PRA Chapter 2
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PRA Chapter 1 (CA)
PRA Chapter 15 (AZ)
PRA Chapter 31 (CA)
PRA Chapter 38 (CO)
PRA Chapter 58 (CA)
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Frequently Asked Questions & Answers
does your organization do?
Have more questions? Send them to us, and we'll try to address them in the future.
A - The Utah Rotorcraft Association exists to promote safety and education for the owners, builders and pilots of personal gyroplanes, helicopters and their variants. We do this through conducting meetings and events for the exchange of information and best practices; building a library of resources, in which this website plays a major role; bringing builders of experimental rotorcraft in contact with commercial and professional sources of industry best practices; and pooling resources such as books and tools. We also encourage carpools to distant rotorcraft events to make attendance more economical for participants.
A - Airgyro Aviation has been gracious enough to allow us to use their facility as our regular meeting location. We now hold some meetings as interactive online sessions, allowing participation by our more distant members and visitors from anywhere via the internet. Some technical programs following our Saturday meetings are thereby available worldwide. These “virtual classrooms” can accommodate up to 150 participants, and there is no cost to participate.
Meeting times, locations and programs are e-mailed to members monthly, are listed in both the printed and electronic newsletters, and appear on the home page of this website as soon as planning is complete.
A - Anyone is welcome to attend our meetings and events, regardless of membership. While our major regional event, Rotors Over The Rockies, has featured free admission and camping, this may be subject to change depending on the location. Western Rotorcraft, our monthly newsletter, is available as a free download. We encourage those with an interest in personal rotorcraft to become members to support this continued outreach, and sustain the availability of the resources we provide.
Becoming a member requires payment of annual dues of US $24, regardless of location. Dues are prorated at $2/month for new members joining in most months other than July. (Join using the link at left.) Membership in good standing entitles you to access to our Members Only section on the website, which currently includes a full roster of members, keyword-searchable archives of bylaws, meeting minutes, and high-resolution newsletters, as well as video archives of some past online meetings and webinars. Within the continental US, members also receive a mailed, printed copy of our monthly newsletter; members elsewhere have access to the newsletter in electronic form as a PDF file.
Q - Am I required to belong to the PRA in addition to the local chapter?
A - No. However, we strongly encourage everyone to do so for several reasons. We are an incredibly small segment of the aviation community. The only international body in tune with our unique needs, and able to advocate for us with the FAA is the Popular Rotorcraft Association. PRA is enjoying a revival, and providing several new resources and programs of benefit to enthusiasts. (Join using this link.)
A – From "Members Only" in the left column, enter username and password if prompted, and at the top of the News Archive page, you'll see a line of links across the top. Click “Member Directory” and the current roster, in Microsoft Excel (.xls) format, will open on your desktop. If you get an error message informing you that you do not have an application for viewing the file, you can get OpenOffice as a free download at www.openoffice.org. It includes an application which will open all common MS file formats, and it's available for PC, Mac and Linux.
A – In most browsers, navigate to "Members Only", login if required with username and password, and when you see the archive listing appear, press [Ctrl-F] to open your browser's “Find” function. Enter a word which will be found in the story you're seeking, and it will be highlighted wherever it appears in the summaries below.
Avoid using words which will also appear in unrelated stories. For example, if you want to find stories mentioning the Ken Brock Freedom Fly-In at El Mirage, CA, don't use “Brock,” as it may find many unrelated stories about Brock gyroplanes. Using “Mirage” will produce more focused search results.
Most browsers appear to search without regard to case - “oshkosh” and “Oshkosh” will both find the capitalized version. Some browsers allow you to enter a partial word if you don't know the full spelling, and will highlight just that portion of the word wherever it appears on the page.
Once you find the keyword listed in a summary, click on the link to the full version of the corresponding month's newsletter, and read the story. Current versions of the Adobe Acrobat Reader, which your browser uses to read the .pdf file containing the newsletter, also support word searches using the same [Ctrl-F] “Find” function. Exception - Some early newsletters which were scanned from paper copies do not support internal searching.
When finished, use your browser's “Back” key to return to the News Archive page, since your search may have discovered more than one reference to your keyword.
The summaries include only items deemed to be significant, and for which there was either a photo or verbal description in the newsletter. There are no separate summaries prepared for the monthly E-News.
Over time, Google and other search engines will learn to find keywords in our archives.
A – This is an interesting and difficult question. We looked and asked around, but we couldn't find one!
The Popular Rotorcraft Association was started in the early 1960s by owners of the original Bensen Gyrocopter. Its membership today still is dominated by gyroplane interests. While the international organization itself officially embraces both classes of aircraft, and advocates for both groups with the FAA, there is not much coverage of helicopter topics or advertising by helicopter interests in PRA's Rotorcraft Magazine.
The emergence of the Sport Pilot certificate in the US has further isolated the two groups, since it is available for gyroplanes, but not for helicopters. The change further separates the agendas of those who would represent us before the FAA.
