An Exciting introduction To Tow Training And The KB-2
WEARING A HELMET, and with a full jumpsuit over my clothing, I was hot as I sat on the edge of a sun-parched dry lake in the California desert where the only shade was my own shadow So, naturally, I was glad for the artificial breeze when the station wagon slowly began to pull away and the tow cable between us lost its slack.
However, I wasn’t quite sure about what I had gotten myself into. Soon we were rolling and bouncing over the cracked surface of the dry lake, caught in the growing dust cloud that was kicked up by the station wagon’s tires. What the heck!
The cooling effect of the wind felt good, the young man behind the wheel of the station wagon was driving on this dry lake before he was street legal, and the gentleman seated next to me had taught more people to pilot a gyrocopter than the Cessna 150 has taught people to fly. Besides, I had seen Ken Brock demonstrate his gyroplane at numerous airshows in the past, and was well aware of his expertise.
Once I convinced myself that there was nothing to fear, I relaxed somewhat in the right half of the two-seat gyroglider that is used as a primary trainer. Ken instructed me to hold the control stick all the way back against the leading edge of the seat as the station wagon gradually built up speed.
The rotor blade overhead became a blur and then disappeared. Then as the nosewheel began to lift off. Ken told me to move the stick forward just enough to keep it floating free of the ground. The procedure reminded me of a soft-field takeoff technique in a fixed-wing airplane.
All at once, the Ken Brock KB-2 trainer broke free from the dry lake, and we floated up and out of the cloud of talc-fine dust. The near-vertical climb was something I had never experienced before. We were looking down at the station wagon between our feet, watching the faces pressed against the windows looking back up at us.
The first thing I noticed about flying a gyroglider was the extreme sensitivity of the controls, especially after the Beechcraft I had just flown out to El Mirage dry lake. Only the slightest movement sent me weaving from side to side, up and down like an intoxicated water-skier.
Ken kept telling me to stay ahead of the machine, to anticipate its movement first with an opposite movement of the stick then immediately back to the neutral position Control and neutralize was the secret to avoiding over-control. It sounded easy, but it took at least one length of the dry lake (six miles) before I began to settle down.
My relationship with the machine was helped even more when Ken told me to relax my grip on the control stick and relax the other hand that had an unconscious white-knuckle hold on the seat frame After a few trips up and down the dry lake, Ken asked me to see how low I could fly the trainer without actually touching the ground.
To save our eyes and lungs, we flew to one side of the dust cloud, testing how low I could get, then hopped up and over the trailing dust to tease the ground again on the other side We kept up this game until Ken decided I was ready to try some simulated landings.
Up and down the lake we went, with the station wagon slowing to a stop, then starting up again as I practiced takeoffs and landings Landings were not very different from the full-stall type we all learn in primary flight training As the gyroglider began to slow, Ken instructed me to make a descending approach until I was flying just off the surface of the lake (this had been the reason for the previous exercise).
The idea was to apply gradual back pressure on the control stick as our flying speed diminished, until the stick was full against the seat and the Ken Brock KB-2 gyroglider settled onto the cracked surface of the dry lake with no more will to fly.
The next exercise involved Ken throwing his weight around. We did several lengths of the dry lake; I would try to hold a steady course as Ken would suddenly throw himself to one side or the other, forward or backward. If slight movements of the control stick precipitated wild movements of the gyroglider, it’s easy to imagine the effect of Ken playing havoc with the center of gravity.
Again, the idea was to sense the weight shift, counter with the control stick, then neutralize Again, the idea was simpler than the action, so a little ground school was in order. We paused in our antics to get the wind out of our ears and let Ken explain the idiosyncrasies of gyrogliders and powered gyroplanes.
It seems that there is some adjustment that fixed-wing pilots must make when they test their rotor wings for the first time. A conventional airplane is made to roll by a set of ailerons which account for only a few square feet of aerodynamic surface and work against a mass weighing a couple thousand pounds.
On the other hand, the control surface of our gyroglider is a significantly larger lift disc, 22 feet in diameter, which is created by the spinning rotor blade This, coupled with the whirling mass of the rotor blade, has an incredible effect on the flight attitude of the Ken Brock KB-2 gyroglider.
With this concept clearly in my mind, we returned to the air for more practice, until Ken decided I was ready to go it solo Before I had a chance to question my sanity, I found myself seated alone on the trainer, straddling the control stick and rolling across the dry lake with the rotor blades picking up speed over my head.
Up and down the lake I went, landing and taking off, landing and taking off. I was having the time of my life. It was early in the afternoon. and I could have kept playing until the sun went down, enjoying the kind of wind-in-your-face, nothing-out-in-front flying that few aircraft offer. Unfortunately, everyone else got tired of watching me have fun.
I set the gyroglider down for the last time, just as Ken and company piled out of the station wagon to see what I thought of my first gyroplane solo. But, as I started to stand up, they started waving frantically before I could make out their shouts, muffled by the helmet still covering my ears.
