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Fri, Apr 22, 2005

Cross-Country Cross-Country

Adventurous Gyro Pilot Flies To Lower 48 by Aero-News Senior

Correspondent Kevin R.C. "Hognose" O'Brien

Heron Souza of The Butterfly, LLC, grabbed me and started steering me like a guy leaning through the window of a truck his buddies are pushing. Several other gyro pilots fell in behind. I had known the stocky Brazilian long enough to know when he was up to something, but I had no idea what. Knowing his enthusiasm for Larry Neal's Butterfly gyros, I expected to be steered to some new technical advance that Larry had invented overnight. Instead, I wound up at the safety snow-fence at the Choppertown ramp, looking at a well-finished but unremarkable AAI-converted RAF 2000 gyroplane, with a cardboard sign in the window. A guy I didn't know was fetching stuff out of the gyro cockpit.

"Hey Rob!" Heron shouted, still holding me by the collar like a fisherman with a prize catch. "This is Hognose!"

The gyro pilot came bounding over with a big, sincere grin, and so I finally got to meet Rob Dubin, whom I knew only from the internet, face to face. He thanked me profusely for some advice I gave him on turbochargers, while I desperately tried to remember what-all I'd told him. And he described his latest adventure: flying to all 48 states, one after the other, in his gyroplane.

Rob is a retired TV producer who has spent his retirement, so far, pursuing adventures that the rest of us are more likely to envy than to emulate: climbing Mount McKinley, sailing around the world, and now, seeing the whole great American nation the way only a light aircraft can show it to you -- in three dimensions, up close and personal.

Rob set out from Arizona, after he finished a gyro rating he had started in Australia, where "it was standard procedure to chase the kangaroos off the runway before take-off or landing." He's well into his quest to fly to all 48 of the lower 48, in order and uninterrupted, stopping along the way to attend fly-ins and see the sights. In some ways, this is like the SAY2000 tour which Aero-News helped sponsor five years ago, but for Rob this is a personal journey.

You might think that this kind of major undertaking is strictly for the most experienced pros, but Rob doesn't think so. He's the antithesis of a high-time pilot: he had only 525 total hours, and only 75 gyro hours, when he set off on his cross-country cross-country. Of course, he'll be a lot more experienced when it's over.

Rob's gyro is an RAF 2000 GTX SE converted with the American Autogyro Inc. Stability and Control Augmentation Kit. This kit converts the gyro to a high-riding, tall-tail, centerline-thrust machine, reducing pilot workload and enhancing safety.

Rob keeps a running diary of his journey on his website, gyroamerica.com, and this short sample should give you an idea:

"It is a short flight to Mobile so I tune in to get the airport information shortly after take-off.  After listening to the automated voice tell me the wind conditions and active runway I switch to the tower frequency and am greeted by a wall of static.  I fiddle with the radio and my headsets and it actually seems to get worse.  I can hardly hear anything.  Downtown Mobile has non-stop jet traffic coming in and out from United Airlines, regional air carriers, Military jets along with Fed Ex, DHL, and corporate jet service so there is no way I can fly into their airspace unless I can clearly understand the tower instructions.  I spend 10 uncomfortable minutes flying in circles trying to control the stick with my knees while I change batteries in my headsets and try a backup portable radio.  Nothing seems to help and all the while the aircraft is blundering around the sky like a drunken sailor staggering home from shore leave."

Obviously, Rob sorted out his radio problems and continued his flight (otherwise, he'd still be orbiting somewhere west of Mobile), but it's interesting to hear about all the things he tried to cure them. Many of you pilots have been there, done that; the rest of you, your turn is coming. Other stories involve low flight, a too-close encounter with C130 cargo planes, and the wide variety of airfields that he's landed on and people that he's met.

Rob is blessed in this endeavor by a totally dedicated ground crew of one: his wife, Dee, who flies chase in their motorhome (although, given the  cruising speed of sport gyroplanes, it's sometimes unclear who's chasing whom). For the two of them, this trip is also a dream vacation, where they often spend a few extra days to explore the sights and recreational opportunities of an area.

Rob and Dee actually do have a home in Colorado, but you get the impression that they just don't spend much time there. So, what are they going to do when this is over? Well, when the gyro bug bit, they were partway through sailing around the world. It seems that when this all-American autogyro adventure is over, as a TV man might say, "we now return to our regularly scheduled adventure, already in progress."

FMI: www.gyroamerica.com

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