It has also been suggested to us by several helo enthusiasts that “helicopter people aren't joiners,” as one phrased it. This seems to be borne out by the absence of a national representative body for homebuilders. We'll keep looking, and encourage our members and readers to let us know if you find such an organization. In the meantime, URA will seek to serve helicopter enthusiasts in our region to the extent your participation permits.
We're biased, but we believe it behooves the committed homebuilt helicopter enthusiast to support community resources where you find them.
A - In our region, the first place to try is Airgyro Aviation in Spanish Fork, UT. If you are unable to book the training you need there, contact us for an update. Another resource is the list of current instructors maintained by PRA, which is updated monthly. Ground school is occasionally available online through PRA, and possibly others sources. Gyroplane training is scarce in the US, and improving access to it is one of our goals.
A - With the exception of ultralights, new gyroplanes in the US are currently available only in kit form, and are typically registered as Experimental Amateur Built aircraft. Ultralight gyroplanes (as legally defined in FAR Part 103) are currently available in either kit or assembled form from The Butterfly LLC. Used gyroplanes should be purchased only after careful research. We urge you to attend one of our meetings or contact us for updates, and to get the help and background you'll need to make a satisfactory purchase.
You will often find used Experimental gyroplanes available for sale on our Classified Ads page.
A - Yes! Popular kit helicopters available in the US include the single-seat, turbine-powered Helicycle from Eagle R&D, the single-seat Mosquito, which is available as a legal ultralight, and the two-seat Rotorway A600 Talon. The best resource for builders of experimental helicopters is Experimental Helo Magazine.
A - They can be as safe as any comparable aircraft from a major manufacturer. It's up to you.
Experimental Amateur Built aircraft built from reputable kits do not have a significantly higher accident rate than comparable aircraft with standard FAA airworthiness certificates earned under Part 23 or Part 27, once they complete their Phase I tests (typically the first 40 flight hours following construction). But unlike major manufacturers, which conduct all their testing on prototypes and then essentially clone them for sale, nearly all amateurs deviate in some way from the plans. Fabrication and construction skills will obviously vary. This means every experimental will be slightly different, and may encounter its own unique problems during testing.
Cessna crashed and totaled two of its 162 Skycatcher LSAs before arriving at the version finally sold to the public. Boeing is three years late delivering the first 787 Dreamliner, in part because of structural problems with tails and wing-attach points, and electrical problems with caused an in-flight fire during testing. But once these problems are resolved, the copies sold to customers are very reliable and safe.
When you build an aircraft from a kit, it will not be exactly like any other aircraft, including its own prototype. Major changes such as choice of powerplant, and even seemingly minor changes such as choice of instruments or even paint and finish can affect reliability. So, how do you maximize safety?
First, choose a reputable design. Neither kits nor their sellers are held to any FAA standards, and the builder is legally considered the aircraft manufacturer. (That's you!) So it is essential to become immersed in the community before you choose. Especially among gyroplanes, certain older kits are associated with higher accident rates, and the engineering reasons are known. Ask questions, and not just of the salesman!
Second, follow the plans or include only proven modifications, don't be in a rush, take advantage of the experienced help available through URA, PRA and EAA, and take the Phase I test requirement seriously. If you discover something you've done differently from the plans will lead to degraded engine cooling or loss of power when you key the radio, you want to find it out over a runway, not over a wooded hillside!
Third, don't assume that, because you spent less than you would have for a certificated aircraft, this is somehow a "toy." Get the proper training before you fly, stay current in your qualifications, and accept that challenging gravity is a much bigger deal than driving a car.
It can be extremely valuable to study the NTSB accident database. Nearly all accidents, including those blamed on mechanical problems, are the result of a chain of human decisions.
A - "Gyroplane" is a generic term adopted by the FAA in the 1940s to refer to rotorcraft which do not use their rotors as a primary means of forward propulsion. Most gyroplanes have rotors which are unpowered, and completely free-wheeling in flight. A front-mounted ("tractor") or rear-mounted ("pusher") powerplant creates thrust to move the aircraft forward, in the same manner as traditional airplanes. Aerodynamic forces acting on the rotorblades cause them to spin passively, producing lift.
The gyroplane was invented to eliminate major causes of accidents in early aviation - aerodynamic stalls, and mistakes on landing while speeding across the ground. Because a gyroplane's rotor tips are always moving at about 300 MPH, even when the aircraft has slowed to zero ground speed, landings are much more manageable. And unlike an airplane, a gyroplane can be pulled back to zero airspeed at any altitude without drama. The machine will just enter a controlled, vertical descent, and can be put back in forward flight by lowering the nose and/or adding power.
Because the continued spinning of a gyroplane's rotor requires that the aircraft continue to move or descend, most gyros require a takeoff roll like an airplane, while the blades are brought up to speed. They also cannot hover, since falling below a specified minimum airspeed will cause a descent.
