Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Good and now the Bad 1974

My career in helicopter aviation has gone pretty good up until now.  After returning to the United States from my trip overseas, things were not looking too good and the future of the J-2 was coming to an end.  We moved all of the  J-2 inventory again to a new location in Gardena, CA and then once more to Van Nuys, CA.   I was doing much less flying now.  I could see the hand writing on the wall and did not think things were going to change, given the present conditions.  Fortunately for me, I was earning some additional income from my export aircraft dealings with the people in England.  Each week, more people were getting notices and when pay checks were given out at the end of the week, it was a mad dash to the local Bank of America, to get there before the funds ran out. Finally the company was down to one employee, me.  What was left of the company, was located in a large hangar at the Van Nuys airport. The only reason I was still there, was to finish up a few loose ends and to give a legal deposition involving a law suit against the company.  The law suit was to do with an accident involving a J-2 aircraft back in Michigan.  This involved a couple of days in the court room,  then I too was out on the street, unemployed.  This was no surprise.  I could see it coming and made several financial moves to keep us going for a while.  Actually I was relieved.  Several years before, Jerry Getz had predicted this would happen.  It lasted longer than he said, but I was okay with the situation and this would give me a chance to do a few things that I did not have time for while working.

My resume looked pretty good, but still lacked one very important requirement for me to  move ahead.  I lacked flight time in turbine powered helicopters.  I had a few hours here and there, but none of this time involved actual working conditions.  I had a good friend Don Miles in Long Beach, CA that flew a Bell Jet Ranger for John Wayne and he would give me a little stick time when he could.  Most helicopters at that time operated the same.  Same flight controls,  but the turbine engine offered a few changes.
The difference in cost between an internal combustion and turbine engine was considerable.  It is very easy to mis-manage a turbine engine and the cost for repairs amounts to thousands of dollars.  The bottom line, you have to have this experience before you can expect to be flying helicopters powered by turbine engines.

After applying for a few positions in the Southern California area, I could see this turbine experience was going to be a real issue with most helicopter operators.  More and more turbine powered helicopters were now being used, and more and more Army helicopter pilots were returning after their enlistments were finished.  These guys were great pilots and had the turbine time to boot.  Again, this is not going to be easy.

I was doing a few flights for the city of Lakewood, CA flying their police helicopter for the Los Angeles Sheriffs department.  Also, doing some flight instruction for a helicopter company that was located at the Torrance, CA airport.  These were just part time jobs, but at least I was keeping busy.   I was now an  FAA designated pilot Examiner for the FAA office in Santa Monica, CA.  I was able to charge a fee for each flight test given.

Bell BH-206 Jet Ranger III

I decided to go to the Bell Helicopter factory, which was located in Dallas, TX for one week and get a check out at their school for the Bell Jet Ranger.  A week of ground school and several hours of flight time.  This would be at a considerable expense to myself and money I hated to spend while I was not working.  It was a good decision and paid off in spades.  The factory school is by far the best training you could receive in the world.  They have a staff of flight instructors that demonstrate the use of their product to the Nth degree.

Bell BH-206 helicopter instrument panel

The Bell Jet Ranger was the workhorse of the helicopter industry.  So this was a good start and after receiving the training at the factory, I had hoped this would help open a few doors.  Next stop, The Grand Canyon..............................

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Time spent in England 1973

All of us who have been flight instructors have hoped that when they were tasked to train a new student pilot or to check out a pilot in a new aircraft, that the training would go smoothly.  Some people receive instruction very well and others seem to never get it.  Mike Woodley was one of those pilots,  everything came without any difficulty.  Show him once how it's done, and he had it down.  This was going to be a relaxed effort on my part.  We did spend a lot of time practicing the required flight maneuvers for the additional rating, but also we took advantage of the needed flight time and toured several small airports around the Southern parts of England.  Some of these  old airfields were probably  used during the second world war, where B-17 bomber groups were staged for bombing missions to Germany.

Old control tower from a WWII B-17 airfield in England

I was just a 10 year old kid when all this was going on in 1944. Attending a small grade school, Mc Elroy Dagg located in North Kansas City, Missouri.  I would have probably never had an opportunity to visit this part of the world otherwise.  The war to us was reading the headlines in the daily newspaper,  going on scrap metal or old tire collection drives for the war effort.  Every now and then war bonds were sold in the class rooms or stamps to be placed in booklets.  Walking down the streets of my home town and seeing the flags hanging in the windows of homes where a son or father was off to war. For the nearly two months I spent in this part of the world, it did give me a chance to put this  in perpective and try to make sense of  where some of the wars history took place.

Mike Woodly finished the training in record time.  Mike and I became good friends and it was a pleasure to have trained him.  We were having dinner one night at the hotel restaurant and he was telling me his company was looking for used aircraft.  He would go to Africa and buy airplanes to be brought back to England and sold.  I asked Mike to consider  coming to the United States.  I could find him plenty of  airplanes in the Southern California area.  Later on, for a brief period of time, I became an exporter of used airplanes.  I would locate the aircraft and send the information to Mike, later on,  he would come and inspect the airplanes. I had a local company that would ferry these airplanes to England.  This made for a nice sideline for me while it lasted.

