Advanced Gyrocopter Flying in the Lake District with Roger Savage

What ‘Helicopter Life’magazine says about us. This article was written for the spring edition of Helicopter Life by Barry Jones who is both an acclaimed Military helicopter pilot and a gyrocopter pilot.

Feet!……Left foot…..more!!

I’m in a twin seat open cockpit gyrocopter,learning to fly the thing from the back seat and we’re in the middle of a practise forced landing to the ground.I’m looking over the shoulder of the helmeted shape of my instructor in the front seat.

I’m trying to master one of the engine-off profiles he’s briefed me on and now he’s demanding not just which field I’m aiming for,but where exactly I expect to arrive in it.We’re passing through 600ft and I’m reminded of wind,check rate of descent,’bingo height’ and of course, the five S’s.

Below is a rapidly approaching patchwork quilt of smallish fields,fortunately the one I’ve chosen is looking good.

We arrive over the fence with room to spare,some sheep in the far corner of the field look up to see what all the fuss is about,pause and then carry on with their dinner.

I’ve flared a couple of feet above the grass,waiting for the mainwheels to touch…

There’s a grunt from the front seat about balance followed by a barked order to go-around.I power on and we climb away.

We’re surrounded by mountains and valleys,the scenary quite fantastic as we head back to our base,a 400metre grass strip in the Lakeland hills.

We land,taxi in and shut down.The shape in the front clambers out and I await a comment.As the helmet comes off he’s wearing a weak smile and says,’not bad’ – from the Rotweiller,that’s praise indeed.

The smile belongs to Roger Savage,one of the UK’s best-known Autogyro exponents and I’m here at his home airstrip at Berrier,right on the edge of the Lake District National Park,near Ullswater for a week, to extend my flying from PPL(Gyroplanes) which I gained some years ago,to some advanced flying techniques and some preparation for a planned instructor course in the future– which means me flying from the back seat.

We stand on the strip and have an informal de-brief – though I can’t help being distracted by the fantastic panorama,from the Pennines in the east,past the Ullswater Valley to Blencathra in the west.Berrier is almost exactly 1.000ft above sea level.

He’s going on about field selection and not committing myself too early on finals during a PFL….and another reminder about keeping the thing in balance.

‘Remember’,he says,’Power on,right pedal,power off,left pedal’.

Then,almost as an after thought,he adds..

’Just imagine you’re flying a French helicopter,then we’ll all be happy…..’

And that’s another advantage of coming to Roger,he understands helicopter pilots,having been one himself.I chuckle to myself when I look on his website and see a black and white picture of a much younger Savage with an armful of trophies having just done rather well at a years-ago Helicopter Championships,flying a Gazelle.He’s fresh faced with black hair and now,8.000hours later,what hair is left is distinctly silvery and the face bears the results of years of flying rotary wing,mainly gyrocopters and caused, I suspect,wondering what’s going to drop off next…

‘Anyway’,he adds,’Remember you are not managing torque as you do in a helicopter,this is simply the helix airflow effect from the propeller pushing sideways on the vertical tail surfaces of the gyrocopter – but the aim is the same,keep it in balance and trim with your feet..….’

This is day three of a week long course and it is both challenging yet great fun,I’m staying on site in Rogers beautiful 17th century Cruck Barn holiday cottage – so my wife is happy with lots to see and some great walks nearby.There’s even a helipad on site.

Included on my course are some of the following;

  • Operating from short grass strips
  • Semi-prepared strips,including farm and forest tracks.
  • Strips with cambers and sloping ground.
  • Flying in command from the rear seat.
  • PFLs and advanced manoeuvres.
  • Mountain flying appreciation,where and where not to fly.
  • Dead reckoning/low level navigation.
  • Reminder of aerodynamics/autorotation.

There are two gyrocopters available on site; the MT03 which we’ve been flying today and the Magni M16c.They’re both very modern and represent the new generation of ‘factory-built’ gyrocopters which seem to have taken the sport aviation world by storm over the past couple of years.Both are in the 450/500KG MAUW category,with an empty weight of around 265KG,so there’s plenty left for two occupants + fuel for a few hours flying.

Both are also open-cockpit,though you would hardly notice it, particularly flying from the front seat where there is absolutely no wind at all.Even in the rear seat with a smaller screen,the effect of the wind is barely noticeable.