These two drawbacks are what brought about the helicopter, which made the gyroplane commercially obsolete by the 1940s. By using engine power to spin the rotor, and tilting the rotor to allow using part of its downwash to create thrust, a helicopter can take off vertically and hover, and does not require a conventional tractor or pusher prop to move forward.
The downsides of the helicopter are complexity and cost. To counteract the torque on the airframe produced by powering the rotor, (which would otherwise cause the fuselage to spin in a direction opposite of the rotor,) helicopters usually employ a tail rotor, a sideways-facing propeller which is used to counteract the effect of the torque applied to the rotor. The transmission which splits the engine's power between the main and tail rotors is flight-critical, requiring robust design and rigorous maintenance and inspection. The main rotor must have a means to adjust the lift generated by the blades, through changing their pitch, necessitating a collective pitch control lever and associated linkages. In place of the gyroplane's airplane-like rudder, the pedals in a helicopter control the collective pitch of the tail rotor's blades, allowing the pilot to vary the sideways force at the tail to either hold the machine straight, or yaw to the left or right.
Despite its considerable complexity and associated expense, the helicopter has had the commercial, law enforcement and military markets to itself for decades, mainly because buyers cannot envision doing without the ability to hover. As governments struggle with budgets, many are rethinking the cost/value equation for that capability, but for now, gyroplanes remain a recreational flying machine.
Some gyroplanes have been built using collective pitch controls for their rotors, which can allow over-speeding the rotor with no pitch before takeoff, then adding pitch to allow a vertical "jump takeoff." None are currently available in kit form to US builders.
Despite the gyroplane's place on the helicopter's family tree, the two machines are markedly different to fly, and have unique and exclusive appeal. Helicopter pilots understandably consider gyroplanes a less-capable form of aircraft, but most gyroplane pilots do not appear anxious to transition to helicopters, even when their budgets might allow it.
If you achieve an FAA Private (or higher) certificate in the category/class of either Rotorcraft/Gyroplane or Rotorcraft/Helicopter, getting the other class added to your certificate requires no set minimum number of hours, only training to a level of proficiency needed to pass the FAA Practical Test.
There are also some esoteric hybrids between the two classes. "Gyrodynes" or "rotordynes" are rotorcraft which take off and land vertically using powered rotors, but are configured like a gyroplane during normal flight. "Compound helicopters" are full helicopters which get added forward speed from the addition of a propeller, but could fly without it. A number of designs, including the Carter Copter, have used small airplane-style wings to provide some of the lift in forward flight, allowing slowing of the rotor for more efficiency. These craft have sometimes been called “heliplanes.” In-depth discussion of these hybrids is beyond the scope of this FAQ.
A - The Rotary Wing Forum (RWF) is a free online community for the worldwide exchange of information. Started in October, 2003 by Todd Powell, a firefighter and gyroplane enthusiast in Spokane, WA, this forum now has over 3,000 registered members and many more unregistered readers, and over 400,000 posts on more than 28,000 topics. Like any forum, new members often ask old questions, so use the search function to find existing discussion threads.
There is no cost to join, but informal, voluntary contributions are accepted by Todd each April to help defray operating expenses. (RWF is completely independent, and not affiliated with URA or PRA.)
When it was started, RWF quickly attracted most of the former members of a previous gyroplane-oriented forum which had just closed down, and it remains dominated by gyroplane topics. More recently, Stu and Kathy Fields of Experimental Helo Magazine have started a forum specifically targeting homebuilt helicopter interests.
A - It helps! But, no. One reason URA exists is to support those who are building their own helicopters and gyroplanes as a means to achieve their educational goals and dream of rotary-winged flight within middle class household budgets.
A new, basic, Robinson R22 helicopter starts at about a quarter-million dollars US. Add modern avionics and a heater and you're over the price of the average new home in Utah. There are obviously many other new helos with costs running into the millions. Hourly maintenance and training costs for certificated helicopters can be prohibitive for many hobbyists. At the other end of the scale, builders with good skills and contacts have assembled single-place gyroplanes for less than $10,000. It's all a matter of prioritizing and goal-setting. What do you want to fly?
If you watch a busy highway in Utah any weekend of the summer, you'll lose count of the families driving by who have obviously invested $25,000 or more in all-terrain vehicles, camping trailers and powerboats. There are brand new gyroplane kits which can be purchased for the price of a new Harley, and used ones available for significantly less. The existing market for recreational vehicles is expected to yield thousand of new Sport Pilots if gyroplanes are granted status as Light Sport Aircraft in the US, which would make them available in factory-built form.
The one constant cost among all forms of rotorcraft, and one for which you must budget if you're to fly safely, is training. If you're starting from scratch, expect to need a minimum of 20 hours of dual instruction to safely fly gyroplanes, possibly more for helicopters. Instruction in the US is typically available for $140-180 per hour in gyroplanes, and $200 and up in small piston helicopters.
Have more questions?
Send them to us, and we'll try to address them in the future.