SKYWHEELS™ ROTOR BLADE MANUFACTURING TO RESUME
Engineered composite rotor blade systems for kit-built and experimental gyroplanes
(River Falls, Wisconsin) June 2, 2020 – Following an eighteen-year production hiatus, Air Command International, a Wisconsin-based company, is pleased to announce its acquisition of Skywheels tooling, test equipment, and intellectual property for the production of rotor systems through its new affiliated company Skywheels, LLC.
Skywheels rotor systems will be manufactured through a new partnership with Blackhawk Composites, Inc. (Blackhawk) in Morgantown, Kentucky. The new website is www.skywheels.com.
According to Air Command and Skywheels President Joe Covelli, “We are thrilled to reintroduce Skywheels and manufacture new sets of rotor blades. The brand has a loyal pilot following and proven performance and safety record of 36 years”. Since 1984, Skywheels and Air Command have been paired together with nearly 3,000 gyroplanes manufactured.
To move the project forward and bring back into production one of the best gyroplane rotor systems ever made, Skywheels LLC partnered with Blackhawk.
“Blackhawk was selected because of its talented team of aerospace engineers, managers, and production staff. Their energetic approach to the project, impressive rotor blade manufacturing results, and commitment to quality was topped off by having the entire manufacturing process audited following AS9100D aerospace standards,” noted Covelli.
“The Blackhawk Team is excited about the opportunity to help reintroduce the Skywheels and Air Command product lines both domestically and internationally,” stated Matt Shieman, Chairman of Blackhawk. “Joe and Blackhawk have a similar passion for bringing newly enhanced products to the Aviation Market.”
“Our expanding strategic relationship with Joe has been a great learning experience for the Blackhawk Team as we become more familiar with the targeted market, customer needs, and possible product enhancements,” said Kaylah West, General Manager of Blackhawk.
This past April, Blackhawk completed the first round of rotor blade sets, which are currently being flown to collect performance data. Pre-orders are now being accepted with deliveries starting in July. Skywheels is available in 23 to 29-foot blade systems; thus, continuing the proven process that exceeds requirements set forth in FAA Part 27 Regulations for normal category rotorcraft.
It was very important to Covelli, as well as former owners Jim McCutchen and Jim Lezié, that Skywheels continued to be manufactured exceptionally well. On March 2, Skywheels founder Jim McCutchen met the Blackhawk Team, toured the operation, and evaluated progress in making rotor blades.
Jim Lezié went to Blackhawk last fall to provide training and an overview of the product and tooling. Covelli noted, “The three of us feel Skywheels is in very capable hands at Blackhawk”. He added, “Mr. McCutchen and Mr. Lezié contributed many hours to the Skywheels project. I look forward to their continued involvement and technical expertise”.
Back in 1984, Skywheels quickly became the leading rotor system for kit-built and experimental gyroplanes. Referred to as “McCutchen Skywheels,” after developer Jim McCutchen, his company manufactured the engineered composite blade-sets from 1984 until 2001, with nearly 3,000 sets delivered.
In 2001, McCutchen was ready to move on to new challenges, and while there were several offers to purchase the tooling, he wanted to make sure the assets would remain within the U.S. At this same time, Jim Lezié was developing his amphibious gyroplanes, and being an open ocean aircraft requiring saltwater compatibility, he had no use for metal blades.
As an Army and California National Guard helicopter pilot and A&P, flying rotorcraft since 1969, he was very familiar with rotorcraft and rotor systems, and he exclusively used Skywheels on his ships and therefore required future Skywheels availability for ongoing development.
Accordingly, he purchased the tooling from McCutchen, and produced blades for himself and others for a few years, when he discontinued production due to a desire to turn his full attention to other aspects of the amphibious gyro project.
Lezié also initiated the first Skywheels.com website that, as he said, he ultimately had to take down as it was taking too much of his time fielding all the inquiries.
Like McCutchen, Lezié also received multiple offers to purchase the Skywheels tooling over the years, however, he had concerns similar to those reflected by McCutchen, and wanted to assure the tooling would not fall into the hands of someone who would not have a full appreciation for the necessary quality fabrication and testing processes consistent with modern airworthiness standards, and of course, customer service consistent with the Skywheels’ reputation and brand.
“It wasn’t until Joe Covelli called me from Air Command, and we had several follow-up conversations, that it became clear to me he was absolutely committed to the level of customer support and quality manufacturing that would assure the perpetuation of the supreme reputation of the Skywheels blades, which to this day are unsurpassed in engineering and performance”, according to Lezié.
He continued, “I can think of no better home for these tools and future production than in combination with Air Command, and it certainly is time that they again become available to those who will settle for nothing less than the best.”
He added, “Of course with Joe as owner and president of Air Command International, the premier gyroplane kit manufacturer in the United States; there was no question he was going to make Skywheels available to the gyro community”.
About Blackhawk Composites, Inc.
Joe Covelli, President Air Command International LLC Skywheels LLC PO Box 884, River Falls, WI 54022 +1 903-527-3335, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lindsay Allmon, Marketing Manager Blackhawk Aerospace 7601 Karl May Dr., Waco, TX 76708 +1 (254) 755-6711, email@example.com
HISTORICAL: Southwest Rotorcraft
DREAM IT -BUILD IT -FLY IT
Bill Wieger Visits Jim McCutchen
I had an order established for a new set of McCutchen brand rotor blades, and wanted to travel to the production facility to satisfy curiosity about how they are created. I was able to schedule such a trip in mid-December,and the photos display my curiosity satisfaction.
His facility shown as an elongated shop, which is located in the extreme southwest of Indiana, north of Princeton and just across the river that puts him in the Eastern Time Zone. He moved there several years ago to produce extraordinary rotor blades for use on proposed acrobat helicopter performance, as part of a venture of such extreme flying for use in commercials.
Technology fell short along with adequate finances so he has resumed production of the well-known Sky Wheels rotor blades. The testing done on the current tweaked version by some pilots has produced high regard for somewhat improved performance providing a bit more speed, a bit better lift, evidently a bit faster rpm, and improved smoothness.
He produces the blades as a solo operation, one set at a time, which amounts to around a several week period of layup and curing. For acquisition, an unavoidable lead time is necessary standard with an order. Jim McCutchen is shown standing by the blade jig, with a blade shown under compression.
The other jig picture is from the end showing a blade curing in the vise, and a set of blades ready for shipping. The top & bottom pictures of a large hub size are shown as they lay open which is the same lay-open beginning of the templates for the blades.
The blades under about 28 feet are made of fiberglass, rather than the carbon fiber that many of us have understood them to be. He lays the fiberglass with glue in the templates as layers at a time and it cures. The blade molds are the compressed together with a leading edge spar, whatever length, and cured (however that actually occurs, forgot to inquire) in the jig.
He incorporates carbon fiber longitudinally in the longer length blades to achieve desired stiffness. In one portion of the shop area,he has an alignment jig and a dynamic testing set-up. The blade & hub are precisely aligned in the jig. The unit is then placed in the rotor tower on the spin unit.
The unit is spun to operational speed and fine-tuned. He has incorporated into the blade tips, an adaptive place for incorporation of a strobe sort of light which will allow observation of tracking with the lights powered somehow by batteries energized in some way by centrifugal force.
The actual light sets are in the refinement stage of development. He commented that he has orders but not a great backlog because the approximately 3,000 of his units currently in service amount to his significant competition. Curiosity satisfied and looking forward to completion of gyro overhaul and resumption of flying as the weather becomes more accommodating.