Jack and I had an early morning nonstop flight from London to Los Angeles.  We caught a train from Brighton to London and spent the night before our flight the next morning.  International flights always take so long to check in and go thought the customs clearing process.  When the flight was called, we stood in line and had our tickets and passports out for the final boarding.  When the inspector got to me and checked my passport, he had a puzzled look on his face.  I waited for a moment and then asked what was wrong.  He showed me the passport and said there was no record of me ever entering England.  Remember in the previous post, I opted to bypass Dover, England and fly on to Shoreham by Sea.  This was a major mistake on my part.  Dover, was a designated port of entry.  When I left France and proceeded to England, my flight plan required me to first land at Dover and clear customs.  My passport would have been stamped and there would have been no problem.  But this did not happen and now I had a  major problem.  I was pulled aside and out of line.  A senior customs inspector then came down to the gate to talk to me. After much  explaining, I was finally allowed to board the flight.  So, back to the U.S.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Finished in France and now off to England 1973

Jack and I left early in the morning from the hotel so that I could get an early start.  We drove once more around the  Arc de Triomphe on our way to the Le Bourget airport.  It's hard to believe that it was finished in 1836 and 12 avenues lead into the one way circular

Arc de Triomphe

drive that goes around this monument.   You just enter the traffic and don't look right until you are ready to exit at your street.  Jack dropped me off at the hanger and I started my preflight and loaded the aircraft.  I filed my flight plan for Le Havre, France.  Here I would clear customs and refuel the aircraft before heading out across the English channel to the Southern coast of the United Kingdom.  I taxied out and requested a clearance for takeoff and I was on my way.  I took up a course to the North, Northwest and this would take me out to the coast of France.  Then I would proceed along the coastline until I reached Le Havre.
Navigation should not be a problem, even with out aviation charts.  The weather was good and I did not foresee any problems with this leg of my flight.  I had time for a quick lunch and then to find the office where I would file another flight plan and clear customs.  I was  instructed to make a radio call in the blind when I reached mid channel and then proceed on to Dover, England.  After takeoff from Le Havre I continued up the coast.  As I followed the coastline, I looked down at the beaches and wondered how it must have been back in June of 1944 where the D-Day invasion of France took place. When I was South of Calais, France, I banked the aircraft and turned out to sea towards England.  My flight over water would be approximately 30 miles.  It doesn't sound like very far, but when you are flying a land based aircraft and without any survival gear, not even a life vest, you can be a bit skeptical.  After a while, I could not see land from either of the coastlines of France or England.  I made my radio call to the French authorities and kept my heading steady for Dover.  In a little while as I looked through the haze, I could start to see the the outline of the English coastline.  What a beautiful sight.  In time I could see the city of Dover, but after making a check on fuel, I decided to bypass Dover and proceed on to the Shoreham by Sea airport.  I continued my flight along the South coast of England and in about an hour I could see my destination on the horizon.  Shoreham by Sea, is a quaint little resort village near the coast, but located on a back bay

Shoreham by Sea

inlet.  The airport was just West of town and I made my call requesting landing instructions.  I received a clearance for landing from a tower operator with a beautiful  English speaking voice.  Having been in France for almost a month, you almost feel like it's impossible to communicate with anyone most of the time.  I enjoyed my time while there, but it was getting to be very irritating with the language issue.  I was going to be working for a company, Spooner Aviation while here, and I would train one pilot, Mike Woodley.
Jack would not be arriving until later, so I arranged for a rental car.  It was decided we would stay in a hotel nearby in a small town called Hove.  As I am driving to the hotel,  I become very aware that driving on the other side of road is  not just a matter of moving over, you really have to rethink what has been so second natured in you driving habits.  I rented a car with a manual shift, but the next day I exchanged it for one with an automatic transmission.  Everything was backwards and I just could not concentrate on my driving and make my way around, and consider myself safe.  I checked into the hotel where a wedding reception was going on in a large open room off of the lobby.  I was invited in by someone I did not know and they thought I was there for the reception.  So I enjoyed a couple of drinks and shook hands with several strangers and then went to my room to wait for Jack to arrive.  Later that night I got a knock at the door and Jack had finally made his way to the hotel.  I figured we would be here about two weeks and we could plan for our departure back to the United States sometime after that...................................

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Le Blanc, France 1973

I must say that it is not always possible to enjoy the things to see and do in the different parts of the world when you are working.  Work generally takes a priority over everything else and so a lot can be missed out on if time does not permit it.  The other thing that enters the picture, is there is always time constraints and a schedule to maintain.  We were not on a tight schedule for this assignment, but I did have a lot to do and weather and unforeseen maintenance problems were always a concern.  Most of my time was focused on two of the three student pilots and the third pilot when ever he could find time for flight training.  I couldn't help thinking about WWII and the major battles that must have been fought in these wide open spaces of France.  So much of the country was not populated and every now and then you would see an enormous mansion, or maybe you could even call it a French castle.

A French Chateau

It was not uncommon to see these large old buildings like this sprawled over big acreages.   The training went very well and I was able to complete all the flight training necessary to give flight checks.  The third remaining pilot elected not to continue the training because of his other business commitments.  One thing I did learn about this small village community, is that they were very active in flying gliders.  On the weekends the families would gather at the small  airport and take turns flying several club gliders.  The women would prepare picnic lunches and the kids would play games in the grassy fields.  Everyone throughout the day would help out taking turns flying the tow airplane or helping hold the wings of the gliders in place to make ready for take off.

I had time to get a little stick time in a glider

So with the training and other business nearly completed, Jack and I were at least taking advantage of all the hospitality that was given us during our stay.  Sometimes at the days end.  We would sit outside on the sidewalks in front of our hotel and enjoy a glass of wine and wave and visit with the local people.

Hotel in Le Blanc, France

One of the student pilots I trained, Pierre Ding (pictured below).  What a character.  We became good friends and later on we met up in the United States.  Pierre rode a very vintage Harley Davidson motorcycle and many times late at night, I could hear him roaring down the empty streets of Le Blanc from my hotel room.  I think he was quite surprised that I could ride his motorcycle without any difficulty.  These old Harley's had what was called a suicide clutch and were not user friendly to the rider.  I cut my teeth on riding old Harley's in my younger days.  Like anything else, you never forget.

Pierre Ding and his vintage Harley

We had been here in Le Blanc for nearly three weeks and it was time for us to pack up and head back to Paris in our rental car.  Jack slept all the way back allowing me to do the driving.  If you think folks in California are rude drivers, it's nothing like driving in France.  These people would honk their horns at you and roll down the window and shake their fist.  Jack and I arrived back in Paris late in the day and checked back into our hotel just across from the Eiffel Tower.  We treated ourselfs to a nice big dinner and discussed our plans for our trip to England.  Jack would catch a train from Paris and go out to the coast of the English Channel and I would go back to the Le Bourget airport and prepare the J-2 for the channel crossing.  We were all done in France and I was looking forward to being in a country where everyone spoke English.  More on this later.............................

