Throwback: Experimental aircraft gives St. Gregor family hours of fun

From the Humboldt Journal files, June 24, 1999

ST. GREGOR — It's a plane, it's a helicopter...No, it's a gyrocopter.

“It's just like having a girlfriend. It's so fun,” quipped Wilfred Moellenbeck, describing the allure of his new, experimental flying machine.

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Moellenbeck and his two sons, Dennis and Kevin, put together the gyrocopter from a $30,000 (around $44,000 in 2019 dollars) kit in the shop on their farm south of St. Gregor.

They invited an instructor from BC to teach them to fly it and now they spend every spare moment practising take off and landing, emergency procedures and cross-country flights.

The machine is purely for pleasure.

“It's just a fun flying machine and it will land anywhere,” said instructor Walter Levick, explaining the main attractions of the light-weight, two-person aircraft.

A gyrocopter takes off like an airplane, but needs a very short run compared to a plane. Air flowing up causes the rotary blades on top to turn and the machine lifts off. Unlike a helicopter, the main rotor isn't powered.

It can land anywhere because it needs virtually no ground roll at all.

Two men, from Archerwill and Cudworth, have joined the Moellenbecks in the training.

They need a minimum 12 hours of flight time with an instructor and another 18 solo to get a licence to fly a craft with rotary vvings.

Moellenbeck already has his fixed-wing licence and owns a Cessna 172.

Gyrocopters are not completely new to him. He built an open-air gyrocopter about 30 years ago. He built the current model, a Rotary Airforce gyrocopter, in four months as an after-supper project. He and his sons finished it just before seeding time.

“I've built an airplane before, so it was a lot easier than that,” Moellenbeck said.

Levick also built a gyrocopter. Working alone, it took him only 30 days. Getting used to the feel of a gyroscope is tricky for plane pilots because the controls are very sensitive.

“It takes a little more concentration to fly it,” said Dennis. “The first flight was sort of scary.”

“They're actually safer than an airplane if you know how to fly them,” his dad said.

Moellenbeck plans to have fun with his gyrocopter and attend fly-in breakfasts put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association, of which he is a member. The machine can go up to 10,000 feet and can be flown in water.

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