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Mon, Apr 11, 2005

Australian Gyro Guy Grounded

ASRA Clips Paul Bruty's Wings... Er... Rotors, For A Year

Controversial Australian Gyroplane instructor and designer Paul Bruty has had his flying, instructing, and Technical Advisor privileges suspended for twelve months after a late March decision of the board of the Australian Sport Rotorcraft Association (ASRA). He will also have to requalify as a Technical Advisor after his twelve months' suspension is over.

Bruty, long a controversial figure in Australian rotary-winged flight, came to ASRA attention after a rollover accident which substantially damaged client Keith Holmes's Little Wing tractor autogyro, while Bruty was testing the machine (photos).

In Australia, gyroplanes that would be flown either as Part 103 ultralights or Part 91 experimentals under FAA oversight in the USA, and their pilots, are managed by the ASRA. This self-government is analogous to the way that the US Parachute Association manages sport parachuting in the USA, relieving FAA of the need to expend its resources in an area tangential to its primary purposes. The ASRA takes a dim view of regulation violations, knowing that if gyro pilots down under get a "rogue" reputation, the Civil Aviation Authority can yank the sport's self-governing status in a heartbeat.

The charges against Bruty did not include the accident per se, but he faced three specifications of violating particular parts of the ASRA Operations Manual:

(1) Operated a gyroplane which was not properly registered;

(2) Made modifications to a gyro "not consistent with sound, safe or acceptable engineering practices"

(3) Failed to comply with the requirements of the ASRA Operations Manual Section 4.08 para 4, and Section 4.08 para 6."

The accident machine was not registered -- Bruty says it is his custom to fly first and do the paperwork when rising winds grounds the machine -- but the first charge refers to the modified RAF 2000, which Bruty calls "Hybrid," that is his principal training machine. 

Bruty modified the rotor head by disabling the automatic teeter stops, which engage on the ground at low rotor speeds to prevent the rotor from striking the tailboom, but disengage when the rotor speeds up above about 60 RPM to allow full control motion. He instead jerry-rigged a control stick stop using washers, safety wire, and electrical tape. This was the core of the second charge.

On the third, these sections of the ASRA Ops Manual refer to accident reporting.  Bruty says that he did report the accident fully, but as of the end of March the operations director of ASRA had not received a detailed report. It was several days before Bruty sent an initial email about the subject, a delay he ascribes to bad internet connectivity at the site.

Some of the board members recused themselves from voting due to previous quarrels with Bruty or perceived bias; the remaining board members unanimously found him guilty on all counts and the board as a whole voted to ratify the decision of the partial board. The Board decision was made on the 24th and made public on the 29th, but Bruty's privileges had already been suspended on an emergency basis by email from the ASRA Operations Manager, Alan Wardill, on the 12th.

The outcome of the charges costs Bruty his livelihood, as he was a full-time gyro instructor. But it will also have an impact on the community, as he was the only full-time gyro instructor in all Australia.

The bright-green machine that Bruty was testing is reported to be the first Little Wing completed in Australia. Keith Holmes, the builder, called it the "Green Gecko" because of the large lizard graphic that the builder put on it, along with the legend -- now looking sadly non-prophetic -- "no pushover." The machine turned over and was substantially damaged. Bruty reports that he had bruises all over, but no more serious injury, a testament to the design of the Little Wing's steel-tube fuselage and landing gear, and the construction of this example.

The design of the machine does not appear to have been any factor in the crash. Bruty has said that he lost control of the machine due to a poorly swaged cable and improperly rigged return springs on the rudder pedals. When the cable let go, the springs pulled the rudder pedals to the opposite extreme, and the machine departed in yaw, leading to the mishap.

Other witnesses cited by ASRA (but unidentified by name) said the unlucky machine made ground contact straight down while moving straight forward, not after a 160-degree yaw, and only yawed in the process of the crash. They claimed that any control separation was the result of impact forces and/or a rotor strike on the tail structure.

The retro-styled machine, designed by American Ron Herron, is increasingly popular, despite being a plans-built design for which no complete kit is available. One of Herron's Little Wing owner/builders, Andy Keech, currently holds a number of NAA/FAI speed/distance and altitude records in his Rotax 914-powered Little Wing, and Ron's own Little Wing, powered by an Australian-built Rotec 2800 radial engine, is a favorite of photographers at the big airshows. Herron has won numerous awards for his design, which includes a unique redundant control system that has been much admired by gyro experts.

A pilot report that Bruty posted online praised the handling qualities of the machine, but did not mention that he had crashed the gyro, nor that the report was based on his pre-accident flights. He admitted that after other Australians who were aware of the circumstances confronted him.

The rancor over the accident continues. Paul Bruty has taken the position that the gyro owner assumed all risk in engaging him to test it. Other Australian rotorcraft aficionados --including some of Bruty's most vociferous detractors -- have called on their community to pitch in with parts, time, expertise and money, to help repair the gyro. The ASRA is collecting donations for the rebuild. 

Holmes was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support; indeed, it lifted him from the doldrums where he was considering abandoning the Green Gecko that took him four years to build. "I am blown away by any of you caring about my gyro and my predicament," he posted on the ASRA forum. "What can I say? Does THANKS sound pathetic or what? But it's from the bottom of my sad heart." Later on, he added, "I'm really surprised at people's reactions. Sometimes good stuff can come from bad eh?"

The biggest problem he has is the fright that the accident has given his wife.

Despite the severity of the damage, Keith Holmes's gyro might well be flying before Paul Bruty is. But it's a given that both will take to the air again -- when they can.



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