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A trip to France and later to England 1973

The company was downsized from over 200 employees to less than 60.  Also they hired a few new people to improve the marketing of the J-2.  Bill Poremba was first to come on board and he had decided to look into the  international  market, to see if the foreign buyers were interested in our aircraft.  The 1973 Paris airshow was coming up and this would be a big undertaking to transport two aircraft to France.  At first I was not included in the initial group that was going over, but I was told to apply for a passport. Later on I got the word to pack my bags and to pickup a ticket at the TWA ticket counter.  The flight departed Los Angeles to New York and then on to London with a brief stop and finally on to Paris.  We departed LAX in the afternoon and it seemed like I had been on the airplane nearly 12 or 15 hours.  I know after I cleared customs and caught a cab to the hotel where everyone was staying, it was sometime in the morning.  Most of our people were in the dining room having breakfast.  I met with Fred McLane where he informed me that I would have a flight demonstration around noon that day.  I was drop dead tired and suffering from jet lag.  I begged off for a few hours of sleep,  I did not have a clue about how it was going to be flying out of the Le Bourget airport.  I guess if Charles Lindbergh did it 46 years earlier with very little sleep, I could manage too.  It just would have been nice to get a briefing from one of the local pilots and a few more hours of sleep.  The Paris airshow is a big deal.  I had never been to this event and I was looking forward to seeing some of the new flying hardware from around the country.

1973 Paris Airshow

Our display aircraft were parked under the wing of an MD-11 and we were getting lots of looks by the crowds of people attending the show.  The first day I was there, the Russians lost their SST aircraft just outside of the airport.  They were hauling in the larger pieces of wreckage on trucks of the airplane as I enter the airport.  Fred McLane did his magic again, and sold both aircraft in six days at the show.  It looked like I would train a total of four pilots.  One J-2 was sold to a company in south central France.  A very small town, Le Blanc.  I was to train three pilots there and then return to Paris.  Later on I would fly the remaining J-2 from France to England via the English channel.  I would train at least one pilot in England, at a small coastal town near Brighton, called Shoreham by Sea.  Jack Anderson who came along with me, would be doing the support maintenance on the two aircraft and also give training to the mechanics at each location.  Jack would pickup a rental car in Paris and drive on to Le Blanc.  I departed about midday with very little in the way of aviation charts to help me navigate to a town that was no more than a dot on the map.  The hangar where  we kept the J-2's, was very close to the UTA airlines offices on the Le Bourget airport.  In most cases, internationally, I think pilots and aviation people are willing to help each other out when you are in their territory.  Not so at UTA, I couldn't get the time of the day, let alone a sectional aviation chart for the regions of France I would be flying in.  Everything was so busy with the airshow, I just couldn't seem to find anyone willing to give me some assistance.  I finally found a book store in Paris that had Michelin road maps and this would be my primary source for how to get there.  I followed several major highways to the south and about an hour and a half into the flight I found an airport where I could make a fuel stop.  The airport was a joint civilian/military use airport and the control tower was maned by military personal.  I might point out that all the foreign control tower operators spoke English.  But with a very heavy accent. Often it was not easy to understand their transmissions.  Another thing that I found out which was very true, is that most people in France do and can speak in English, but they often don't just to be rude.  I'm finding out that French people don't like Americans.

Refueling the J-2 at an airport in central France

I made a call to the airport control tower several times but I never got a reply.  Based on the wind direction, I selected a runway and landed without a clearance.
As I taxied into the ramp, I was met by the French Military police.  These people were very fascinated with the J-2 and they gathered around to have a closer look at the aircraft.  Also it was explained to me, that it was lunch time and no one was in the tower at time I called in.  They were happy to refuel the aircraft, but I did not have a Shell credit card which was normally used by pilots flying private civilian aircraft in France.  I had French money, but they could not except cash for payment of fuel.   The base commander came down to the flight line and deliberated for a while and decided they would just give me the fuel.  I had entertained them enough.

I taxied out to the runway and made my takeoff.  As I looked back down at the flight line, I could see a lot of friendly waves.  So I guess all Frenchman are not unfriendly.  All the little towns in France look alike.  Many old buildings with red tile roofs.  I followed my road map very carefully and based on elapsed flight time, I should be getting near the town of Le Blanc, France.  Sure enough I looked up ahead and could see a small town and what looked like a grass field with a single unpaved runway.  When I saw a couple of airplanes parked near buildings which I guess were hangars, I figured this is where I was going.

Le Blanc, France

As I was coming in for a landing, I snapped this picture of the town.  This is how most small towns looked throughout France. Hundereds of years old with a lot of history.  Jack and I should be at this location for several weeks.  I think we were the only two Americans in the town, in a short amout of time, everyone knew us very well.  The people were very friendly and we stayed in the only hotel that was in the city.  Once you are out of the bigger cities, English is not widly spoken. so we did our best to communicate with the local citizens.  I must say, this was a really great experience, and very challenging too.  More on this later................................

Sunday, August 22, 2010

I'm back in California and now working for Aero Resources....... 1973

I now know where I am going to be at, for at least the next year.  My contract agreement paid a bonus at the end of a year which was an incentive for me to stay put.  I was still commuting back and forth between Lake Havasu and Los Angeles which was beginning to get old.  I went to George Morton  and asked if I could move back to Los Angeles.  He agreed, and the company arranged for a moving van to relocate me.  We did some looking again in the Long Beach, CA area, but opted to buy a house in Cypress, CA.  The house was small, but ideal for us. The location was directly across from an elementary school and it was about a one hour drive to Gardena, CA where Aero Resources was located.  Also this was close to the Compton, CA airport.  Not the best part of town, but a very nice airport.  Most of our engineers were from the aerospace industry.  We had some good people and we continued to make attempts to improve the J-2.  The noise problem was still with us and one day I  got a call from someone who was very irate that lived nearby, threatening to shoot at me if I didn't stop flying over his house. The  traffic pattern for a non controlled airport was already defined, so I had no control over altitude or patterns. This was Compton where the crime rate was very high, so I didn't doubt his word.  The airport was surrounded with low income housing and it was not unusual to hear gun shots fired in the course of the day.  I know the hanger we worked out of, had several bullet holes.
Mountains near the Big Bear, CA airport
This is one of those places you could be surfing in the waves at Huntington Beach, CA and one hour later you could be skiing on the slopes at Big Bear. The airport was kind of carved out of a flat spot on top of the mountain and then in the surrounding areas was mostly very tall Ponderosa pine trees in the range of 100 feet. Also a very nice lake off to the end of the airport.