Roger much prefers open cockpit machines.He reckons you have more of a feel of whats around you,it’s reassuring and brings with it,perhaps oddly, a feeling of safety – rather than being cocooned in a cockpit.

Since my ‘day job’ was until quite recently flying helicopters professionally I empathize and anyway,open-cockpit flying is exceptionally great fun..

Asked about fully enclosed gyrocopters and he’s rather dismissive.’I used to have an RAF2000, that was twin seat, side by side and awful… the thing was divergent in pitch and in yaw if you flew with the doors on…which we never did.’

‘There’s a couple of modern fully enclosed machines now available, the Germans who make the MT03 have a twin seat tandem fully enclosed machine approved in the UK’

Roger admits to quite liking it from a handling and efficiency point of view – though it needs a rather longer take off run than it’s open cockpit counterparts.

Magni are the Italian manufacturer of the M16c which we have also been flying this week, also have a fully enclosed machine approved in the UK.

‘It’s a side by side gyrocopter and so requires more power than the German machine…it’s rather less efficient, though quite stable in flight.It’s not as agile or as fast as it’s German counterpart,with a fixed ‘T’ bar control system which seems to me quite heavy…’he adds.

On the ground it sits on it’s tail and, rather disparagingly, he continues,’It looks a bit like Dell-Boy’s three wheeler with rotors parked on top…. it seems to me more of a toy, designed for the wannabe helicopter pilot …’

Roger has been flying sport gyrocopters (or gyroplanes or autogyros – call them what you like) for well over 30 years and like many of his generation started with the ubiquitous open frame Bensen –essentially a garden seat attached to a skeletal frame with rotor above and an engine and propeller behind.All very basic stuff with the ground slowly passing beneath your feet -assuming that is that you passed the first hurdle of getting the thing into the air …

‘Great fun’,he says,’chock the wheels,hand swing the prop,jump on the seat,reach up and hand swing the rotors whilst holding the stick forward with your foot,kick the chocks away,strap yourself in and taxi forward,slowly at first in an attempt to ‘load’ the disc.

There’s a very fine balance between the amount of ‘inflow’ and RRPM during the initial take off roll – get it wrong(with too much inflow for too little RRPM) and you’ll stall the retreating blade then all hell breaks loose with horrendous stick shake as the blades flap wildly.The only way to get things under control was to throttle back and urge the stick forward.Until things calmed down,it was rather like being in charge of a demented supermarket trolley’.

The following days dawns bright and with light winds.

We’re going to be flying in the valleys and over ridges so there’s a detailed briefing on the days weather and particularly wind which is forecast to be light for most of the day.

There’s also a discussion on local and valley winds, lee-wave,anabatic and katabatic winds to name but a few and also generally valley flying techniques-which side of the valley to fly to get the smoothest ride and cresting ridges – not straight over as perhaps one may imagine but rather, diagonally for a better view and better chance of escape in the event of a power failure.

At the end of the briefing I’m given a chart with a very wiggly cinagraph line scrawled over it covering much of the southern Lake District,together with suggested heights to fly at different parts of the exercise and a number of designated turning points.

It all looks like good fun and with NOTAMs checked,we’re ready to go.

We’re using the Magni M16c today which Roger reckons has the edge on stability,particularly when flying through the mountain valleys.

The M16 has much heavier rotors than the Mt03 and therefore RRPM is more constant and fluctuates far less in turbulence,resulting in a smoother ride.

.I’m flying from the rear seat so once checks are completed,rotors spun-up to around 240 RPM,brakes are released and power smoothly applied to 100%.Once established in the roll,power is increased to max at 115%,thanks to the Rotax turbocharged engine.We’re on grass so best to get the power in as soon as possible.The stick is held fully back,allowing inflow up through the accelerating rotor disc which is now passing 280RPM.The aircraft is kept straight down the runway with rudder pedal.The nose starts to rise which is checked with a small amount of forward pressure on the stick – the trick being to balance the Magni on it’s mainwheels in a shallow take off attitude and as autorotative force and thus, RRPM increases further,creating sufficient rotor thrust to lift us smoothly off the ground.

