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RAF Pilots

Through the Years With Pride

The Ron Menzie Story

Chapter One of the Ron Menzie Story

Thinking back over the many years and all the proud memories that my family and I are responsible for, makes me appreciate the unique aviation family relationship we have and we would like to share this with you.

It all began back in the summer of 1967 when my wife, Sandra and I were out for a Sunday drive in Rhode Island. We noticed a strange-looking object flying near the Westerly, R.I. Airport. It sort of resembled a helicopter. We drove to the airport where this thing had landed and soon we learned what a Bensen Gyrocopter looked like, Clyde (Jack) Gordon was the proud builder and pilot and little did we know that the years to follow would gift us with joy and harmony with the sport of flying Gyroplanes.

Soon after becoming good friends with Jack Gordon, I sent my airframe order off to Bensen Aircraft Corp. My son, Steve, was a couple of months old and we lived in a third-floor apartment. Of course when you're just starting a family, everything is on the shortage list: money, tools, and especially building space.

My boss invited me to construct my Bensen Gyro in the basement of his huge house. What I didn’t know at the time was that he had 12 kids. That’s correct, t-w-e-l-v-e, and most of them were at the grab-and-run-with-things stage. My income for buying Gyro parts came from working at night at the local Beach Batting Range. I constructed my entire Gyro from raw material kits. At that time nothing was available as pre-formed and pre-assembled, including the rotor head and the rotor blades. Now the rotor blades took a lot of work, time, and most of all, self-confidence. They are the heart of the Gyro. They will be holding me up, I was hoping. The glue curing temperature was very critical. Quite often, using an electric blanket to maintain the proper temperature, my wife Sandy would have to adjust the blankets they were wrapped in. I'd call her from work to give her further instructions and to check on the rotor blades. I got to feeling a little guilty since here we are, married for two years with a two-month-old baby, living in a third-floor apartment, and I'm buying a Gyro! Needless to say, we purchased our own home with, of course, a garage for the Gyro, shortly after the Gyro purchase.

It never entered my thoughts as how I would learn to fly this unfamiliar machine. Jack taught himself and was using his original rotor blades; I figured it must be easy. Bensen advertises "Fly out of your own back yard" - ignorance is certainly bliss.

Anyway, Jack gave me plenty of assistance in building and he also shared his learning experience with me.

Here my Gyro glider sits with its wooden rotor blades and outboard gas tanks, a full blown Bensen to the letter. My son Steve was at the crawling age so he probably thought this was part of life. Little did we all know it would be part of life.

By now, Jack and I located a small group of folks in Danbury, Connecticut that we were giving rides to in a Bensen Gyroglider,
Sandra, Steve, and I would start out at 4 A.M. Saturday mornings and drive 3 and 1/2 hours in hopes to get more glider time. There was always a crowd of folks in line. It took many weekends before I felt comfortable to begin practicing on my own Glider. Sandra managed to get some time in the glider, which really helped.

Sandra became the official tow-car driver; she would spend hour after hour on weekends and evenings driving our one and only 1964 Ford Falcon, towing either the dual-seat glider or our own Gyroglider back and forth at Richmond Airpark, a 2,100 ft. runway.

Chapter Two of the Ron Menzie Story

I was in no hurry. I didn't want to break those nice rotor blades Sandra and I worked so hard to build. I recall Sandra driving the tow-car, 8 months pregnant with our two-year old son Erik. She had to sit on a pillow so her tummy could fit into the steering wheel properly.

It took me a while to save up enough money so I could buy a Mac Engine and other parts to complete my Gyro. During this tune, Jack and I built a dual-seated Gyroglider and began teaching folks how to fly. We soon realized what little training the Glider offers you. There is no substitute for good training in a powered Gyroplane. The first day Sandra was released from the hospital after Erik was born, I picked her up and we went straight to a Gyro Fly-in at Richmond Airpark. Erik would soon realize that a Gyrocopter would part of his life as well.

As both Steve and Erik got older, they both continued to maintain a strong interest in Gyroplanes, All of us would attend lots of Fly-Ins and Air shows soon after I completed adding an engine to my Glider. Here I thought all my Glider time would give me a head start with the powered machine. Wrong again! I think back now, of all the people I trained with the Gyroglider and, shaking my head, wondering how they ever transitioned to free flight. Some I know are still flying today, and that has been 25 years.

Sandy and the boys would always be with me at the airport to watch me fly. I felt very lucky to have my family taking part in my interest when I now realize now that they had sacrificed their interests for mine.

As the boys reached the age to be able to handle tools, they were a great help and very enjoyable to watch as they learned. Sandra's mom and dad lived in Arkansas and we would drive there each year to visit and enjoy life on their 90-acre farm. After several years of flying under my belt, we decided to trailer N-3891 the 1500 miles to Arkansas and see the different countryside. It's always been such good team work. Watching them made me wish I had this chance at their age.

