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

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