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Thu, Oct 05, 2023

Rotor X/Rotorway Community Seeks Answers From Troubled Company

Numerous Reports of Undelivered Kits, Unsent Refunds, and Incomplete Deliveries Abound

News, Information, and Opinion by ANN CEO/Editor-In-Chief, Jim Campbell

In covering the aviation community for the 50 years (yup, I’m getting old…), since my first articles appeared in sport aviation public publications at the tender age of 16, I have watched many a company come and go, while quite a few products turn out to be not what they were promised… And in some of the cases we've seen, they turned out to be deadly. 

Thankfully such horrific stories are in the very significant minority, with most of the stories creating dissatisfaction in the aviation community surrounding companies that either bit off more than they could chew, making promises they couldn't keep, getting into trouble businesswise, or just plain out screwing their customers.

The biggest problem that we face in starting a story investigating complaints against a company or product, occurs in trying to do the massive amount of due diligence required to make sure that what we report is accurate, credible, and serves the best interests of the aviation community. That is a teeny tiny tightrope that has to be walked way too many times, but with the lack of attention paid by the FAA, or the aviation alphabet organizations, we’re one of the few organizations left that are still willing to be able to attempt such. And we’ve (literally) gotten the bruises (or subpoenas) to prove it.

And now, we're in the midst of what appears to be a major scandal concerning a company that has been part of the sport aviation landscape for over 60  years… Which began with BJ Schramm's amazing efforts to produce a Helicopter in the early 1960s, the Scorpion, growing through various versions over many decades into the Rotorway Exec, the Rotorway 152 and 162 series, to what is now apparently called the A600 Talon.

A couple of years ago, new ownership bought the Rotorway operation and thereupon rebranded it as Rotor X. In addition to their work with the kit helicopter designs they 'inherited' from Rotorway, this company also claims to be working in various vertical lift and military markets. We have received no proof of that.

Over the course of a number of months, both the Aero-News Network team and our SportPlane Resource Guide editorial team have received numerous complaints about the status of Rotor X with reports of dozens of customers (though the complete number appears much higher) who claim to have bought kits or sub kits for the newest RX helicopter and not gotten what they paid for. Some have paid in full, with amounts exceeding well in excess of $100,000, and received little or nothing (so far) in return. Others have received parts of their kits with few, if any, reporting having received the more expensive/complex parts of the assemblies -- with the engines being AWOL in virtually every report. Many report demanding refunds, but few have reported any degree of success in obtaining them. Most recently, reports escalated with complaints about skilled personnel, who had become quite expert in fabricating sections of the Rotorway designs at the factory, leaving the company after long periods of nonpayment. In the meantime, though, the company disclosed few of these concerns, and after weeks of requests to do so, only responded to Aero-News in the last 24 hours, once we noted that a story was slated for publication Monday morning, October 2.

In the late Saturday, 45 minute, conversation that took place with Rotor X boss Don Shaw, who had an associate by the name of Dennis Russeau, join us about halfway through the call, Shaw admitted that the company was in poor financial shape, that many customers were owed parts or kits, and the much lauded 180 horse turbocharged engine that had been promoted heavily for the last year or so is not yet complete. The call was at times, evasive, but under persistent questioning, we did understand that much of the staff had left due to nonpayment, that the company was having significant financial problems, that they were involved in other types of development and operations that they felt held promise for the company, and that investors were expected to become involved in the company within a matter of days. However, according to many in the Rotorway community, this is a refrain many have heard several times before.

We do know that the company was in active development of the aforementioned 180 hp turbocharged engine… And the one sole operating engine (in the field, that we know of) was apparently (and tragically) onboard the Rotorway helicopter that was involved in a MidAir at Oshkosh 2023 when it was hit by a Gyroplane that reportedly was not operating correctly within the lightplane area at the south end of Wittman field. As many of you know, from our previous reports, that helicopter crash killed a Rotorway expert by the name of Mark Peterson and his passenger, Tol Volz -- with Mr. Peterson apparently involved in putting some flight time on the prototype engine…

As tragic as that was, the engine development program does appear to have fallen far behind where it was reported to be… And again, there are numerous reports of people who have dropped an excessive amount of money on the company, but received nowhere near the value of what they have paid in parts or sub kits for the Rotor X helicopter. One builder reports that he has been waiting two years for the completion of his kit… engine, drive train, main rotor, and the like. In some cases, buyers have reported receiving next to nothing.

Rotor X’s Don Shaw repeatedly claims that the company can make everything good, furnish refunds to all those who want them, hire all the employees back (with back pay for the times in which they were not paid), and pretty much make everything okay as soon as investors are found. Shaw's story varied as to when, where, and how this was supposed to occur -- ranging from a day or two, to many weeks… And again, many buyers and customers of the company have reported hearing similar stories and for a considerable period of time. Shaw complained that any negative press would hurt this process… but again, there are numerous reports indicating that such developments were close at hand… and were not… and there is the ever-present concern that the company is STILL taking orders for helicopters that (at this moment) they cannot supply – potentially exposing unknowing or uninformed buyers that their funds may be at risk if Rotor X does not fulfill their obligations. These potential customers do have a right to know this… and we are duty-bound to report it.