A section of road was the longest runway I had ever taken off from. I landed in the front yard and before I realized what was going on, I looked up to see a heard of cows running towards me. The rotor blades were still spinning and my Gyro and I were speckled with cow chips. Looking back over the years during my solo flights at Richmond Airpark, I can remember I would never leave sight of the airport for fear of getting lost. Remember, this was my first time flying solo in anything.

Stu Lickson got to be good friends with us and he, being a high-time airplane jockey, was a great help to me. He built his own Gyro and we taught him how to fly. From that point on all we did was cross country flying. I am very thankful for Stu’s sharing of his knowledge and experience with me. Flying these Gyros is a very small piece of the pie, it's the fellowship with the wonderful people you meet, Stu was one of these nice folks. He became a part of the family as the years rolled on.

I recall Stu and me flying to Block Island from Westerly, Rhode Island, it was hazy but we headed in that direction anyway and soon the outline to the island became visible. The trip there seemed like forever and for a short period of time we saw nothing but sail boats and water. It was a great trip, we did a lot of flying around the island. Most of my flying has been over water and woods. I've always run a Mac Engine and it has treated me well with over 2000 hours. Some people swear at the Mac, I swear by the Mac. Without Stu's experience, I would probably still be flying patterns around the airport.

While we were visiting Sandra's mom and dad in Arkansas, we thought it would be a good time to purchase some land for retirement. Of course it had to be suitable for a runway and we found 18 rectangular-shaped acres. It was a hog farm and I could imagine converting the two large buildings (one building was 30 ft by 90 ft. and another half that size) into shops and hangars.

Chapter Three of the Ron Menzie Story

I was laid off from my job soon after we returned from Arkansas, Sandra and I decided to move ourselves to Arkansas. We rented a 24 ft. long U-Haul truck, loaded it, and drove it to our new home, the hog farm. We made two trips and that was an interesting venture; another story in itself.

I remained without a job for 14 months and during that time we built our new home. The first job was to make a 1000 ft long runway and when that was completed, I could fly at my leisure and not have to use the highway. The boys at that time were 6 and 8 years old and we continued to tow the Glider after finding a lonesome 8000 ft paved runway.

I remember when Steve and Erik built their own first Gyro-glider and assembled it at the Rockford International Gyro Convention. They were on top of the world, standing by their Gyro as it was displayed on the flight line among the rest of the best. By this time, the two boys had full control of the Glider in any wind condition. Now the test for old Dad's confidence arrived. One day Steve asked it he could solo the Glider, now that got my attention. I knew he was ready and Steve knew it too, but there was this feeling deep down inside that's saying, "Dad, you don't have anymore excuses, but wait - no, go for it." You really have to be confronted with this situation to understand how I felt. The next thing I knew, we were all headed for the Petit Jean Airport with the glider loaded, mom with her camera, Erik as ground support, and dad with a lump in his throat.

After everything was unloaded, Steve and Erik aligned the rotor blades with the hub bar, but they let me torque the bolts. To watch these two guys move around, getting things done never ceased to amaze me. I wondered, does it get any better then this? I realized later it does. Explaining things in detail as the boys were growing up sure paid off. It takes more time while they are learning. But believe me, it's more than rewarding when they can help you do most anything. Best of all, its fun growing up as a family team. I made a few runs down the runway, but there was too much crosswind for Steve to solo. We waited around until evening, hoping the wind would die, but it didn't. Steve was very disappointed. We went home and waited for a better day.

When Steve got home on Wednesday, October 11, he said, "Today sure would be a good day to solo," He and his brother loaded the Glider and when I got home from work, we headed for the Carlisle Airport. It was closer and we were racing the approaching darkness of night.

The boys had everything ready to go and I mentioned something about the wind when I heard Steve say, "It's OK Dad, right down the runway and steady." I thought, Dad, you don't have anymore excuses. I don't know who was more excited. Erik knew it would be his turn soon. Golly, I’ll get to enjoy this again!

We all stood around Steve as he sat in position in the Glider discussing what our signals would be. We noticed Steve had tears streaming down his cheeks. He said, “I’m nervous." I told him we didn't have to do this today, but he insisted it was alright. We didn't get 50 ft. down the runway when Steve gave us the "thumbs up" signal. His feet could barely reach the nose wheel steering bar. This was one of those moments one cannot explain the pride and joy, you must live it to feel it. Later that next year we were in MT. Pleasant, Texas, with the Gyro-glider and Steve flew the Glider, solo, for CFI Andy Anderson, who signed a log book and presented it to Steve. That's one book that he cherishes.