In a light 5Kts breeze,we’re airborne in not much more than 100 metres and holding the aircraft in a very shallow climb to allow energy to increase to enable a safe climb speed of 70mph.

Passing through 300ft,power is brought back to 100per cent and we continue the climb to 2.000ft indicated.

‘Okay Captain’ comes the voice from the front’,follow the line as accurately as you can ….’

With a cruise speed of around 85MPH established I set the stopwatch and put the Magni on the initial track to the south and soon Ullswater looms into view,the scenery magnificent with the Patterdale Valley on the nose.

There’s a continuing onboard discussion about monitoring the wind and we look for tell tale signs of stronger valley winds on the waters below.What wind there is,is westerly so I elect to cross the Lake and use the eastern side of the valley,trusting that any wind there is,will be going up,not down.

The squiggly track line on my map takes us quite close to the valley sides – it makes for challenging flying but keeps us well out of the way of any passing fast military traffic and what valley turbulence there is,the Magni simply shrugs off.

I’m constantly being badgered about where I’m going to land us in the event of power failure….

We climb the steep,rocky sides of Kirkstone Pass and I hit my first turning point just south of Ambleside,spot on time.

The route then takes us toward Torver near the south of Coniston and from here we fly a curved track,north of Morecambe Bay, to our next turning point near Kendal.This is great fun and rather more challenging than navigating a straight track.There are landmarks to identify so the curve has to be flown quite precisely both in terms of track over the ground and time.

Our turning point is a tiny farm strip in a small valley.We land for tea and debrief.These machines are wonderful and ideal for short grass strips.

The final section of the trip is flown low level so the nav is just as challenging,amonst the hilly terrain and valleys.

Berrier eventually appears on the nose and on time.The voice in the front is suitably impressed.

Another debriefing follows and then a classroom reminder of ‘Autorotation’ – how everything works.

This is a welcome reminder of my Shawbury days,since my host appears to be a fellow master of’’the coloured pens’.

I refer of course to the essential vector diagrams,which with the many different coloured lines,explains beautifully this aerodynamic phenomena of autorotative force/spanwise L+D/teetering to equality and the like….

I asked him where he acquired his board technique .

“There wasn’t much of a clue in autogyro instructing,such as it was at the time – I wanted to do it better and with more authority,so I decided to do my Helicopter Instructor Rating with Philip Sheldon at Cambridge Helicopters.

Roger freely admits that the month spent there was a culture shock – having not been near a classroom for more years than he cared to remember.

“This was seriously intensive and very disciplined stuff both in the air and in the classroom and any spare time in the evening was spent preparing board briefs for the following day”

“The course taught me so much,both about the technical subjects but also how to teach well,apart of course from improving flying skills”.

“Take aerodynamics for example,teaching it has got to be fun for the student.It’s about taking them on a voyage of discovery,building up the picture on the board bit by bit and then seeing all the bits drop into place”.

We retire to the pub for a more liquid de-brief..

The remainder of the week is spent generally tightening up our flying,including advanced maneauvres and being as precise as possible.

There are lots more PFLs of course,as well as landing in confined areas,some with sloping ground,as well as farm and forest tracks. Pilots.

Flying from the rear seat has it’s own challenges with little or no instrumentation,so apart from peering over the shoulder of the guy in front,much of the developing flying technique is becoming more instinctive.

The whole course is designed to inspire greater skill and confidence for existing Autogyro pilots,as well as for those from other flying disciplines who wish to have a ‘taster’ for this form of sport aviation,which thanks mainly to modern machinery,now appears finally to have come of age.

So for anyone who wants a flying holiday with a difference or a helicopter pilot who just wants to learn a little more about flying these fantastic,exciting and wonderfully stable machines amongst some of the most stunning scenery this country has to offer,this is definitely the man to see and the place to come.

Barry Jones.


Barry Jones was a helicopter pilot for 17 years in the British Army.He flew Gazelle,Squirrel and Lynz helicopters and instructed on all three.He was Lynx Display Pilot for 2007 and team leader for 2006 and 2007.A graduate of the Central Flying School,Qualified Instructors Course(QHI),Barry ended his military career as the Chief Flying Instructor to one of the Army Air Corps Regiments.He has flown all over the world on operations and held several Autogyro World Records.

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