Above & Beyond: Jump Ship
- By E. Stuart Gregg
- Air & Space magazine, March 2001
Courtesy E. Stuart Gregg
(Page 3 of 3)
The sight of this bizarre aircraft flying at low altitudes around northeast Florida occasionally prompted unusual requests. One day, Orlando sent down word to fly the YO-60 to the football stadium in Jacksonville, and report back if I thought I could land on and take off from the football field inside the stadium. After a casual flyby, I reported that it looked doable, so I was told to fly out of the stadium as a stunt for a war bond rally.
At twilight on the evening of the rally, with my crew chief in the back seat, I landed in the middle of the field. No problem. In the waning daylight, the prospect of a takeoff from this limited space seemed easy enough. But as darkness descended and the rally droned on, the tiers of stadium seats seemed to increase in height alarmingly.
As things finally began to wrap up, I was asked to tell the crowd about this unusual aircraft. Dry-mouthed, I mumbled a few sentences into the microphone, then climbed into the YO-60 and went through rev-up. As insurance, and out of desperation, I exceeded the rotor rpm redline and popped the quick-release pitch button, only to have the YO-60 stagger a few feet upward in the hot, still air, then fall back almost to the ground. The engine was snarling and the propeller did its best to pull us up and out of that big hole. I counted the entire alphabet of seat rows as we clawed our way upward. After I barely cleared the row of flagpoles and the stadium lights, everything immediately went black. The only instrument-flying aids the YO-60 had were rudimentary gauges, and I had never flown it at night. I resolved never to try a fool thing like that again.
Late in 1943, before the YO-60 test program was complete, I was ordered to the Sikorsky factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut, to evaluate the YR-4B helicopter. After just a few hours of flying, it was clear that the primitive but functional machine could perform vertical takeoffs and landings with far greater ease and dexterity than a jump giro—an observation I included in the final test report of the YO-60, virtually killing further military procurement of autogiros.
When I was sent overseas for combat duty in 1944, the YO-60s were still sitting on the ramp at Orlando, with no one there authorized to fly them. I later heard that a few jump giros were sent to Texas to join the conventional autogiros the border patrol used, and that every YO-60 crashed. Having been fortunate enough to have flown 150 hours without an accident in this imperfect, somewhat dangerous, but strangely enjoyable aircraft, I wasn’t surprised.
Nearly 60 years after the fact, I can now confess that in spite of regulations and common sense, I often used a YO-60 to fly home for lunch, landing in my front yard. I also flew it to the local golf course, where I landed on the ninth fairway, parked behind the caddy shack, and put in a quick nine holes of therapeutic golf.
—E. Stuart Gregg