Me at the Big Bear, CA airport

We had some performance limitations on takeoff altitudes and decided to do some flight test at the Big Bear, CA airport which was located in the mountains of the San Bernardino National Forest.  The airport elevation was 6750 feet above sea level and this was almost 3000 feet greater than our 4000 foot operating limitation.  It was also planned to do test flights for increased gross weight and to improve the fuel system.

Actually the J-2 behaved at altitude very well at normal gross weights, but when you added additional weight under the seat box, the aircraft became a lead sled.  I found this out after making my first takeoff of the day early in the morning.  As I started down the runway, I could tell the aircraft just didn't want to fly under these conditions.  Nearing the end of the airport runway, I was able to gain a few feet of altitude, but I could not increase my airspeed or height above the ground.  I have now left the end of the airport and I am skimming along over the lake.  This situation has happened to me before.  I am stuck in an envelope with no place to go.  If I were a little higher above the lake, I could lower the nose to gain airspeed and then increase my altitude.  But if I do this, I would have touched back down in the lake, and I know the lake water is very cold.  This always seemed to happen when you least expected it. Most of the time in a place where you could not correct the situation without having an accident.  If nothing is up ahead and you keep a steady tight grip on the flight controls, you could nurse the aircraft back into the air.  Which I did and then all was well.  I had to burn off some fuel, so I decided to fly away from the airport and see some of the mountains nearby.  Also this would take some of the noise away from nearby residents at the airport.  About 45 minutes later while flying over an area with nothing but tall trees below, the engine quit.  I have had engine failures before, but this one did not leave many options for a safe landing.  My first instinct was to check fuel.  I looked at the fuel gage and it indicated 3/4's of a tank.  I cranked the engine a few times, but still it would not start.  I selected the other tank and it indicated empty, so selected back to the fullest tank.  I'm loosing altitude now and no place to land.  I was prepared to make a crash landing in an open area with terrain that had sloping hills.  The J-2 because of the way it was shaped and designed,  it was considered to be a good crashable design.  If you can call that good!  I had once heard this statement made at a sales presentation.  In my books, no kind of crashing is good.  As I was preparing for my crash landing, I tightened my seat belts and pulled the chin strap tight on my helmet.  At the same time I put out a mayday to the airport and gave them my approximate position.  I still had a ways to go and out of the corner of my eye at the last second, I spotted an area where houses were going to be built later on,  in this location.  Also I could see a 75 foot circle of blacktop which I guess would be a cul-de-sac.  Only problem I could see now, is that this area was surrounded by more of those very tall pine trees.  Technically, the pilot had no control over the fixed pitch blade setting on the rotor system.  It was either a flat pitch setting during the start sequence or at a 4.5 degree pitch setting in normal flight.  But I had discovered early on in some of my test flights, that you could lower the pitch control lever and increase the rotor RPM.  Then when you were near the ground, you could let up on the lever and all the lift energy in the rotor was restored for a short period of time.  This would enable you to soften your touchdown just  like a helicopter.  A very unapproved procedure, but I was trying to save my bacon.  The increased rate of decent, allowed me to maneuver down in between the tall trees and when I touched down on the small blacktop circle of pavement, I applied the brakes and came to a stop in 13 feet.  While I was waiting for someone to arrive an elderly couple came up to me and asked when I was going to takeoff.  Of course this would have been impossible even if the engine would have run properly.  Still I am curious as why the darn engine quit on me.  After some checking, I found out that the fuel selector had been installed backwards.  Earlier during my flight when I selected the tank that indicated zero, it actually had fuel.  Had I attempted to crank the engine, it would have probably started.  But I didn't know this at the time and you are always taught to select the fullest fuel tank.  The Sheriffs department contacted me later and thanked me for not crashing, as they would have had to make a very lengthy report.  The aircraft had to be disassembled and trucked back to our plant in Gardena, CA.  This made for an exciting day and everything turned out okay.  All in a days work..............................

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mc Culloch Aircraft Part 5

My daughter Holly and Fred McLane's son, 1972
Living in Lake Havasu was a memorable time, actually that is why I live here now.  We had some great times for the two years we lived here in 1971 and 1972.  I can honestly say it was almost like a vacation on a tropical island.  Sure it was very hot in the summer months, but social life was very simple.  Each weekend, we would load up our boats and head for a nice sandy beach at the lake.  The adults would spend time visiting and the kids would play on the beach and enjoy the cool lake water.
Mc Culloch families on a Saturday afternoon

So life out of the big city and no freeways and all the hassle  that goes with it, was not too bad.

This was all about to change.  The company was going to be downsized and there was talk that everything would be moved back to California.  Mc Culloch Aircraft was sold to a man by the name of George Morton and the company  would be renamed Aero Resources which was located in Gardena, CA.  A lot of people lost their jobs and some moved away.  I elected to stay in Havasu but would commute to Los Angeles, CA.  I would leave on Sunday evenings and come home on Friday afternoon.  Not the best arrangement, but I needed time to think things out.  The company was paying the expenses for my travel and stay while in California.  Most of the time I could fly both ways.  Sometimes I would drive.

