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Commuting to Silicon Valley...by Gyroplane

Update: See bottom for explanation of why this story was too good to be true!

Update II: See here for a company that apparently has gotten much closer.

talon4[1].bmpMercury News colleague Nicole Wong has a notable story (or here) about the growing number of people commuting to Silicon Valley in private planes. Worth reading, and checking out this graphic for examples.

But a reader named Sean Cooper just contacted us, saying he's built something called a gyroplane (picture inset).

We'd like to hear what folk think about his radical idea. Basically Cooper says he commuted to work yesterday (50 miles one way) with this gyroplane. Sure it flies, but it drives too. So he drove it from home to the airport, flew it to his destination airport, and then drove it the rest of the way to work.

He says he finished building the gyro about a month ago and that after heated negotiations with the Department of Motor Vehicles to let him register it as both a vehicle and a gyroplane, they have agreed that it can drive on the streets and highways of California.

palv.lores(Update: Check out this competing project, called the PALV, which Cooper alerted us to. It is a Dutch company, and Cooper admits he's in a race with it. Certainly ranks high on cool-look index. Picture inset left).

Back to Cooper. In his words:

I have a simple pulley device from the front of the Rotax engine that goes to an axel that powers the two back wheels. It is remarkably simple and I am amazed no one has ever done this before. I think the mountain of red tape has probably deterred those that went before me.

In the history of aviation, no one has ever driven from home to the local airport, taken off, landed and drove from the airport to their final destination, practically door to door in the same vehicle. I am sure there would be a market for this type of vehicle.

It is a Magni design - but not quite if you know what I mean. Magni gyroplanes from Italy are the best in the industry. Magni would not sell me the plans directly but I found them on the internet for $100.00. Apparently there are about 4 companies (ELA and MT-03 gyroplanes) that have copied the Magni design and produced some very safe and reliable gyroplanes.

Imagine people on a mass scale commuting in them. Do you think a venture capital company would be interested in this aircraft/motorscooter thing?
I know it sounds ambitious but why not?

Why not, indeed? We'll mull a story about this for the Mercury News, so will check back for comments.

PS. We did a quick search, and here's another gyroplane project. Here's a definition of the gyroplane, and here's a buyer's guide.

Update I, 6/13 am: Cooper wrote in, to elaborate even more. Here are some of his comments:

If a picture is a thousand words, a ride is a million. I think it is a pretty convincing experience. I have not yet converted a two place ship to land use so only the single seat performs both missions right now. In addition the two place is the "open" cockpit type and according to my market reasearch, the public will not go for the open style - period. Honestly the two place is more fun on lazy summer afternoons but for practical every day commuting, the fully enclosed canopy is the only way to go. The engineers are still working on the enclosed two place design.

The plan however right now would be to train people in the open two place (student up front) and then sell the single enclosed to the smitten student. If one wants to take someone along however, they would have to opt for the two place right now.

It only takes 20 hours for training for the license but 20 hours can be done like the Motorcycle Safety foundation course - two week nights and two full days on the weekend of constant flying. Training would be included in the price of the single. I think Harley does the same thing. They honestly are very easy to fly but only Magni and ELA are worth a damn. All the rest of the gyros on the market suck - as in - you will die if you fly them. I wouldn't go near any of them.

Price? A two place is about 50K so I am hoping the single will be somwhere around $30K.

Fuel? It burns auto gas. In fact the ultra reliable Rotax engine perfers auto gas and the manufacture suggest only to use auto gas. The Gyro burns about 5 gallons per hour and the cruise is about 100 mph so it is about 20mpg but remember your flying over mountains and water in the bay area that you would normally have to route around; it is not car miles but crow miles ("as the crow flies") so the mileage is actually alot better than that really.

It is certainly for the "been there, done that" crowd. The other day I was actually laughing to myself as I was flying over 680 in morning traffic with all those Hummers and other SUV nuckle heads below - and of course not in the car pool. I have to admit I was being a little full of myself (but I enjoyed it nonetheless) and was thinking to myself - "okay you smucks, you think you bought the utimate "off road vehicle", look up 700 feet above your ass; I'm sitting in that "vehicle" going 120mph when your stoped dead sitting there like and idiot. Yes there is a better way people and the great thing is that it is with technology that is here now, today, not something that we need to wait on for years dreaming about what wonderful thing may come our way.

