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Copter Project
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Our President, Jim West is an avid flyer and holds a single engine land IFR rating. He owns a Cessna 172 airplane and a RAF 2000 gyro copter.   The Cessna is used for short trips of around 200 to 300 miles and for flying with other pilot friends to local (Wisconsin and Northern Illinois) Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter fly-in breakfasts.  (That event makes for pretty expensive pancakes and sausages.)  The RAF 2000 is a newly built aircraft Jim describes as his “pure fun machine”.   He built it from a Rotary Air Force kit and is taking RAF autogyro flight lessons from Jim Logan and and from Duane Hunn the President of the Ask First Society  Both instructors are Rotary Air Force factory representatives.  Jim  enjoys lots of attention wherever he lands the RAF 2000.

raftest.jpg (39951 bytes)The picture shows the copter with its rotor turning.  You can see the blue and white scheme that will later be finished into the American flag.  The wheel pants are done but not installed in this photo.   You might also notice that the windshield has tape on it for protection until the door installation is completed.The graphics for the RAF 2000 will (once Jim feels like a hot dog) be styled after the American Flag.  Right now, its paint job is white and blue.  Later, the blue will receive white stars and the white will be treated to tomato red stripes. 

There are several placards required on an experimental aircraft as well as dash.jpg (60885 bytes)various identification markings.  ECI did them for the auto gyro and can provide them to other homebuilders for a nominal price.  We put together dashboard speed placards for the rotor and engine tachometers, warning placards for the passengers, switch placards showing on and off switch positions and for some of the dials on the dash yellow-green-red circle segments.  We made a decal for the ominous word “EXPERIMENTAL” placed down the mast below the rotor.  We also cut a vinyl decal according to the FAR specification for the registration number on the tail. The decals on the indicator dials and outside of the ship had a peal and stick adhesive backing.  Routed-mica placards were mounted with two-sided 3M picture mounting tape (the kind with a thin layer of foam between the adhesive layers.   It took about forty-five minutes to install the lot.  Anyone building a RAF 2000, and a most anyone building an experimental aircraft could use at least some of the placards and graphics that we built.

gyrobox.jpg (29319 bytes)The parts and raw materials came in several large boxes.  The largest wooden box contained the fiberglass body parts, tires, fuel tank, carpet and upholstery, cables, nuts and bolts, rivets and bags full of aluminum parts.  Another large wooden box contained the engine (a Subaru Legacy EJ22) and muffler/exhaust manifold.  Those two boxes where very heavy and required a fork lift truck to take them off the delivery truck’s floor.  Another very long wooden box contained the rotor system’s components: the rotary wings and hub bar.   The last wooden box off the truck contained the keel.  Shortly after all that stuff was moved into what would soon become the manufacturing area, another box (cardboard this time) arrived containing the windshields and side doors.

The neighbors were almost as anxious as Jim was to open the treasure chests and examine the vast array of unusual parts.  After a rough count of the contents (which took a while), it was evident that the folks at Rotary Air Force did their job and included everything that was ordered.  The garage wasn’t ready for this type of project and needed some adjustments, before this project could really start and there were so many parts to look at that it was difficult to decide to do first, so Jim built a workbench fourteen feet long and three feet wide.  Several fluorescent shop lights were hung up.  A long workbench was constructed from 2”X6” rafters, salvaged from a neighbor’s garage demolition, and ” plywood sheet scraps (that were being used as makeshift garage attic floorboards) were re-commissioned as the workbench top.  He made the bench at the level gyrotabl.jpg (25223 bytes)he felt would be comfortable working on while sitting in a folding chair.  That same height would allow him to build his machine on the table’s surface until after the two-passenger seat was installed into the fuselage.  By that time the wheels were on the frame, the landing lights were in the nose and the rudder cables were installed down the keel.

