Two pilots departed from Dallas Love Field on October 4, 2015 in an attempt to set four speed records in a two-seat open-cockpit gyroplane. The duo flew the following routes: Dallas to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to New York City, and New York City to Dallas, and their routes took them over some scenic parts of the Midwest, including stops in Dodge City (KDDC) and McPherson, Kansas (KMPR); Lee’s Summit (KLXT) and Cape Girardeau, Missouri (KCGI); Pittsfield (KPPQ) and Decatur, Illinois (KDEC); and Sidney (KSCA) and East Liverpool, Ohio (02G).
John S. Craparo and Dayton A. Dabbs were co-pilots during this National Aeronautic Association (NAA) sanctioned flight. Their aircraft was a Magni M16 gyroplane, designated as an Experimental Amateur Built (EAB) aircraft, built by Craparo in 2014. The duo alternated as pilot in command (PIC) on each leg of the 5,365-statute-mile flight. The M16 has two open tandem cockpits, with one pilot in front of the other. Each cockpit is equipped with dual controls.
Major airports visited during the flight included Dallas Love Field, Santa Monica Municipal Airport and LaGuardia Airport. The pair navigated the gyroplane at various altitudes taking advantage of the most favorable wind, weather and geographic conditions. Cruising altitudes ranged from 500 to 12,500 feet AGL. The aircraft is equipped with advanced navigation and radio transceivers. Satellite tracking allowed the mission support team and all interested parties to track the flight in real-time.
Records claimed include:
Speed over a recognized course in a gyroplane, weighing less than 500 kg/1,102 lbs (including pilots, fuel and baggage).
Results*: Dallas, TX to Los Angeles, CA – average speed: 56 km/h.
Los Angeles, CA to New York City, NY – average speed: 64 km/h
New York City, NY to Dallas, TX – average speed:
Eastbound Transcontinental Speed Record in a Gyroplane < 500 kg – average speed: 64 km/h.
*Speed calculation starts at initial takeoff and ends at final landing including all rest periods and delays. World and national records are not official until the National Aeronautic Association (NAA) and Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) complete an audit of claims.
Unlike most general aviation aircraft and all commercial and military aircraft, Craparo and Dabbs’ gyroplane was hand flown during the entire 73 hours in the air. The gyroplane does not have an autopilot. Such flying requires superior concentration and communication.
During the flight from Dallas to Los Angeles, heavy fog blocked their route into California from Lake Havasu, Arizona, causing an eight-hour delay before reaching Twenty Nine Palms, Calif. The pair later flew for 10 hours over the Rocky Mountains at high altitude while temperatures plunged to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
With the Continental Divide behind them, temperatures warmed as they crossed Kansas, Missouri, Illinois and Indiana. Night flying in Ohio and Pennsylvania brought some rain and mountainous terrain that challenged the skills of both pilots. On their return flight to Dallas, the forests and mountains of Maryland and West Virginia pressed the pair to constantly scan for emergency landing sites among the tall trees and crevasses that carpeted their route.
Craparo and Dabbs say that kudos goes to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) personnel for their assistance.
In order to obtain sanctions for these flights between the three major cities, the gyroplane had to take off and land no further than 20 km or 13 miles from city center at a tower controlled airport. Tower controllers would act as official timekeepers and observers for takeoffs and landings. That left few choices other than highly controlled and congested Class B airspace. The team received fantastic cooperation from airport authorities and FAA as they helped the pair with expeditious handling for takeoffs and landings. All three tower managers went above and beyond in so many ways, said Craparo.
Robert Russ, upon learning that weather would delay the flight’s landing at Santa Monica Airport, offered to remain at the closed tower until late into the night to ensure an official observer could record the landing time. At LaGuardia, the team was informed that neither an autogiro nor gyroplane had ever landed there in its 75-year-history.
James Law insured that controllers in New Jersey and New York knew that the Magni was on its way. On departure, they allowed a flight down the East River where it passed the United Nations, Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. The view from the cockpit was surreal as activities around Central Park, the Empire State Building and the new World Trade Center could practically be heard… rustling leaves, clicking keyboards, whistle-hailed taxis, honking horns and chatter formed an imagined Gershwinesque cacophony.