One day out of nowhere, Dick Caldwell was knocking on my door.  How these people found me, I'll never know.  I worked for Dick in Indiana and now he was offering me a job in Kansas City, MO. With all that was going on at the time, I must say it was all I could do to contain my excitement.  He gave me a round trip airline ticket for travel to Kansas City and about a week later I met with him and a couple of other people who were going to establish a new company.  The company was going to use the turbine powered Hughes 500 helicopter and offer a shuttle service between downtown Kansas City and the new international airport which was located several miles to the north of the city.  It was a good offer, we shook hands and I accepted.  It would be good to be back home in Kansas City and I didn't see that their was going to be any future  continuing with my present position.

At that time, I was overseeing the Production Flight Test of new aircraft, and  also I had assumed the role of the companies chief experimental  test pilot.

J-2 experimental test flight at Compton, CA airport

Times were beginning to get tough and our nations economy was looking like some bad times ahead. People were lining up at the gas stations on the odd and even schedules.  I was not receiving any additional compensation for taking extra risk for these types of experimental test  flights.  My decision to go else where was not a difficult one to make.  Moving back and forth across the country was not anything new to me, and I felt like leaving this job and getting back into helicopters is where I belonged.  I really looked forward to being back in my old stomping grounds.  Here was the situation, company was moving, sales were down with big layoffs, I had a new job offer and I was risking my neck for nothing.  I still had a few weeks of work left and was having dinner one night with Fred McLane at a California restaurant.  Fred was really a good friend and was doing his best to persuade me to stay on with the company.  But I had made my decision and I was going to stick with it.  I later went back to my hotel room and an idea came to my head.  I would speak to Fred in the morning and present him with a way that I would consider staying.  As we sat at the breakfast table, I could tell Fred was anxious to hear my deal.  I told Fred I would consider staying with the company, providing they could meet my terms.  I felt life was too short.  I was taking some big risk and I wanted something for it.  I asked for a big, big chunk of money right up front and several other things that would be written into a contract.  I thought Fred was going to choke.  This  would end these conversations and I knew the company would never meet my demands.  Fred then asked, if I would  make my pitch to George Morton, the new company president.  We were all going back to Havasu later in the day and I would have a meeting that night with Mr. Morton.  When I got home I told my wife of what had happened and she was very disappointed that I would even consider an offer from the company.  I told her not to worry, it was a ridiculous proposition and no one in their right mind would consider it.  Just to be on the safe side, before meeting Morton, I decided I would up the ante several thousand dollars more.  Fred was not going to be there, so no one would know the difference.  My offer was accepted and a check and a signed written contract was on my desk the following Monday morning.  I don't know if I signed my life away or not, but I went over to Phoenix the following weekend and bought myself a nearly new Corvette.  It felt good!  Several weeks went by and I got word that the newly formed company in Kansas City that I was going to go to work for, closed it's doors and they never got off the ground with the shuttle service.  Again, I think this was another stroke of luck.  More on this, later.......................

Friday, August 20, 2010

Mc Culloch Aircraft Part 4

Flight training was going very well. We were getting pilots in for training from all around the country. Even a few foreign pilots. Several aviation magazines sent pilots to us for training so that they could go back and write reviews for their magazines. We also hired a third flight instructor. Mike Blackstone, a good friend of Dan's and an excellent choice. Mike checked out in the J-2 and it was great to have him on our training staff. So we were very busy at the airport seven days a week. It was so hot during the daylight hours that we started our day very early and then in the afternoon, we finished all flight training early. Our office and training area was located on the airport and very near the lake. Sometimes during the day, I would walk down to the lakes edge, take ever thing out of my pockets and just walk into the lake. I wore flight suits and by the time I got back to the aircraft for my next flight, I would be practically dry. The engine on the J-2 was air cooled and had no internal cooling fan in the engine bay area. The extreme heat took it's toll in the course of the day. Cylinder head and oil temps would max out even when climbing to an altitude of three thousand feet above the ground. Also any aircraft with a pusher prop configuration, was usually inherently noisy. The noise also cause a lot of cracks due to vibration in the firewall located behind the pilots seat back. We wore headsets that were lined with lead to dampen the noise, but still after a one hour flight your ears would be ringing for a long time afterwards. This problem stayed with us throughout the duration of the aircraft. It produced a lot of external noise and it did not make us neighborhood friendly. Engineering thought over time they could correct this problem, but it never happened. Once I flew the J-2 a short distance without a headset, and my head pounded for hours. Somehow throughout all of this, I maintained my hearing. I'm sure I experience some hearing loss, but I never failed a flight physical because of the hearing test given once each year.

J-2 Instrument Panel

From time to time, I would travel around in the field and check on pilots we had trained to see if anyone was having any problems. My wife had gone back to Long Beach, CA and she underwent her second hip surgery and was now back home in Havasu. Having left Indiana, we had completed both of our goals. Things were still looking pretty good at McCulloch, but sales of new aircraft had slowed down and we were stock piling new aircraft in several vacant lots near the factory. Whenever we needed a new aircraft, we would go up to one of the storage lots, roll out the aircraft to the street. When no traffic was coming, we made our takeoff and preceded to the airport.

Ken McGuire and myself

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Mc Culloch Aircraft Part 3

After the first of the year, flight training finally got underway at the Lake Havasu City, AZ location. One of the first aircraft dealers was located at the Long Beach, CA airport. I trained their first pilot, Ken McGuire.  Again, I had to send for the FAA examiner out of Los Angeles, CA to come over and give Ken a flight test.  It was then decided that the FAA would send two of their FAA pilot examiners over to Havasu for training.  Miles Ruggenburg from Phoenix and Neal Savoy from Long Beach, CA.  I trained both of these pilots so that they could give flight check rides for us in the future.  At this time it looked like there was going to be several people coming to Havasu for training and that I was going to need another flight instructor to help out.  I met Dan O'Connell in Long Beach, CA and called him one day to see if he might be interested.  He had no background in helicopters but was one great pilot and flight instructor in airplanes.  It seemed to me it would be better to train someone like this with no previous experience and have a fresh start with no preconceived ideas.  This really worked out great and Dan was worth his weight in gold.