Erik had his dreams all in place. He just got the previews of his turn at this. However, he was just 9 years old at the time!
In 1975, I mentioned to Sandy and the boys that I would like to fly my Gyro from home to the International Rotorcraft Fly-In at Rockford, Illinois, and then on to Oshkosh, the big one. Without their involvement, this trip would be very difficult. They became as excited as I was. A trip such as this one: 700 miles, 10 different airports with the unexpected. It helps to have a good ground crew and I had it all and more.

Pictured to the right is one or Ron's trainers that he uses for single-place gyro training.

Chapter Four of the Ron Menzie Story

I won't bore you with the details of the 700 mile trip but it was most enjoyable. Sandra would film each airport departure, I would always be waiting for her and the boys when they arrived. I ran into all kinds of bad weather. At every airport, Steve and Erik would bring me snacks and drinks. When I got ready to depart, the boys would hold the Gyro in position while I started it. I would always explain the various accidents and what to be cautioned about when around Gyros. Through the years they both learned to respect Dad's Gyro. They, now as adults, have enough experience and knowledge to make good common sense decisions. Sandra was always positive with everything I would do, never selfish but with plenty of reason to be. It wasn't long before Erik had enough flight experience under his rudder pedals to think seriously about going solo in the Glider. We were asked to bring our Glider to the Texas Rotorcraft Annual Fly-In at Mt. Pleasant one year to give rides; it was there where Steve soloed for CFI Andy Anderson two years prior. So when I suggested, “why don't we have Erik solo?” Erik said, “Your words where taken right out of my thoughts”. It was another great time of my life. Here is son #2, a carbon copy of Steve's interests. Of course Sandra likes me to make up appropriate posters for events like this and she certainly didn't let this one slip by.

Erik did quite well with his first solo flight and Andy Anderson did the honors with the log book endorsement and shirt tail snipping. You know boys, especially brothers are always competing. Steve already had his sights set on flying solo in the powered Gyro.

We all made lots of good memories and then came the age for girls and cars. Steve put his Gyro skills and knowledge aside as he ventured on with other interests. Erik, being 2 years younger, remained my helper, catching up on things as I always had Gyros to work on. The down side of a mom and dad's close relationship with their sons and daughters is the day they leave the nest. They seem to take a part of you when they leave,.

Erik married and moved to Atlanta, Georgia, and is busy with life's more important priorities and chores. Not being nearby, he didn't have the chance to keep his Gyro interests going. Steve remained close by, however, and with his other interests, he stayed quite busy. It wasn't until several years later that he asked me to teach him how to fly the powered Gyro. By that time the Parson two-seat trainer was in use and Steve suggested that we build one. At one of the Bensen Days Fly-ins, Steve and 1 took a few photos and dimensions of Bill Parson's Tandem Gyro to help me in the construction of our own. Steve and I began building as soon as we returned from the Fly-In and proudly displayed it at the Middletown international Fly-In that same year. The new Gyro, N18KL had its maiden solo flight there at Middletown. I had not even run the engine until then! Now it has over 4,000 take-offs and landings.

Once I was comfortable in the rear seat, I began training Steve. My training schedule was always full on the weekends, but I would always manage to get Steve in the air each Saturday and Sunday. Most times only 15 minutes at a time. Steve put up with the same excuses from me prior to his first powered solo flight as with the Glider.
Steve's determination, patience, and long-term exposure with Gyroplanes were worth the wait. Steve has accumulated over 300 hours in the single place and an unknown amount of time in the back seat of the trainer, with me in the front seat.

Our family has attended all the P.R.A. conventions since 1969, including Oshkosh and it’s great to watch all the same young adults grow up together as good friends meeting in various parts of the country. Heather came into our lives in 7-11-78 and she, too, was a great help with our aviation activities. She also got her flying time in the tandem. Of course, by the time she could reach the rudder pedals, she was into dancing and playing the saxophone.

It seems like every time we add to the family, I start a new aircraft. Shortly after Heather was born, the boys and I started constructing a Vari-Eze airplane. Three years later, Steve and I flew it to Oshkosh. Since then, every time I'd go flying, the kids would flip a coin for the back seat. Erik's size (6 ft, 2") eliminated him and Steve would rather fly the Gyro, so Heather ended up with many hours in the back seat of the Vari-Eze N71BRM.

At the National Rotorcraft Convention held at Hearne, Texas, was another first for our family. Steve talked me into carrying both single-places and the Tandem Gyros to this convention. That was a chore in itself being we only had two vehicles with small trailers, A good Gyro friend, Weserman, trailered the third Gyro for us. After all these years of flying, that was the first chance Steve and I had the opportunity to fly single-place machines together in formation. Steve's next goal is becoming a Gyroplane CFI. He has all the required talents, especially his great flying techniques. He spends many weekends assisting me with my “high”, training. Soon we will both be flight training, our next highlight in life.
 

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 Last modified: 12/05/2012.