Doug Boyson at Dallas Love Field, tracked each of the flights closely, offering encouragement and concern by email over the entire 10-day voyage. Craparo and Dabbs were surprised and delighted by this air traffic controller’s simple greeting upon their success-filled touchdown… “Good morning and welcome home guys!”
Dabbs states, “Aside from any record-setting, we displayed the capability of this small aircraft as a safe, comfortable and economical touring vehicle for short and long distance travel.” The gyroplane uses about 5 gallons of premium auto fuel for every hour of flight, while cruising at 100 mph. John Craparo stresses the safety and stability record of the Magni designed gyroplane. He also says, “It is fun and its simple controls make it easy to fly with proper training.”
John Craparo, 56, of Georgetown, Texas, is a retired senior vice president of Hewlett-Packard Company. He holds pilot privileges in airplane, seaplane, gyroplane, powered parachute, glider, and hot air balloon. He is also a certificated advanced ground instructor and aircraft repairman. Craparo is the author of the book, You Can Fly Now, and is a regular contributor to Powered Sport Flying Magazine.
Dayton Dabbs, 30, Taylor, Texas, is the president of Lone Star Magni Gyro, Inc. The company trains gyroplane pilots and is a leading distributor for Magni Gyroplanes in the USA. Dabbs holds a commercial pilot certificate for airplane and gyroplane. He is also a certificated flight instructor (CFI) and aircraft repairman, and a designated pilot examiner (DPE).
A gyroplane is a category of aircraft utilizing non-motorized overhead rotor blades for lift with an engine-driven propeller for forward thrust. The Magni M16 is an open cockpit, two-place carbon fiber and steel aircraft equipped with a 115 hp Rotax 914 turbocharged aircraft engine. The rotor blades measure 28 feet in diameter. The gyroplane, as configured for the record attempt, had a takeoff weight of 1,100 lbs. The aircraft can cruise at speeds from 30 to 100 mph at a maximum altitude of 14,000 feet. Short takeoff and landing distances on paved or turf runways allows it to operate where airplanes cannot.
The precursor of the modern gyroplane was the “autogiro,” invented in 1923 by Juan de la Cierva of Spain. The aircraft was hailed for its ability to make very short takeoffs and landings. In addition, it was extremely safe due to its inability to suddenly lose aerodynamic lift, which plagued fixed-wing airplanes of the day.
During the 1930s, the autogiro was imported into the United States under license to aviation entrepreneurs like Harold Pitcairn and Wallace Kellett. In May 1931, the experienced exhibition pilot, Johnny Miller, took off for the west coast in an attempt to be the first person to cross the country in an autogiro. Amelia Earhart, who was better known than Miller and much better financed, also left the east coast trying to add that title to her list of aviation triumphs. When she reached California in her Pitcairn Autogiro, she was surprised and angered to learn that Miller beat her there by one week in the same make and model machine.
In 1939, Miller and Eastern Airlines entered into a contract with the U.S. Postal Service. Miller was contracted to fly the world’s shortest airmail route between the rooftop of the new Philadelphia central post office and the Camden, New Jersey airport. Miller flew over 3,000 successful flights between the downtown office building and the airport over the course of 12 months. The gyroplane used by Craparo and Dabbs carries the same registration number as the Kellett Autogiro flown by Miller, N15069. It is also dressed with a modernized Eastern Airlines logo from that era – a stylized eagle in a circle.
The autogiro was displaced by the helicopter during the Second World War due to the latter’s vertical takeoff and landing capability. In the early 1990s, Vittorio Magni, an Italian engineer, developed the prototype for the modern gyroplane flown by Craparo and Dabbs, the Magni M16. The M16 is today flown all over the world for recreation and commercial use including aerial photography, nature conservation, pipeline patrol, traffic reporting, agricultural spraying, ranching and police surveillance.