Before moving his family to Florida in the late 70's, my father-in-law was a pilot in Alaska. After the move to Florida, he said goodby to his flying career. He wasn't content with his feet on the ground so eventually he bought a Gyrocopter, sometimes called a Gyroplane. He found someone to teach him to fly it and has been flying it as often as he can ever since. Before long, people were asking him to take arial photos of their homes and that's when I started flying with him, manning the camera. I was always nervous while flying because as you can see by the picture below, it is an open cockpit with a simple seatbelt around the waist. Once I was in the air and snapping away with the camera, though, I really injoyed the incredible views.
Inevitibly, on our way back to the airport, we would fly over the ocean or river. The view was always breathtaking.
Here is the sad ending part. The last couple years, dad has been a certified flight
instructor. He has had a few students flying with him on a regular basis. This past Saturday was one of those days. Dad keeps his gyro hangered at Aero Acres, an airport community in Ft. Pierce. Thats where they were this weekend. His student Timothy, was practicing what is called "touch and go". You can't see it in the photo, but there are two control sticks and two sets of pedals. The pilot sits on the left and passenger on the right. Tim was piloting but at any time Dad could take over the controls and fly it himself. Dad's machine is a super-safe machine. Believe me! It has a lycoming engine which is very reliable. If anything, the only thing he hasn't been happy with is that the rudder isn't as responsive as he would like. That's what got them into trouble. At the point that Tim had messed up with the controls and Dad took over to correct it, the rudder couldn't respond fast enough. At the same time, a cross-wind got them. The wind pushed them towards a canal (they were flying near an orange orchard, I believe). Dad gave it full throttle but the wheels caught and the prop on the back of the engine started hitting the bank of the canal. I'm not exactly sure of the sequence of events, but the blades struck the ground at some point and flipped them into the canal. By this time, the machine had torn itself to shredds. Tim got himself free. Miraculously, he wasn't injured at all. He got out of the water and looked around for Dad. Not seeing him, he grabbed the gyro and lifted it up and Dad came bobbing to the surface. He had been pinned under water for a full minute with a mouth full of mud. He was about to pass out and later said that he thought this was the end for him. Tim laid him on the bank and ran 3 miles for help. 40 minutes later, help arrived, but Dad says he doesn't remember anything until help came. He said he was fine and unbelievably, the EMT's agreed to not transport him to the hospital. After the shock wore off, the pain settled in and one of his buddies took him to the hospital. He had a severely dislocated shoulder requiring a specialist to come in to reset it for him. After making sure he didn't have any head injuries, they let him go home.
Here is a picture of the gryo. The prop, mast and blades are gone.
A big piece of metal (I'm not sure what part it is) that is connected to a rubber hose whipped Tim on the helmet and cracked the helmet. They aren't sure how it happened, but Dad's shirt was torn off.
This photo shows the once perfectly smooth, straight blades now a tangled mass of metal. The white thingy in the back with the black numbers and letters on it was the rudder. The FAA has already come and taken all Dad's flight info to investigate.
We are SO thankful to God that Dad survived this crash and we are equally grateful to Tim for saving Dad's life. There have been many fatalities in this "sport" and Dad was very close to being another statistic. Dad lost his brother, Jim, to an airplane crash. He was a pilot, too, and went down in Alaska while flying a DC3.
So, sadly enough for him, Dad's flying days are once again over. I'm sure he'll fly in his friends wings, but without insurance (experimental=unisurable) I doubt he'll ever save enough again this late in life to have his own wings. This will be very hard on him, I'm sure. It's quite a loss for him!
PS (added tonight after Rob and his dad and brother-in-law brought the plane home and looked it over more carefully) Dad is hopeful that the gyro can be salvaged. The engine would need some careful work, a new shaft, prop, blades and rudder put on and various other repairs would need done. Maybe he will fly again!