Mel Morris Jones finds that economy flying from a local playing field can have its drawbacks. ('96)


My local flying field is a school playing field (3 pitches next to each other) belonging to a Catholic public school run by the adjoining abbey's monks. I have to say that they are the most understanding airfield operators imaginable!

I make it a general rule only to fly from the field during the school holidays (vacations) or half-terms, and make sure that I do not leave any tyre marks on the surface, which means no flying when the ground is soggy. The games teacher lives locally and I always get his prior permission before flying, which he invariably gives unless the field is being used by people attending the holiday summer school.

Although free use of the field sounds wonderful, all is not really a bed of roses. There is no hangarage at the field, which means loading my gyro into the trailer, transporting it, hoping that nobody has parked across the gate to the playing field, and then unloading it. I then spend quite a while walking the entire field picking up the numerous sticks which doggies failed to retrieve or else tired of carrying. Golf balls - I have lots of those if any reader wants some? I stick my windsock on the trailer and hang a sign around the base of the pole asking people not to steal it, and please to keep to the side of the field if they see my gyro returning.

Once I've done my pre-flight inspection and got my gyro started (I always use either collapsible wheel chocks which I carry in my pocket, or else a tether, as I have to hand-swing the prop on my VW), I ask anyone on the field to keep to the sides and out of my way, and negotiate a ceasefire with any practicing golfer. I used to ask people this before I started my engine until one day I had trouble starting it; embarrassing!

I do not have a very efficient pre-rotator, but if there's a bit of breeze, then I'm away. If not, I fast taxi around the field to progressively accelerate my trusty Dragon Wings rotor up to a reasonable speed before I begin my take-off run. Then take off and fly off. Very important this - don't buzz around and annoy people.

Coming back an hour or so later, a lot can have changed in this time. I usually overfly the field at about 800ft, checking the direction of the windsock and scanning the field for any people, keeping a special lookout for my personal pet hate - the kiteflyer. Sometimes there is someone right in the middle of the field who carefully watches me whilst anchored in that position. Another pass at 500ft with great gesticulating from me will sometimes do the trick but, at other times only attracts reciprocal waving! Assuming a people-free landing area I usually - depending on conditions - approach low over the surrounding trees and chop the power, landing on tickover. ( I find that goalposts concentrate the mind wonderfully!) The next hazard to watch out for can often be seen bounding towards the blender at the rear of my gyro. This causes me great distress as I value my beloved Prince P-tip above most things in life and, ideally, like to let the engine tick over for a minute or so before switching off. Incidentally, dog mess whilst revolting to taxi over in summertime can be positively prop busting when frozen in winter (but they do kick easily when frozen). The aircraft then has to be loaded on to its trailer, amongst an ever increasing band of curious spectators, trailered home, unloaded and stowed away.

Flying from my local field has its obvious attractions, but requires much time and trouble to fly successfully and safely. Although it is supposed to be a private playing field, nobody seems to have told Joe Public!

These days I usually enjoy the luxury of a 500m prepared farm strip with hangarage on site. The last time I flew from my local playing field was to Bristol International Airport (Lulsgate), via Tony Unwin's home strip. I had to avoid tents from the Variety Club of Great Britain's campers before I could take off - not perhaps a problem which most aircraft face when they fly out to a major international airport!

Mel Morris Jones - Gadget Man, tells of a recent fowl experience - and more ! ('97)

I seem to be becoming a bit of a gadget man. Firstly, a cheap, but very effective Magellan 2000 GPS which I strap to my leg, and now a tiny (again cheap) micro cassette dictaphone which I keep in my flying suit top pocket and into which I plug my Lynx headset (not cheap!) It has a voice activated option which works wonderfully well when plugged into my headset at home in the kitchen, and while my gyro is ticking over or taxying slowly. However, when I start to open up the throttle on my gyro the little dictaphone apparently thinks that I am shouting at it and dutifully starts to record the engine's conversation as well as any remarks which I may care to make. The speech is still far more audible than the engine noise, but it does mean that the dictaphone is recording during the entire flight. (Perhaps some electronics buff amongst you can alter the sensitivity?) Since the tape will record for two hours per side, (my maximum single flight endurance not counting twenty minutes of reserve fuel), this is not a problem other than that it takes a while to locate the pearls of wisdom during the noisy playback.

