First Autogyro

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I was determined to test fly the Atom autogyro this weekend and I finally managed to get everything together. I don’t know whether this is the first autogyro that’s been flown at this site, but in all the years I’ve been flying here, I’ve never seen another one. I also don’t know whether this counts as a flight, because the left wheel never actually left the ground, but this was my first attempt.

My first flight of the morning was with somebody else’s UMX Champ. Weighing only about 35 grams, this was probably a stupid idea in the steadily increasing wind, but I’ve flown it perfectly well in windy conditions before. This time, though, a gust flipped it upside down and I crashed into the ground. I was able to partially rescue it, so there wasn’t much impact and it was undamaged.

Then I put the rotors onto the autogyro and had run out of excuses for not flying it. Although, it was a close call as the wind was way above the recommended “light winds” stated in the magazine article for the first test flight (RCM&E Autumn 2015 Special). I was determined to give it a go and try running it along the ground and “hopping” when the rotors began to lift. The rational behind this is to trim the head angle, but I didn’t have much luck. I had the foresight to take a GoPro Hero 4 Session camera with me and record the flights so I could watch them back later, but I had it in the wrong mode for the first set of flights and only ended up taking stills. I really don’t like that camera, but I had lent my preferred RunCam to somebody on Thursday.

As far as the test “hops” went, the rotor would spin up fairly easily in the wind, but I’m not convinced I was getting up to full flying speed before running out of runway (for “runway”, read “patchy bit of bumpy grass”). I wasn’t able to steer effectively with the rudder and it seemed to be yawing to the right. When it did start to lift off, the left wheel seemed stuck to the ground and it wanted to roll over onto its left side. I thought this might be a head trim angle problem, so I progressively added right aileron trim, up to the point where I had 15 clicks right trim and there seemed to be no difference, even when holding right aileron while it ran along the grass. The airframe is impressively resilient though. I had it tip over on its left side numerous times and tangled up the rotor blades, but it still went home in one piece. I think that, in all the years I’ve been flying, maybe I’ve learned how to crash well?

After resting the autogyro for a bit, we then had another go with the Champ. This time it went really well, much more like I would expect, so either the wind had eased off a bit, or it was just less turbulent than before? However, while I was flying the Champ, the Atom got blown over onto its side twice, tangling up the three rotor blades again. Luckily, there was no damage, but, with its three rotors now attached, the wind was causing them to spin very fast, resulting in it tipping over. I would have said that it was at flight speed at one point, they were spinning that quickly in the wind. Seeing this happening, I brought the Champ down for an almost perfect landing and rushed over to the Atom with the transmitter still in my hand to assist the owner of the Champ who was trying to figure out how to stop the blades. This confused him completely as he missed my landing and thought his aircraft was still in the sky. Anyway, still no damage to the Atom or Champ. The RS352 tried to take off on its own as well, but it’s fairly indestructible. I’m starting to think that maybe this wasn’t the best day to test fly an autogyro?

At this point a couple of guys arrived with a chair and a drone and proceeded to sit right where I had been doing the Atom test hops before. I’m not sure where they were from, but their English wasn’t great. There was also another drone flying right up the far end of the field, ignoring us completely. This was an East European couple and their son, as the lady did come over to us later on to borrow a screwdriver to change the battery in her son’s mini drone.

OK, so having had a think about the autogyro, and with the wind lessening a bit, I had another go. This time, though, I managed to get the camera in the right mode, so I’m hoping there should be some video there for me to review later. This went the same as before, trying various directions into wind and trying to get forward speed and rotor speed for flight. Along the ground it was yawing to the right if the rotors were spinning, but tracking more straight if the head didn’t spin. The ground handling wasn’t good enough to to keep it in a straight line along the runway I was now using, which was almost directly into wind, but narrow and with stubby grass either side. I kept ending up in the grass to the right. Moving to another area didn’t really help as the aircraft would never pull its left wheel off the ground. In the end I gave up, which was very disappointing. I would have taken any sort of air under the wheels, even millimetres. So, to review, rotor spinning means yawing right on the ground and left wheel won’t unstick despite extreme right tilt and good rotor speed. I need to go away and do some research for next time.

After that I had 3 flights with the RS352, which loved the conditions on its new batteries. I had one of the older batteries (3S 1100mAh, 18 months old) in the Autogyro, which showed 50% full when analysed after the test flights. The other one I flew in the RS352, but it just didn’t have the punch of the newer cells. As I had the GoPro set up anyway, I decided to point it at a patch of sky and film myself flying the RS352. I don’t know what footage I got yet, but maybe I got something good with the wide angle lens?

While I was flying the RS352, we had another person arrive with a drone who I’ve never see before. She also wasn’t like all the other drone flyers as she knew what an autogyro was, even if she didn’t know the English word for one. My guess is that she was East European from her accent, with bright red hair and a mini drone which she had constructed from bits herself. It was a bit bigger than a 100 size (but not by much) and had tiny brushless motors and FPV. Unfortunately, she had forgotten to charge the goggles, so couldn’t fly with FPV and didn’t feel confident enough to fly with line of sight because of the orientation. She apparently files bigger drones too, but she obviously knows what she was talking about as we were discussing why neither of us would do some of the stupid things the other guys were now doing with their DJI Phantom. After that a husband and wife also turned up with a Mavic, but I had to go at this point.

That was quite an eventful day of flying, so now I’ve got to go away and do my homework on autogyros.

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