Dan O'Connell and Pioneer Autogyro Pilot George Townsend
click to enlarge

 I got a call from the office one day,  Ken McGuire had an accident while on a training flight with a student at the Compton, CA airport.  When they touched down, after landing the aircraft started to veer back and forth across the runway and finally rolling over.  No injuries, but the aircraft was destroyed.  This raised some eye browse at the company, but the cause of the accident was undetermined and still under investigation.

Mc Culloch J-2 Gyroplane at Havasu click to enlarge
We continued our flight training at Havasu and the dealer in Long Beach, CA was provided with another new aircraft.  Several weeks later, another call came in, Ken McGuire had another roll over accident at Compton, CA airport.  Almost identical to the first one.  Now there was  greater concern and all flight operations were grounded.  I now became an accident investigator.  I just didn't know what was causing these accidents and did not have a whole lot to go on, based on the several interviews I had with the people involved in the two accidents.  The aircraft had nose wheel steering through the rudder pedals, but the steering mechanism was dampened so that it could not be over controlled.  Engineering had a theory that the angle of the nose wheel landing gear was incorrect.  If this was the case, it would be a major modification.  Also, the changes would have to be blessed by the FAA again and it would take some time to accomplish these changes.  For the time being, we were out of something to do.  No flight activity was allowed and everyone was scratching their head.  Jim Richart and Newton Harris decided to try and duplicate the two accident that Ken McGuire had at the Compton airport.  They choose to do this flight test at the Lancaster, CA airport on the high desert.  Sure enough, they were able to roll the aircraft over while moving on the ground at 7 MPH.  Nobody wanted to believe this, but this aircraft was inherently dangerous while on the ground moving at slow speeds.  The problem was corrected in a quick fashion and we were back in business.

Mc Culloch J-2 Gyroplane
If you are every out Arizona way, you can see one of these aircraft hanging from the rafters of one of the hangars at the Pima Air Museum located in Tucson, AZ.  Less than 100 aircraft were built before the company went out of business.  Manufacturing was done in Lake Havasu City, AZ.  In almost exactly two years, the company was moved to a new location in Gardena, CA and then moved again to Van Nuys.  Finally all activity stopped and the company went out business. In the next post, I'll tell more about some of the things that happened in those last years of operation.

Bill Evans seated in a J-2 Gyroplane

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mc Culloch Aircraft Part 2

I am getting settled in my new job (boy, I have said this before) and it's pretty obvious that my new boss, Jim Richert is playing a game with me. I think I had mentioned earlier, I was a bit skeptical.  I must have prepared and rewritten that J-2 Flight Manual 25 times.    I felt like a high school kid turning in an essay in English class and getting it returned with lots of red correction marks.  I had a really nice gal working for me that would retype the manual and while I wasn't doing anything else, it kept me busy. Also my wife had her first hip replacement surgery and I was able to stay close by during that time.  We were getting closer by the day on completing the certification on the J-2 Gyroplane.  Finally in late November of 1970, the company made the announcement that it was approved by the FAA.  The company had a large dinner party to celebrate the event.  Meanwhile I was going down to Thermal, CA and getting some stick time in the J-2.  On the ground it handled like an airplane, in the air it was somewhat like a helicopter.  It required a level hard surface for both takeoff and landings and it would not hover.  It would land in a very short distance, but the takeoffs were something else.  Even with all the lengthy test that were done during the certification process, the aircraft had some very dangerous tendencies that no one knew about and some of this would come to light later on.  Also a few of the problems with this aircraft that the engineering folks thought could be corrected later on, it was not to be, it would be impossible.  This all came at a great expense and still the aircraft had some very undesirable characteristics.  Like my good friend Jerry Getz said, it would take them a couple of years to find out all of this.  Jim came to me one day while we were training at the Thermal airport , and said, the FAA examiner will be over tomorrow to give me a flight test for both my commercial and flight instructor rating in the aircraft.  This was really kind of a joke, in as much as the FAA was not checked out in the aircraft either.  But this is the way it was done and far be it for me to complain, I just want to get on with the job I was hired for.  Also at the time, another pilot, Newton Harris was checking out too and he was someone I knew from my Little Rock days and Fred had hired him to work in the Production Flight Test of new aircraft.
                                                                    Mc Culloch J-2 Gyroplane
Meanwhile, it looks like I am going to get started with training pilots in the J-2. Jim came to me one day and said I should look for a place to live in the Lancaster, CA area. Flight training would more than likely be done at the local airport. Also, Long Beach, CA had been mentioned. This would have been fine with me, I lived around the corner from the airport. I drove up to the high desert and looked at houses in the city of Lancaster. We found several, but to tell you the truth, I was not too excited about moving out of the greater Los Angeles area. A couple more weeks went by and it was almost Christmas time again. Fred called me into his office one day and told me that it had been decided that the flight training would be done in Lake Havasu City, AZ, and I would be moving after the first of the year. I was shocked, I had never heard of the place before and I was not too thrilled with the idea of leaving California. Again, things are not always what they seem to be at first. We drove over to Arizona and looked the place over. The company put us up in a nice hotel right on the lake. The town was about five thousand people and everything was pretty much new. Luck was on my side again. Not only was I moving to Arizona, so was everyone else in the entire company. Rental houses would be hard to find. But maybe not, in driving around, I spotted a nice house for rent and we were able to sign a rental contract that very day. Again, the old red piano, was going to make one more trip. We returned to California and began the task of packing and and getting ready for our move. I hated to leave California at the time, but my first impressions of the newly formed Arizona city, looked pretty inviting.

Sunset at Lake Havasu City, AZ
Also the town was founded by Mr. Robert Mc Culloch, the same people that owned the company I was working for. More on Mc Culloch Aircraft in the next post..................