As of five minutes ago (late Sunday evening, 10.01.23), an inquiry to Rotor X via their FaceBook page results in the following automated sales pitch... "Hi! We are either on a call, out flying, or you caught us after hours! Check out the new A600 Turbo helicopter on our company website: BUY BEFORE WEDNESDAY AND SAVE $23K! For $115k, your kit comes with everything you need to fly, including avionics & the new 180hp turbo charge engine! Reserve your kit TODAY w/ a NO interest $30k downpayment, & get your first order in just a few months! No pilot license required for purchase and build options available upon request!"

Yes... They're still selling... and we see some significant risk in that. 

Further, there are a number of lawsuits already filed or in the process of being filed… not to mention the potential of governmental response once someone actually begins to understand the scope of this. Class action legal solutions have also been discussed among the affected.

The Rotorway generation has been through a number of problems over the decades, with management changing, the company being bought and sold -- and let's face it, the helicopter business is not for the faint heart… The lack of transparency heretofore indicates to us that the SportPlane Resource Guide Report Card ratings given to Rotorway in the past (which were pretty good), cannot be issued so positively at this time and so we spent part of the weekend trying to make a decision as to whether the situation is serious enough to go with a cautionary rating of "We Advise Caution" or the somewhat more serious "Not Recommended."

Even with investment and a new influx of cash, there's the question of how the company got itself into this fix to begin with… Shaw blames the pandemic for some of his woes and the fact that helicopter sales did not keep up with what was required to continue production as well as the fact that the helicopter was not priced appropriately at the onset and meet all their costs… And he claims that people/companies in the Rotorway kit support community are out to put him out of business. And while some of the aforementioned issues may have some foundation, it does call into question the expertise and judgment of those running the show now.

At our urging, Shaw promised to produce a letter to everyone outlining where they were, in order to clear up the near communications vacuum that had persisted to that point… And late Saturday, a promised letter did appear. According to a number of people we monitored in various social media areas concerning the Rotorway helicopter community, no one claimed to be happy with the contents of the letter, often judging the credibility of the claims to be doubtful and did not appear to believe that any major changes were as yet in process.

To those members of the Rotorway community to which we've been granted access (surprisingly, I requested access and assistance to other Rotorway centric online venues, which has yet to be created several days later -- with no reason given… Even though all we’re trying to do is aid a community in distress), the Shaw letter has been received with derision, lack of belief, and a general feeling that not much is apparently going to change.

To the great numbers of complaints we've noted, or received, or been granted access, we note a general feeling of great hope for some kind of resolution in the future but not with the current company leadership… That said, no one wants to see the company fail… But in most cases, many espouse a belief that the company will have to shutter their doors, and eventually get replaced by new buyers – a scenario that has been repeated a number of times throughout the history of the Rotorway helicopter generation.

At the moment, we see many substantiated reasons for concern… The manufacturer has confirmed itself to be in debt, they owe a lot of parts and kits to many builders, and that reports of losing staff and not filling orders are real and have existed for some time. Sadly, our experience with the later generations of the Rotorway series has been positive… so the problem is NOT with the helicopter.

To this point, though, there is no concrete reason to believe that the situation will indeed be resolved anytime soon. At the same time, the Rotor X team (two of them, at least) have communicated with us, belatedly, and we have made it clear that should any part of the situation change, especially for the better, we welcome that information with open arms… And we will report it as aggressively as anything else we've reported heretofore.

But for now… Rotor X appears to be in very serious trouble… They do not have the capability of fulfilling the orders that they have received a great deal of money for, possibly numbering in the millions, and despite that, the company is attempting to sell helicopters right up to this day. It's very clear that they cannot fulfill anything that they sell for the foreseeable future.

For that reason, the Aero-News Network advises the utmost caution in dealing with this company, even though our flight tests in earlier generations of the Rotorway designs have shown a consistently maturing design, (in some cases due to ingenious aftermarket retrofits created by the overly inventive Rotorway support community)... so our concerns are based about their business and not about the product. 

The machine STILL has the potential to be a solid value for those seeking to have a cost-effective helicopter of their own but are unable to pay the requisite costs for certified rotary aircraft.

As of the moment, though, Rotor X Aircraft Manufacturing Company will have to simply go on our “NOT RECOMMENDED” list until we are satisfied that their customers have been made whole, and the company is in a position to produce a safe helicopter for all those who want one in the future.

Again, that is not the case right now…

We will keep you informed of any changes, positive or negative, as the situation develops, and we must note that we are still going through a massive amount of information that has come our way. We will report additional details, when appropriate, here on Aero-News, on Airborne, and in the SportPlane Resource Guide, as credible information is assembled.



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