Above & Beyond: Jump Ship
- By E. Stuart Gregg
- Air & Space magazine, March 2001
Courtesy E. Stuart Gregg
(Page 2 of 3)
After 20 hours of dual and solo flight, we two newly certified autogiro pilots flew the YO-60s to Orlando on a circuitous route: The jump giros had fuel for only two hours, cruised rather slowly, and, since the program was classified, could be refueled only at military bases.
From our training, we were accustomed to landing on the ramp in front of operations, rather than on the long runway with the usual traffic, so we asked the air traffic controllers at various airports if we could land on the ramp. Occasionally, if a ramp had open space, our requests would be granted. Most times, though, we were sternly told to land on runway so-and-so. If we repeated our request, we were asked just what sort of aircraft we were flying that could land on a crowded ramp.
On one occasion, with the tower’s permission, we landed right in front of base operations at Richmond Army Air Base in Virginia. The ops officer, who had not heard our conversation with the tower, spied us through the window and came storming out, ready to throw the book at us. But as he took in the sight of the strange wingless aircraft that had landed almost vertically on his crowded ramp, his stride slowed. By the time we shut down and got out of the aircraft, he was cordial, full of questions and begging for a ride.
Less than two weeks after we got the YO-60s to Orlando, Miller was killed while flying a Bell P-63 Kingcobra. In an evasive maneuver during a mock dogfight with a P-51, he flew into a thunderhead and spun out the bottom. At the time, I was flying one of the YO-60s, and, hearing a report of the crash, spotted the wreckage. I checked in with the tower, then flew slowly ahead of the ambulance and crash wagon, leading them down back roads and across fields to the scene. It was a terrible loss.
Because of the YO-60’s classified and unconventional nature, we had been ordered not to check anyone else out on the aircraft. Now the tactical test program was mine alone.
I flew at Camp Rucker in Alabama for the Infantry Board, at Camp Bragg in North Carolina for the Artillery Board, then finally with a division training in Florida for overseas duty. There I faced some unusual hazards. I delighted in landing in tight spots near “enemy” lines, but often these tree-lined sites were much too tight to attempt a takeoff. I did a lot of taxiing along roads in the woods and between trees, dodging branches that could hit the delicate rotors, while searching for sufficient open space for a safe takeoff.
We learned a lot from these operations in the field. For one thing, the YO-60 was very sensitive to rotor trim. Metal trim tabs near the ends of each of the three rotor blades sometimes had to be adjusted on the ground and by hand. Bang a rotor tip on a branch, or subject the fabric-covered blades to prolonged moisture, and when you revved the rotor, the YO-60 would oscillate and dance alarmingly on its spidery landing gear. Several times I had to rectify bent trim tabs and rotor imbalance with a pair of pliers—real shade-tree maintenance.
Ultimately, these field tests showed that in some respects the YO-60 could outperform the L-3 Aeronca, L-4 Piper, and L-5 Stinson liaison aircraft, but it was more expensive and complicated to fly and to maintain in the field.