Monday, August 16, 2010

Mc Culloch Aircraft Part 1

While visiting with Jerry Getz, I asked him what he thought about my decision to go with McCulloch.  He looked at the  preliminary copy of the Flight Manual for the J-2 Gyroplane and said, he thought it was a good move, and by the time they figured it out, they had made a big mistake, a couple of years will have passed.  I had to agree with him, but my goals were a little different at the time. Yes, I wanted to think a move like this would be permanent, and you could maybe think of long term employment in one place with one company.  I had my doubts, but getting my wife's surgery taken care of and also to leave behind that dreadful winter we had just endured in Indiana.  I remember asking Dick Caldwell about how much snow they get in this part of Indiana,   Dick hesitated for a moment, and then said, oh, this part of Indiana is not in the snow belt.  Wrong!  I had been up and down this highway so many times, I think they knew me by my first name all along the way.  Interstate 10 and 40 were not  completed yet, so we were still traveling along parts of the country's mother road, Route 66.  As we passed through Needles, CA, I turned to my wife, with a big smile on my face and said, it's great to be back in California.  I don't know what the magic of being back in this state was, but I felt secure and I never gave much thought to any problems that might come our way in the future. So it was California, here I come!  I located a house over in Lakewood, CA that was badly in need of cleaning and fixing, but I was able to make a deal with the landlord to rent the house.  It was about a 40 minute drive to El Segundo.  The next day I checked in for my first day of work.  Freddy introduced me to everyone and they assigned me  a work station with a desk.   At the present time, they only had one prototype J-2 gyroplane that was mostly being used for flight test and certification flights. A checkout for me in the aircraft would be delayed for a while and have to wait.  The chief pilot was Jim Richert who for the time being would be my boss.  Jim's personality was very different,  and I got a funny feeling about him, right from the beginning.   When you first meet someone like this, they seem nice enough, but they also show a side you don't always trust.  Seems like every company you work for, their is always someone like this.  Until I came along, Jim was the one and only pilot at the company.  He had a background in aeronautical engineering, so he pretty much had a lot to say about how things were done.  Jim hired me, so I didn't worry too much about my first impressions.  Getting a new aircraft certificated is a long drawn out process and especially with the FAA group we had to work with in the Western Region of the United States.  The end result, was it took a lot longer than anyone expected.  Meanwhile I was busy shuffling paper and making new friends that worked for the company.  Fred McLane was busy traveling around the country promoting the J-2 Gyroplane and setting up new dealers.  I'll have to give him credit for his salesmanship.  He had a network spread out from East to West, and the dealers had committed to over 100 aircraft.  Each dealer would be required to have at least two pilots trained and in some cases maybe more.  So things really looked good.  I was assigned to write a finished flight manual for the aircraft.  This was a bit difficult in as much as I had never been in or flown the aircraft.  Even though I had experience in flying both airplanes and helicopters, not a whole lot of it could be directed to the J-2.
click to enlarge
I was with McCulloch Aircraft  from 1970 thru 1975. I was now 36 years old and I didn't feel that I had accomplished that much in life.  I would have rather been flying helicopters, but sometimes the opportunities don't always go your way.  I was beginning to get some recognition in the aviation world, but just couldn't make the right connections. Certainly I was not well known in the California area.  One positive thing about being back on the west coast, there were a lot of helicopters and operators, so at least I was in the right place for the time being.  The J-2 Gyroplane was so unusual and the people behind this new idea were very enthusiastic about it's future. They had the backing of a many millionaire, Robert McCulloch and he was equally excited about his investment.
As time went on I got a lot of teasing from my helicopter friends, but still I can look back at my time spent at McCulloch, and I can see a few doors that opened for me that probably would not have otherwise. In the several years that I worked at McCulloch, I wore several hats and was assigned to a few different positions.  I accumulated some 2000 flight hours in this  weird looking machine and could brag to my friends that this flight time was all in autorotation.  I started as the companies Chief Flight Instructor, heading up the flight training for the company.  Later on I took on the responsibilities of Production Flight Test.  This is where new aircraft when assembled and finished, they are flight tested for the first time, and then certified. Later on, I was assigned to do all the experimental test flying.  A couple of years of doing this, qualified me to become a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.  A very prestigious organization that had many famous aviation names like Armstrong and Yeager. It's my hope, to tell you all the great stories that happened in these five plus years.  I traveled all over the United States and flew in Europe, both in England and France.  Sure some of my fellow pilot friends would question why I would have taken a position with this company.  At times, I wasn't sure myself, but looking back, I would not have missed it for anything.  So please read on, I'm sure you will enjoy hearing about these flying adventures too...................

Friday, August 13, 2010

West bound again

Once again, we were singing that Willie Nelson song, On the road again. All packed and ready to head west.  Unfortunately, just before leaving,  I received word, that Jerry Getz, had an accident while flying a helicopter on one of their contract pipeline patrols. His passenger, a good friend, Mac Minor was killed and Jerry had near fatal injuries and was in critical condition.  The cause of the accident was not know at the time, but early reports, possibly, that before they crashed, he experience an engine overspeed and a sudden loss of rotor RPM.  Jerry Getz had flown in two wars both in Korea and Vietnam and was one of the few successful operators to fly the Cessna Skyhook helicopter for a couple of years. Probably one of the best helicopter pilots in the country.  A pioneer in helicopter aviation and was extremely safety conscious.  The Hughes 269A had a very low inertia rotor system which meant it did not have a lot of energy in a non powered state.  If the engine fails or if for some reason power is not being transferred to the main rotor shaft that turns the rotor, rotor RPM decays very quickly.  In normal autorotation, the helicopter will descend at a very high rate of descent.  When operating at  low altitudes, which would be typical for this type of flight activity, this does not give you much time to take any kind of emergency action to land the helicopter safely.  Also, when you do all the right things, then it is necessary for you to have a suitable place to land.  It does not have to be a large space, but a reasonable level, hard surface, would be preferred.
Later on, it was thought that the cause of the accident was thought to be a problem with the fixed metal lock for the clutch lever.  I had thousands of flight hours in this type of helicopter and never had any problems with this system, but I could see how it could be one of those one in a million conditions.

