
reading about. When he offered me a ride, I didn’t need to think
twice before answering him in the affirmative. After a preflight
and walk-around inspection we boarded and Steve explained the turbine
start procedure. It is actually very simple and soon we were hearing
that turbine whine that gives one goose bumps. Following a few minutes
of familiarization with the controls, Steve let me hover and then
fly the Jet Exec, wow!! This helicopter has considerably more power
than the standard Rotorway. The biggest difference beside the sound
of the engine is the governor on the engine. Once the throttle control
is set, just pull collective and forget about the throttle. That
took a bit of getting accustomed to. I was actually flying a Rotorway
and the rotor rpm was nailed on 104% no matter what I did with the
collective or other controls. Steve did ask me to slow down a tad
as we passed 100 mph on downwind, this helicopter wants to fly,
and fly fast.
Between visiting with as many of the helicopter enthusiasts as
I could, I was able to fly for nearly 15 hours in various helicopters
during the official 3 day fly-in. Every pilot seemed to be very
responsible and with few exceptions the approved traffic patterns
were followed. I did not hear of even one close call or of anyone
cutting another helicopter off. That is pretty impressive when you
realize that there were up to 20 helicopters in the air at times
and no air traffic controller was coordinating them.
If you have a Rotorway fly-in you need to have helicopter games.
The ones that I recall seeing were something like beach ball soccer,
pick up the rings with the skid, and the bomb drop. These games
of skill and piloting are always fun to watch and it appeared that
everyone enjoyed them. On Saturday there was a poker run that was
enjoyed by a number of pilots and passengers in their helicopters,
both experimental and certified. Rotorcraft newsletter editors John
and Charmienne Pholman handed out award plaques for the winners
of the various contests and events following a great spaghetti dinner.
By Sunday afternoon many helicopters were back on their trailers
and headed for home. Those of us that stayed, pooled our leftovers
and converged on the Rotor heads tent to enjoy one more meal together
before saying goodbye. As I reflect back, I wonder what took us
so long to make the trip to Homers. This, our first time there,
was an incredible time with helicopters flying, stories being told,
problems being discussed and some even solved, old friendships revitalized,
and new friendships formed. Sharon told us that the final count
was 59 helicopters that had taken part in the fly-in.
Next year we plan on being there again early and we would encourage
all of you that have been putting it off year after year like we
did, to make your plans now to attend next year. You will not be
By Monday morning the last of the attendees were heading home,
except for my student from Connecticut, Brad Lenart, my wife, and
me. Homer was out busy moving hay-bale barricades back to the barn
, picking up marker flags, and generally tidying things up. He noticed
that sometime during the night someone had stolen a gasoline powered
pump that he had at the end of his field. I guess that is not too
surprising since the event is open to the public and there were
a lot of the public in attendance. That is one more item to add
to Homer’s cost to host the fly-in.
As Brad and I got busy with his flight training, Homer began attaching
a spray boom and chemical tank to his Exec. If my memory is correct,
this helicopter has over 500 hours on it and it is still going strong.
In short order Homer was lifting off and putting his little helicopter
to work spraying his bean fields. Brad and I enjoyed doing some
aerial photography work as Homer navigated his red Exec 152 over
the sea of green bean plants.
The following day Homer left in his Exec to attend a farm auction.
It seems that to Homer, the Rotorway is not only a business, he
is a professional builder, but also a tractor, a fun helicopter,
and farm truck as well.
As we finished up our training time Homer and Sharon were bolting
the Exec to the trailer for the trip to Mentone, their next stop
in the Rotorway helicopter adventure that has lasted nearly 20 years.
We expressed out gratitude for their hospitality and said our “until
next year” goodbyes.
Now that was fun! We hope to see you all there next year.