If you wan to see some good footage of gyros taking off and landing google ELA gyroplanes and go to the video section. I think you need to download a divix player but it is quick and worth it. It shows how quick these gyros take to the sky and how little real estate you need to land one.

Air traffic control not being able to support all the traffic? I suppose you could have argured that to Henry Ford when he created the Model T. It would have sounded something like this: "Henry, you fool, the Federal Highway system hasn't even been created yet, how the hell are people going to organize themselves on these small dirt roads that don't even have traffic lights and stop signs? In the name of God, don't do it man, thousand of people will crash into each other and kill themselves". Hate to break it to you but 40,000 people ever year buy the farm still we mass produce cars. I think it was still a good idea...

I commute from Concord to San Jose. I used to do it in a Cessna but I would have a number of problems that I will tell you about later that have all been resolved coverting over to this street aproved gyroplane.

Update II, 6/13 pm: We've decided to nix the story for now. When we asked Sean Cooper for a ride in this thing, turns out he doesn't have a two-seater anywhere in the western U.S. (there are a couple in Mexico and back east). And obviously, he can't take us in his one-seater. So when we said we'd meet him at the airport, and watch him land and drive off to work, he demurred there too. Turns out, he's got a few technical and regulatory issues still to iron out: He says it takes at least 20 minutes to take the rotor blade off, before you can drive the gryo. He might be able to leave the blade on, but still needs to negotiate DMV's permission to do that, and it might require putting red flags on the ends to warn traffic. Add that to the minor inconvenience that the engine only drives in first gear while on the road, so no freeway driving just yet (looking at the picture, we'd figured it was no speedster). Cooper says he made the trip last week, driving a couple of blocks from San Jose Airport to his county job on North First Street, he tells us -- and he lives a couple of blocks from the Concord airport. Even then, it is sort of a pain, and he hasn't done it more than once. So he's going to put his head down and work on this a bit more, he tells us. And, oh yeah, he's still interested in funding.


Wild. A couple of questions your article should answer: Does this require a pilot's license to fly? What kind of gas mileage does it get in the air and on the road?

BillSaysThis on June 11, 2005 7:39 AM
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yes, gas mileage is a great question. there's also the questiion of scale -- how many of these little flea-like planes can air traffic controllers handle? if he's talking about a venture-backed start-up, and producing thousands of these things, how many can san Jose, sf, oakland, palo alto, etc, deal with each day? then extrapolate nationally, internationally. noticed there's a UK gyroplane club too.

Matt Marshall on June 11, 2005 8:40 AM
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Bryan Price on June 11, 2005 8:54 AM
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How does one contact Sean Cooper?

Maia on June 11, 2005 6:05 PM
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On the one hand, the FAA does know that it may have to deal with a sky full of thousands of craft like this someday. If nothing else, Mollier has been threating to unleash the personal air car for the last 30 years.

On the other hand if AVGAS ends up $50/gallon, is anyone going to be able to afford flying one of these? And those little one seaters don't look like they're setup with enough equipment that they could fly in bad weather (heck, some of them don't even have a roof).

It would be nice to see something like this:


for travel to the bay area though. (The rest of the time, I'll keep working out of my basement up in the mountains of Arizona.)

Derek on June 11, 2005 9:54 PM
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He's reachable at Sean at gyropatrol dot com

Matt Marshall on June 12, 2005 6:55 AM
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Sean wrote in to elaborate more on his project, and addresses some of the questions. I've put his comments in the extended entry at the bottom of the original post.

Matt Marshall on June 13, 2005 7:28 AM
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About time. I've been trying to sell the concept here in Canada for years. How to control them? have a peek at one of my pages on airspace control.

John Ednie on June 13, 2005 9:07 PM
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The gyroplane isn't a new idea. This one is packaged in a more sexy cowling. Yes, the idea of flying would be great for commutors, but don't think for a minute that it will be easy for people to do this in large numbers. The FAA knows what they're doing. When it seems that too many people are in the air, the just tighten the restrictions. Anyone in the aviation community knows this. For those asking about licenses, yes, you do have to have a pilot's license. For a single-place aircraft, you can get by with recreational pilot's license. You can't carry passengers unless you get your private pilot's license. Recreational license only takes half the time, but is more restricted also.

Chad Richardson on June 15, 2005 10:37 AM
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New?? You call the gyroplane new?? The first time I saw one of these was in one of the earlier James Bond movies. His was armed with rockets and guns. I've lived in Wisconsin off and on since 1976 and evey year a dozen or more fly into EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association) fly-in at Oshkosh, WI. They've been there as long as I can remember.

