I thoroughly enjoyed David Hastings’ story on flying the Wallis autogyros at the Norfolk and Norwich Aero Club in the mid-1960s. I still have a woollen bobble hat knitted for me by Jill Votier with the club’s name.
In 1965 Barrie Shaw and I went over to Swanton from the Mcaully Flying Group at Little Snoring to sample the WA-116. Peter Mallender was the autogyro CFI, having been converted to the type by Ken Wallis, and he briefed us both on the techniques to be followed. This was before the days of weightshift microlights so the reversed nosewheel steering arrangements caused a bit of confusion. I found the best thing was to leave the steering alone until stopped and then to use the nosewheel steering bar in the opposite manner to that which one was used to while taxying very slowly. Peter likened it to a bicycle handlebar steering and this was true but one does not taxi a bike. Old habits die hard. In the air there was no problem as the rudder pedals worked in the usual sense.
Another quirk of the type was the enormous torque reaction from the 90 horsepower Mcculloch drone engine. The throttle was high geared so all the power came in quickly. The result was that, despite pointing the nose at, say, 12 o’clock, the machine tracked at thirty-odd degrees to the right at about 1 o’clock – despite full left rudder application. Eventually came a new pilot, who weighed around sixteen stones, and the deviation in track coupled to slower acceleration and a longer takeoff run caused the machine to tip over sideways before lift off. The pilot was, like Bond’s martini, shaken but not stirred, but the autogyro was severely damaged.
The Mcculloch engine was designed for pilotless drone target vehicles that were shot at by AAA batteries at ack ack practice camps, our nearest being at Weybourne on the North Norfolk coast. The life expectancy of the drone depended on the proficiency of the gunners but engine reliability was not its strong point. The second autogyro at the club was destroyed when the engine failed above a soft ploughed field. The PFL was totally successful up to touchdown when the aircraft tipped head over heels. I think Ken realised then that ordinary club pilots were not really suited to his single-seat and drone-powered aircraft. Two-seaters and more reliable engines eventually came onto the scene but Ken never repeated his aero club experiment.
In the air it handled like a fixed wing aeroplane providing one remembered to maintain a positive g loading. Any negative g meant instant disaster. Strapped on and sitting on a bicycle seat, one’s legs over the void with nothing between them and the ground beneath, took a bit of getting used to. But with one’s trouser legs tucked into your socks, minimising any tendency for the family crown jewels to freeze on a cool day, it was quite an experience. It was a short chapter in my long flying career and one that gave me and others a lot of fun.
David Hastings, writer of the ‘Autogyro memories’ letter, responds: I knew Barry from the Swanton Morley days and the B-24 flight in 1992. Nice to read his comments on the Wallis.
I cannot remember we noticed the torque too much; our problem was that the rudder was so sensitive. Both the autogyros we bent were repaired by Ken.