What they were trying to tell me was rule number one about gyrocopters: Don’t stand up from the seat until the rotor blades stop turning The machine will either fly away, or knock you silly. It was immediately evident to everyone that I had a spectacular time. They could tell by my dust-coated teeth.
Such was my first taste of gyroplane flying, and it went a long way toward leaving me with an honest respect for the machine, while dispelling many of the myths which would label gyrocopters the most dangerous homebuilt aircraft. Often reputations are a mixture of fact and bias.
In the case of homebuilt gyroplanes perhaps too many people have made the mistake of purchasing a kit, assembling it, and then underestimating it. I agree with Ken when he suggests that no one should attempt to fly one of his powered gyroplanes without first obtaining proper instruction (40-50 hours in tow).
To go one step further, Ken encourages anyone who intends to fly a Ken Brock KB-2 gyroplane to obtain the respective certificate from the FAA. It’s true that a KB-2 Gyroplane can be flown with a student pilot permit, but a permanent gyroplane license eliminates the need for nagging renewals and gives a pilot a more complete education.
As you can see from the beginning narrative of this article, a gyroplane possesses a few quirks for the unaccustomed fixed-wing pilot, but nothing so serious it can’t be overcome with proper instruction. The FAA considers the towed version of the KB-2 Gyroplane to be a kit, and therefore no license is required to fly it solo or as a two-seater with passenger on board.
Also, the gyroglider requires no registration, as does the powered version. Furthermore, the Ken Brock KB-2 is not a helicopter., since its rotor blades are not powered Unlike a helicopter, the gyroplane cannot hover or take off vertically (except in a strong wind). The rotorblades on the gyroplane are tilted aft (as opposed to forward with helicopters) in cruise flight.
The wind moving through the blades causes them to autorotate. Also unlike a helicopter, engine failures are not a great problem If a gyroplane is flying, it has already achieved autorotation If the pusher engine quits, the machine enters a glide to maintain airspeed If the engine quits on a helicopter without sufficient altitude to develop autorotation.
The KB-2 has several features that set it apart from the Benson Gyrocopter (a term coined by Benson), the craft with which it is most often confused. To begin with, experienced pilots will feel more at home with the aircraft-type joystick which is the basis for the KB-2’s control system.
Thus movement of the stick to the left produces a turn to the left, as differentiated from the “upside down” control stick where a movement to the left initiates a turn to the right. Another innovative feature of the KB-2 is the fuel-tank seat molded from cross-linkable polyurethane, which is virtually indestructible.
It saves on weight and contributes to an overall clean-looking design. There is currently a choice between two engines The original McCulloch, produces 90 hp and offers a superior weight-to-power ratio; however, replacement parts are becoming short in supply For this reason. Ken Brock encourages the use of a Volkswagen conversion.
The horsepower is less (80-85 with 1835cc) but the convenience is a plus. If engines are purchased through Ken Brock Manufacturing, the McCulloch retails for $2,895, and the VW built by HAPI sells for $2,495 – (1981 prices quoted). As another substitute for the McCulloch, Ken is considering the possibility of using the Franklin.
Besides the aforementioned, the Ken Brock KB-2 differs entirely from the Benson, from engine mount to control system, from rotor blade to wheels. To simplify construction, the complete structure (everything short of the engine itself) is packaged into seven separate kits (airframe, landing gear, rotor head, rotor blades, rotor hub, joystick, rudder/horizontal stabilizer) and one optional kit (custom prefab metal tail).
An entire Ken Brock KB-2 gyroplane can be built for $2,800, less the engine. An unpowered tow version of the Ken Brock KB-2 can be built for $2,200 According to Ken Brock, ordinary shop tools are all that are necessary to build the KB-2. The basic requirements include a hacksaw, electric hand drill and the usual array of wrenches, pliers and screwdrivers.
The standard rudder and horizontal stabilizer kit contains the hardware needed to fabricate these components Only the plywood must be purchased on your own. The custom prefab metal tail kit substitutes super-lightweight pre-assembled vertical and horizontal surfaces, utilizing conventional aircraft sheet-metal construction; it comes complete, ready to install.
The horizontal surface serves to prevent the prop from picking up stones. The vertical surface provides directional control for landings and takeoffs but does not play a major role in normal flight. Once a builder has completed the necessary glider tow training, he can study the elaborate set of flight instructions which is provided with the Ken Brock KB-2 kit.
In addition. Ken is generally able to put new builders in touch with experienced Ken Brock KB-2 pilots who act as a network of instructors around the country. In this way, helpful hints about hand-propping, manually starting the rotor blades in motion, and various operational idiosyncrasies are passed from one builder to the next.
The system is based on a mutual enthusiasm for gyroplane flight. Once you’ve experienced it, it’s easy to understand how contagious that enthusiasm can be