This is actually a neat event for all of you aviation buffs. For 1 week Oshkosh becomes the busiest airport in the world with around 20,000 aircraft flying in. You see everything from hundreds of warbirds and antiques to every kind of rig that will fly including a bunch of Rutan's specials. The military generally provides a presence and some years have featured stealth fighters and bombers, all of the modern fighters, enormous cargo transporters like the C-17, the U-2, and the SR-71 was here when it was still flying. Even on a slow year it is a great event. I have seen days when as many as 15 gyroplanes were in the air at the same time.

One point about the gyro plane. It generally uses something like a large lawnmower engine to push it forward and it kind of operates in a consistant state of falling and they generally don't fly at more than a couple of hundred feet. If you lose your motor (how many times has your mower or lawn tractor cut out when you were mowing the lawn?) unless you are really really good at knowing how and when to autorotate to keep from being splattered accross the pavement you are toast. You only get one chance to slow the flimsy craft before you auger in!!

Crashes by gyroplanes (called gyrocopters hereabouts) aren't uncommon. Most of the time the pilot lives to fly again, but these guys are full-time tinkerers and professional pilots with lots of airtime and practice not joe-blow off the street.

wayne on June 15, 2005 12:57 PM
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If I may, I would like to correct some misconceptions about the gyroplane.

First, it was invented in the 1920s. Probably the most famous gyroplane pilot was Amelia Earhart.

Second, one does not need to know when to autorotate, as a gyroplane in flight is always autorotating. Helicopters are rotorcraft that must switch from powered lift to autorotation. Because gyroplanes are always autorotating, they are very safe and stable.

Third, these very safe aircraft are not powered by "lawnmower engines" but by reliable aircraft quality engines such as those made by Rotax. These rarely fail in flight. Further, gyroplanes may be flown to thousands of feet with ease. Gyroplane pilots just like to low for fun.

Fourth, while one is required to have a pilot's certificate, there is no limitation on the number of individuals who may earn it. The sky is far bigger than our highways. We have plenty of room for more in the sky with us. As an active pilot, I invite you all to explore the sky with me. Check out: http://www.beapilot.com

Candice H. Brown Elliott on June 16, 2005 8:56 PM
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For more information on gyroplanes/gyrocopters see http://www.pra.org

Tim on June 17, 2005 4:25 AM
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I too would like to clear up some of your misconceptions about gyros. They fly using autorotation. They do not stall they do not spin. Also most designs use either proven aircraft engines or modified auto engines. The world altitude record for a gyroplane is over 26,000 ft. That makes your statement that they only fly a few hundred feet high incorrect. The misconceptions that fixed wing pilots have about gyros has led us to be discriminated against more than any other segment of the avaition community. Please do some research before stating facts that are not true. Thanks

Michael Boyette on June 17, 2005 5:40 AM
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Here is another brand that is about to go in to market with a fly-drive version www.thebutterflyllc.com

Heron de Souza on June 17, 2005 7:32 AM
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Gyroplanes are safe, popular and fun aircraft to fly. They have previously made cross country trips, been flown over the Grand Canyon and flown to 26,000 feet.

I fly an enclosed cabin 2 place gyroplane and am currently in the midst of a trip to visit each of the lower 48 states. I started in Arizona flew across the southern states to Florida and am now in New York and headed to Maine. I will be at Oshkosh in July before continuing on to the Norhwest and down the California coast and back to Arizona in the early fall.

You can see pictures read more about my trip and about gyroplanes in general on my website at www.gyroamerica.com
More info on gyroplanes is available on the association website at www.pra.org

Rob Dubin

Rob Dubin on June 17, 2005 7:47 AM
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Gyroplanes are fun and safe so long as you get TRAINING, in the hands of a trained pilot gyroplanes are virtually the safest aircraft in existance.

If you spend $30k on a single place you are going to have one hell of a single place gyro. Kits and good used gyros can be had for 8K and up, averaging about 13k.

Tim O on June 17, 2005 8:29 AM
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Great gyro info here: http://www.prachapter34.com

Tim O on June 17, 2005 2:02 PM
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We checked out Heron's claims, in comment above, and found it interesting to write some more about, here: http://www.siliconbeat.com/entries/2005/06/25/commuting_by_gyroplane_continued.html

Matt Marshall on June 25, 2005 11:11 AM
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This thread is closed to new comments.