By Hala Ali Aryan
concerns force Army crew to end mission
Plan to exhibit
helicopter-rocket runs into snags
May 11, 2003
MOJAVE – Helicopter-lovin'
hearts broke yesterday when an attempt to airlift a one-of-a-kind
helicopter-rocket combination from Mojave to a Ramona museum failed.
The cone-shaped Roton left
the ground with the help of an Army Reserve Chinook helicopter, but
a combination of the Roton's non-aerodynamic shape and damage that
occurred to the Chinook as it tried to set down the Roton after
problems developed doomed the mission.
"After putting a year
and a half of our lives into this, we're very disappointed,"
said Vista resident Terry Robinson, a museum member who organized
the airlift. "What occurred today should not have
The Roton, a 64-foot-tall
aircraft meant to carry satellites into orbit, never achieved its
purpose, but members of the Classic Rotors helicopter museum hope to
display it outside their hangar to attract attention and teach a
lesson in aviation history.
Owner Walt Anderson, who
invested $35 million into the failed project in the mid-1990s,
needed to get rid of the Roton because of the enormous hangar-space
expense he was accumulating. He was considering destroying it when
Classic Rotors came along.
An Army Reserve unit from
Fort Hood, Texas, agreed to airlift the Roton from the Mojave
Airport as part of its regular training.
Pilot Dwayne McQuade said
before the flight that he was confident the Chinook could lift the
weight of the 9,500-pound Roton, but he was concerned about its size
The shape proved to be the
first problem. The Chinook hovered above the Roton about 7:30
yesterday morning. It attached cables that had been previously
secured to the Roton's top and then lifted it and began to slowly
fly away, towing the Roton.
But as the Chinook gained
speed, the Roton began to swing from side to side like a pendulum.
The swinging made the flight too dangerous, and the Army crew of
four decided to abort the effort after flying about half a mile
After setting down the
Roton on all four of its legs, McQuade lowered the Chinook to
release the cables. But the Chinook went down too far and the
Roton's tip, to which its helicopter blades are usually attached,
punctured the Chinook's belly.
McQuade said he hovered
longer than usual because the ground crew wanted to tie down the
Roton to keep it from tipping.
Although the Chinook did
not suffer structural damage, the combination of the puncture and
the swinging was enough for the Army crew to call it quits.
Robinson said disengaging
the cable should have been simple, and engineers on hand had come up
with a solution to the pendulum problem. He plans to ask the Army to
One of the Roton's original
pilots and a few engineers from Rotary Rocket, the company that
built it, came to watch the airlift and had determined that the
pendulum swing could be prevented by wrapping a rope in a spiral
around the fuselage. But they never got to try.
Former Navy pilot Brian
Binnie was one of the two pilots who flew the Roton on its three
test flights in 1999. He said the Roton's midair instability made
him fear for his life when he flew it.
Binnie and other Rotary
Rocket employees and the airport's management had been pleased to
find out that the Roton would move to Classic Rotors, rather than be
destroyed. "We've been trying for three years to find a home
for this thing," said Binnie, a Rosemont resident.
The failure left about two
dozen people awaiting the Roton's arrival at Ramona Airport
disappointed," said Pete Neild, a Poway resident and a Classic
Rotors member. "We were really looking forward to getting it
here in time for the Ramona air show," which starts May 30, he
Classic Rotors member Doug
Armstrong of Poway pointed to empty ground in front of the group's
new hangar. The Rotary Rocket is supposed to be placed between the
hangar and the street to attract attention to the budding museum.
If the Army refuses to try
hauling the Roton again, the museum's only option is to hire a
commercial operator to airlift it or truck it to Ramona. That would
cost more than $100,000, said Robinson, and would require a sponsor.