Once the machine was moved off the bench and onto the ground, heavier rafongrn.jpg (125071 bytes)components where added to the assembly, and the workbench was used to fabricate assemblies that would someday be added to the airframe.  Hey!  It finally is called an airframe.  The engine was taken from its wooden box and set on the mounting cradle.  It took three of us to do it and a lot of groaning.  It can be done with a chain hoist and two guys, or thee guys and a lot of groaning.  Personally, three guys groaning sounds more masculine and builds character.

Jim never riveted anything together before, so he practiced riveting tin cans and other things from the trash together until he felt comfortable with rivets.jpg (37161 bytes)the process.  It isn’t really very difficult once you do a few.  The best advice is to measure every hole at least twice before you drill the hole.  He also never worked with fiberglass before, and actually can’t say he has much experience after working on the fuselage and wheel pants, because they require sanding and some filling, but no real fabrication.  The Plexiglas parts are Lexan and need mostly to be edge-sanded to fit.  Most of the work in the construction project requires cutting aluminum tubing to proper lengths and drilling holes for rivets and bolts.  There are a lot of cuts to make and holes to drill.  The Dremel tool and a borrowed drill press came in real handy.  

Several tools were gathered from the neighborhood, a form of borrowing that brings the guys together and provides a never-ending source for small talk entertainment. The borrowed tools included a palm sander, air compressor, a variety of clamps, a drill press, a set of Allen wrenches, a hole saw and a few other items.  As neighbors had guests over to their homes, those visitors invariably were brought over to take a tour the "aircraft factory.This lead to all sorts of tale telling usually inspired by memories of military service or air shows or some helicopter-related event.  Now the RAF 2000 is not really (although it looks somewhat like one) a helicopter.  It is an auto gyro copter, or gyro plane, which means that it flies in auto rotation.  The RAF gets its thrust from a pushing propeller.

The aircraft is really a flying Subaru.  It is powered by a Subaru Legacy EJ22 car engine, which means it burns high-octane auto-gas.  Many have subaru1.jpg (126559 bytes)joked about landing at a local gas station to fill her up.  Auto gas is a less expensive fuel compared to Av-gas and available at many smaller airports.  A full load of fuel is about 25 gallons in the injection-molded seat tank.  Admittedly, the thought of sitting atop 25 gallons of gasoline, while flying along in a copter gives one pause to think.  The conclusion of that thought process concludes that the center of gravity doesn’t swing forward or aft as she burns the fuel supply down.  That actually makes longer flights in the craft easier to manage.  And, the injection molded plastic the tank is made of is pretty tough material.

The added benefits to Subaru power are numerous.  For those operating in cold climates, there is an ample source of 180-degree water.  Hot water subaru2.jpg (106152 bytes)means a warm cockpit and comfortable passengers.  It also means a defrosted windshield, for those times when an excited passenger starts breathing hard and steams up the Lexan (assuming your flying with the doors on).  Subaru engines are proven power plants with spare parts relatively easy to find in any metropolitan area.   These are lightweight, powerful engines for this type of aircraft.

The aircraft’s mechanical parts are pretty much all out in the open, making it easy for the pilot/mechanic to inspect and service.

It took time to make noticeable headway, to all but the people close to the project.  A lot of the work was built into sub-assemblies that didn’t make it to the ship until later.  The real “proof of the pudding” that progress is being made comes from looking at the individual loose parts going down in number. 

The ship  took its maiden flight on March 5, 1999.  This photo is of the first landing.

firstflight.jpg (49572 bytes)

The Popular Rotorcraft Association has its annual fly-in convention in Mentone, Indiana.  It was an absolute thrill to fly at the event.  Anyone interested in this type of flying should plan on attending.

 Click photo to run 1,695 k AVI video

We got to Mentone in a trailer that was custom-made to specifications.  This is the floor layout.  The red spots are tie-down locations.

This all started with the advice and encouragement of lots of folks.   Some are represented in Aviation Sites linked from this page.  More photos are on the RAF Pilots website.

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Last modified: 02/20/2015