I find the dictaphone to be invaluable for recording flight information statistics which my tiny overworked brain rebels against remembering. Recently I have needed to have new barrels, pistons and heads in my gyro's VW engine (that's another story!), and during the running-in period it has been essential that all the engine temperatures and pressures have been carefully monitored. These figures can easily be forgotten whilst flying, but now I can carefully record them over a wide range of engine rpm, and compare them with the next day's flying. I also find myself comparing all sorts of other instrument readouts - rotor rpm at high speed, low speed, tight turns, vertical descents, etc.

- Now settle down for a true story :

I took off gently into the warm, slightly misty autumn sunshine, watching the tractor lazily ploughing the field adjoining the farm strip as I turned away. Ah, this is the life!! What a privileged human being I am. What appeared to be a somewhat slowed down large tracer bullet passed me by heading downwards along my right hand side. How strange, I thought, looking upwards to discover the source of this strange phenomena. Instantly I was shocked by a multicoloured explosion walloping into my visor. Through this new tinted lens I could see that a flock of seagulls above me had clearly (if that is the right word under the circumstances) been frightened ****less by my slow, climbing turn towards their group - one of them at least had eaten heartily! You can well imagine that this experience seriously fouled the content of my gentle monologue - all duly recorded in technicoloured language on my new toy. Once I had gathered my wits about me after this unpleasant experience I noticed that my airspeed had fallen to 30 kts, I was uncomfortably close to the ground, and I was definitely no longer climbing!!

The moral : Things can change very quickly when flying a gyro and we certainly do need to be able to react quickly to events. I have found that even map reading and peering beneath my left leg to check the sight tube fuel gauge on the inside of my pod have temporarily disorientated me on occasions - not to mention scrolling through different functions of the GPS!

Story over! Lesson learnt! (Visor and flying suit cleaned!)


Now, I'm not a great technical text man, I'm a visual man - an architectural carver by trade (which is what a sculptor was in the days before welding, piles of bricks, and when pickled shark and lamb halves were an acquired gastronomic taste rather than an art form). I could carve you a perfect gyro because I could see it, but although I try my best to understand the engineering and dynamics side of things, I often struggle. Could the BRA not produce a video showing a few essential things such as how to do a hang check properly, how to correctly set up the rotor, maybe even how to do such apparently basic things as drilling holes in the materials we use? Some of us, and I do not suppose that I am alone in having this affliction, need to feel more confident about doing these things. If we have seen it done, and can if necessary remind ourselves the next time with the help of a video to refresh our memory, then we may boldly tread .. etc., etc. I envisage ordinary camcorder home video footage (unless anyone was prepared to lend a professional machine or take professional footage). This could be dubbed onto ordinary cheapo video cassettes, perhaps even old second hand ones, and sold at a low enough price (say £5), so that even the biggest skinflints among us would be able to afford a copy rather than getting Fred to copy his cassette and post it on. It would be made perfectly clear with every copy purchased from the BRA that this was a no frills, non-professionally produced tape, and that the main purpose was just to clearly show members - and why not Rotor Gazette International subscribers too - all of the essential actions required. - What about it??

I would buy a copy, and I bet that a number of people who may be dithering about whether to build their own gyro may find the confidence to take the plunge. The VW Beetle Owners Club produce something similar on basic engine maintenance for their members . Why not us?

I have flown a good number of hours this year, and may recount one of the more eventful flights one day in the unlikely event that you will have nothing better to read in this publication. However, I can see that I will definitely have to clean up my jottings. Earlier this year at Wallis Days, one of our northern members knew me only as "the guy who wrote the article about the frozen dog mess"! Oh dear! Surely it can only get better!

Sorry - but it never did!! . . .


- These articles are taken from The British Rotorcraft Association magazine 'Ultralight Rotorcraft. This is a blatant advert to suggest that you join the BRA and get the excellent, informative magazine, where far better and more interesting writers than me regularly contribute - and I occasionally do too. The BRA is striving very hard to further the UK gyro movement, and needs your support!!

Contact: Peter Cresswell , The Membership Secretary, tel/fax +44 (0) 1295 850141 , Five Farthings, The Green, Great Bourton, Banbury, Oxon, OX17 1QH, United Kingdom. If you ask for an information pack it will include a back issue of the magazine - there may be a small charge? - possibly not? e-mail him . . .

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