By Vance Breese, EAA 705840, for Light Plane World
I fly an open-cockpit tandem experimental gyroplane that was designed and built by Mark Givan who has no engineering background. It’s slow and inefficient; when it rains we get wet. He named it The Predator, and it has the nose art from a Desert Storm A-10 without the gun sticking out of its mouth. I’ve found it doesn’t fit the ideal of most fixed wing pilots.
Many of them want higher, faster, and able to fly in bad conditions. This expectation makes me a little defensive when I meet a stranger at an airport and he asks, how high? How fast? How far? Cruise speed? To get that off the table, the answers are 12,700 feet, 110 mph, 160 miles with an hour of fuel in reserve, and 95 mph at 75 percent power. These aren’t numbers that impress fixed wing pilots, and they aren’t entirely representative of the sort of flying my wife and I enjoy. The typical response to these answers is “That’s not too bad.”
I have about 800 hours flying The Predator; I felt I needed a better answer. I was flying up to Marysville, California, from Santa Maria for the EAA Western Regional Fly-In, and I had some time to think about it and many opportunities to practice answering the questions as I flew into six airports for the first time. My suitcase in the back seemed to invite a few additional questions such as “Where are you based?” and “Where are you headed?”
One of my fuel stops was a small agricultural airport near the town of Gustine. As I fueled up at the self-serve and looked around for the necessary room, two very amiable agricultural pilots wandered over, and after an appropriate observation period, proceeded to ask the same typical questions.
I answered them with the preface that the destination is an excuse to fly and not the point of the exercise. After giving them the basics, I told them that if I have allocated enough time for the flight, I fly at 75 mph 500 feet above the ground so I can smell the smells and feel the temperature changes.
I fly up the valleys and around the lakes. I stop every 75 miles because I like flying into new airports and I like the people I meet. I try to make the flight fill all the available time. That was my new answer. Seeing this was getting a better response, I pressed on.
I’m not trying to make babies with my wife, so the end isn’t the point. I want to take my time and enjoy the romance. The end will come. I’m not flying to Marysville to get there; I’m flying there because I love to fly, and it’s fun to go somewhere and visit with friends. The two pilots were soon reminiscing about Cubs and Aeroncas and the beginning of their flying. They wished me well and pointed me in the direction of the pilot’s lounge. I felt this was a much better response than “That’s not too bad.”
Vance Breese is an engineer at heart and the son of a famous test pilot, Vance Breese Sr. Doctors predicted he would never walk or talk again after suffering a traumatic brain injury in 1995 when he crashed at 260 mph trying to set a land speed record for motorcycles. His recovery to the point of becoming a certificated pilot in 2008 could be an inspiration for other brain injury victims. Read “Living an Impossible Dream” from the Santa Maria Times, and watch this matching video of his remarkable story.
Vance Breese’s Predator gyroplane won the Best Rotorcraft Award at the 2009 Watsonville Fly-In and Air Show.