WHAT DO MANY KIT HELICOPTER CUSTOMERS FAIL TO CONSIDER?
I began to build my very first helicopter in the early 60's. I have watched several dozen, maybe even 100 would-be designers of powered shaft rotorcraft come and go since that time. No doubt every one of these folks had the same idea and desire that I did. We wanted to see a lot of people learn to fly in our designs. As it turned out, most of these dreamers, including myself at the time, were not formally educated engineers. Our lack of knowledge in strength of materials, loads and fatigue analysis, rotor system dynamics and stability made this formidable task virtually impossible.
Our dreams could be compared to the verse out of Ma Fricket's Airline and Storm Door Company. She said, " My son just knew he could fly, he was dead sure of it. One day he went down to the quarry and tied a hundred pigeons to each arm and jumped off the edge. Every thing was going just fine until somebody down below threw out an old bag of corn!"
Our dreams lasted just about as long as that poor guy's flight. Just long enough to build what to each of us thought, was the most beautiful flying machine in the world. Were we helicopter pilots? Of course not! It mattered very little though, because right after we started the engine, we realized where the pigeons were heading. Vibrations started coming from everywhere, the whole machine began to shake incessantly, the overworked power plant began to over heat and steam started pouring out the overflow. With the blades gyrating wildly up and down, it seemed that they would only respond to their own desires. All the controls seemed frozen and meaningless. What's this, a quick glance at a crude rotor tachometer lets us know that in all this fury we are still little over half way to full RPM!
A very early Schramm prototype. Powered by a McCulloch drone engine. No pitch control on tail rotor and very limited cyclic authority. Capable of leaving the ground just long enough to take this photo. (please note- BJ used to have a lot of hair)
Don't think for a moment that any of this is exaggeration, unless you were a major corporation, this is what it took to develop a helicopter. My very first run-up is indelibly burned into my memory. It took years and endless modifications before I was able to build a ship that would hover with some degree of dignity. Why didn't I just give up, why did I live on beans and peanut butter sandwiches so I could work nearly full time on a project which my family was dead set against? On one occasion they reported me to the F.A.A. whom they hoped would shut me down before I crashed for the last time. I don't know why I didn't give up, maybe it was because there were three of us who endured and as we watched each other suffer, somehow we gained the strength and determination to keep on going.
Of course I'll tell you who the other three were. One was Igor Bensen, the Father of the Gyrocopter and the other was "POP" Harold Emigh, the creator of the design which has been handed down to many different owners since POP passed on. This design is now called the Safari, formerly the Baby Belle. It looks pretty much like it did when POP perfected it, Bell 47 bubble, Lycoming engine and all, however the current owners have made its parts really last a long time.
So, take a good look at the Sport Helicopter market! Guess which machines show up in great numbers? You're correct, it's the progeny of these three designers. There are a few others to be sure; lots of folks copied Igor Bensen's Gyrocopter concept. Dennis Fetters used Argentine designer August Cicare's machine as a spring board to the Mini-500. (I guess the lesson here is that it's best to take the time test and retest before a design is released.)
By this time I think you're beginning to get the picture. Would be kit helicopter owners need to realize that it's not the design you should be looking at, but the designer. Everyone in the helicopter world who is successful, has worked for decades to pay his dues. Frank Robinson worked for several helicopter manufacturers for years to gain enough knowledge and experience to create the R-22.
Of course you'll make your own decision, but if you purchase a helicopter kit from a newcomer to this market place, be prepared to spend a lot of time sorting out the vibrations for yourself.