CLUTCH CONTROL LEVER  click to enlarge
Looking at the picture above, you see a clutch lever that has a small black knob on the end of it.  After the engine is started and at the proper time, the pilot pushes this lever forward and down and locks it into the fixed metal tab (Lever Lock)  at the forward side of the seat box.  This keeps tension on the belt drive system and also drives the main rotor transmission, which in turn, rotates the main drive shaft that is connected to the main rotor.  Now picture this.  Take your right hand and hold it out with two fingers spread apart and pointing down.  Now take your left hand and place the index finger between the two fingers that are spread apart on the right hand.  Simply, this is how this system works.  Your left hand index finger being the clutch lever, and the two fingers of the right hand being the lever lock.  Now their is a tremendous amount of tension on the clutch lever cable which is between the lever and the belt drive system.   Now just suppose that when you engaged the lever, that instead of the lever going between your fingers and it was accidental placed to make contact with the bottom of one of your fingers.  Then later on, the lever which is not secured, because it is not locked between your fingers.  It slips to one side and then the lever snaps back and the tension on the belt drive system is released.  This would cause the engine to overspeed and the rotor RPM to decrease rapidly.  Later on, an A.D.(Airworthiness Directive) came out to modify this lever lock, so this could never happen again.  Sorry to bore you with all the nuts and bolts, but it's sometimes interesting to find out that a very simple thing could cause a very bad accident.

I drove on to Kansas City and visited Jerry Getz at the hospital.  His back was broken in three places and he had several ribs broken.  He made a full recovery but was permanently grounded due to medical reasons caused by his injuries.  I really thought maybe this would  change in time, but it didn't.  I know Jerry  felt bad about Mac, but I can't see that his death was caused by anything he did.  Accidents do happen.  I did not stay in Kansas City very long as I was on a very tight schedule..........................

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Back in Indiana Part 3

Things were finally beginning to look up.  I found a place to live in Hammond, Indiana.  This was about a 30 minute drive to the airport in Griffith.  The duplex apartment was new, but very small.  The people that owned the apartment lived in the unit upstairs.  Nice people and they were very supportive when things were not going well.  It was nearing Christmas and we were now dealing with arctic like weather every day.  I was okay with this, but when I wasn't flying the helicopter, my new duties were to drive the snow plow and clear the runway.  The selection process finally got underway for the Gary, Indiana police pilot's.  They went through a very elaborate testing process and interviewed each candidate.  I made a couple of appearances before several groups of police officers outlining the training program before the final selection of six pilots would be announced.  This all seemed to be pretty straight forward, but then I found out that it was all done for show.  The selection of the police pilots had already been decided many months before.  Talk about your rotten politics, this was a classic example of how things get done in a corrupt city government.  Still things were dragging along with this program and all we could do, was wait it out.  G & N Aircraft was awarded the contract for training the police pilots.  This in part was due to the fact we had a Police Pilot Training Syllabus.  The one I wrote in my spare time back in California.  So in a way, I was helping the program.
As time went on there were more delays with getting the federal and state governments to sign off on the funding for the helicopter program for Gary, IN.  Meanwhile I was keeping busy and we were beginning to see the end of the worst winter I can every remember.
Even though I had lived in the Midwest and had grown up in a four season environment, I had lost my resistance to this kind of cold weather.  About the only heat I could expect out of the helicopter, was when we were flying in the direction of the sun.  The helicopter had a small heater, but it also collected fumes from the engine exhaust and the air in the cabin would get pretty toxic at times.  Another thing that cropped up during all of this, was my wife was having some really major physical problems.  Both her hip joints were failing badly.  We knew she had some issues, but she never complained and did very well for the most part.  But now she was practically unable to walk and be mobile enough to do just every day normal things.  My daughters third birthday was nearing and we were not sure what direction we would take next.  I decided to send my wife to California to see an orthopedic surgeon we knew of,  to get an opinion of what if anything could be done.
It was now the early part of April 1970 and it was decided that she would need to have both hip joints replaced.  Then the news came from Gary, Indiana police department that the state would not support their funding for helicopters and the entire program was to be cancelled.  I wasn't sure how this would effect my continued employment, now that these changes had entered the picture.  Things were not looking too good.  A few days later Jimmy Doyle taxied one of our customers aircraft to the fueling area at the airport.  As he continued down the taxiway, the aircraft veered off to one side and both props made contact with the pavement, this also caused sudden stoppage to both engines.  Both the props and engines had just been overhauled by our shop and now this would have to be done over again. Dick Caldwell fired Jimmy on the spot.  Just days before, the FAA had sighted him for a violation for going below the decision height while making an instrument approach to the Valparaiso airport in some extremely poor weather conditions.
I really felt sorry for Jimmy, he had the worst luck.  My luck wasn't much better.

One afternoon I received a phone call out of the blue from my old boss, Fred McLane.  I had worked for him on my first job in Little Rock, Arkansas.  He was now with a company called McCulloch Aircraft which was located in El Segundo, CA.  They were building a new aircraft called the J-2 Gyroplane which had not been certificated yet.  Fred and I had a nice conversation and then he asked if I was interested in coming to California and heading up their factory training program.  It was all I could do to contain myself.  I told Fred, I didn't care what they were building or what he wanted me to fly, please, please send me an airplane ticket.  I would be on the next plane headed for the west coast.  The meeting went very well and I accepted the position.  This was going to resolve my problems with getting my wife to California where she would get the much needed surgery.  Also, I figured it would get the company I was working for off the hook, in as much as they no longer needed me for the police pilot training program that went bust.  The next day I went to work and gave my resignation.  To my surprise they begged me to stay.  I was offered several nice things and Paul Goldsmith the owner of the company offered to send my wife to Mayo Clinic.  We decided to rethink my earlier decision but elected to go with the offer in California.  A couple weeks later I had arranged for a moving van, and the old piano was going to get a few more extra miles.  So once more we were headed west in the old yellow chevy ragtop.  Back to California and another new job with McCulloch Aircraft.  More on this in the next post.....................