Monday, May 16, 2011

Chapter #3: Taking the download, The Gyrobee and Dr. Ralph Taggart

Like most of you, the Internet changed my life and the world in which we live in.  More than likely, this has happened around the world for everyone that uses the internet. Our generation gains information and connects with the people and things that are of value to us in totally different ways than any other prior generation in the history of the world.  

My beginning with this global reconnection began in 1997 with the receipt of yet another "AOL" (America On-Line) disk that came in the mail. I don't know how many I actually received and did nothing with. AOL was  very good at getting these disks into the hands of consumers and I eventually succumb to putting the one (an AOL disk) into my laptop computer. Once it was in and it performed the install routine, it opened up a whole new world in a matter of minutes. Soon I was trying to understand what words like "browser" and "search engine" meant.  Who could fathom what a "URL" (uniform resource locator) was at that time let alone all of the new file types like HTM or HTML.  Struggling to get my little mind around it was fun and exciting and I knew I wanted to get to a "search engine" (which was captive inside of AOL) and type in words like "homebuilt aircraft".  I eventually discovered that the PRA had a website and once I discovered I was convinced that this was the real reason the Internet! While at the PRA site, I spotted the little animated icon that said something like..."Free Ultralight Gyro Plans".  The rest is history..... 

Back then I think that most of the civilian population was on dial-up. I lived in Grand Rapids at this time and that was the best that we could get at that time.  My experience grew quickly and I discovered one could actually "download" things and yet a whole new world opened yet again! I like perhaps thousands of people from all over the world clicked on the that animated icon and began their journey to build this little gyroplane, the Gyrobee! Once I started there was no turning back.  Soon I was printing page after page of PDF's onto my dot matrix printer thinking that it was going to die before the construction manual was finally done.  In fact the PDF file was so big that the printer would  crash if I tried to print the entire package at once. I finally figured out that I had to print it 20 pages at a time and eventually it was all printed, punched and placed into a three ring binder; now I was ready for some serious study.

At that time in my life, I was a Sales Rep for Rubbermaid®.  My territory began with all of West Michigan, from the Indiana State line all the way to and including the Upper Pennisula of Michigan.  As business does, things change and so did my territory. It grew to include all of Michigan minus Detroit and the "thumb" of Michigan. And then it changed to include Northern Indiana and then it also included supporting the Spring Shows for Gordon Food Service South as far as Columbus, Ohio.  All of a sudden I was so upside down on the mileage of my leased car that buying it was the only way out of "lease car suicide" that I was in.  What began as a 12,000 miles a year lease soon was out of control at 33 - 35,000 miles a year and lots of hotels and travel.  

It was at this time when I was given AutoCad LT o use on my laptop!; I thought I died and went to heaven.  Prior to AutoCad LT I had "Design CAD" and it really did not meet my new product designing needs at the time. AutoCad LT (ACL) allowed me to easily submit product changes to engineering and allowed me to export files to CAM (Computer Aided Machining) for the first time in simple DWG or DXF file types.  ACL would allow me to build my Gyrobee with the kind of quality, using CAM, that would make a show aircraft. I wanted a quality aircraft and now I had the tools to get there. 

Traveling like I did took on a whole different meaning.  Not that that I wanted to be on the road as much as I was, but now I could stay in the hotel and do CAD at night versus go work out to pass the time, watch television all night or entertain customers, etc, etc.  Besides staying in the hotel and working on a new gyroplane did not seem like work and it made the evenings fly by.  Some evenings I still had to go out for dinner with customers but when I got done and back to my room, on came the laptop and up came ACL!

After organizing the plans for the Gyrobee, I noticed that there were little things that could be done to it to "pretty it up" and sort of make it my version of a great little gyroplane.  It was about this time that I noticed that Dr. Taggart's email address had an "edu" at the end of it. I also noticed that he was in someway connected to Michigan State, the best University in Michigan; MSU was also one of my customers!  Because prospecting in the sales business is a way of life, I decided to call the switchboard and ask for Dr. Taggart. I did not know that Dr. Taggart was in fact a professor; I did know that somehow I needed to connect with him because I had this idea.....putting the Gyrobee into production as a kit! What a great idea!

The day that I called MSU, Dr. Taggart was in class so I left a message. Later in the day, he returned my call and I was so geeked! He was open to getting together and talking about gyroplanes! I absolutely could not believe that a "Professor from the best University in Michigan" would like gyros, return a call to me and be open to getting together just to talk about this cool little gyro!  Better yet, he lived just an hour and twenty minutes from my home in Grand Rapids.  His home town was also in my sales territory.  What could be better than that?

We set up a date to get together, I brought donuts as a way of softening him up and we sat at his kitchen table and talked and talked and talked about ultralights and gyros, specifically the Gyrobee. When I got to the details of talking about how we could go into production with a simple kit, he asked...."why do you want to kit the Gyrobee when you can kit the next generation Gyrobee"?  I am sure that I looked at him kind of funny at that moment.  I really did not know nor was I prepared to think about some other gyro at that moment. I had already fallen in love with the Gyrobee. We started talking about small changes that needed to be made to the Gyrobee and after awhile, we were on the same page (napkin actually) with some ideas. I left feeling excited and sort of frustrated but none the less knowing that I was going to build an ultralight gyro. I am not sure but I think that Ralph suggested the name HoneyBee Gyro. (I will at least give Ralph the credit  because at my current age, I just don't remember)... 

Soon my ACL equipped laptop was humming and three views were popping out as fast as I could click.  Some of the areas of change were the tail surfaces, the nose gear, the main gear and later on the engine mount that needed change to accommodate the larger diameter props we would use. The overall layout of the next generation Gyrobee would be generally the same with the exception of these changes.  The effort would later on design its our control stick and rotor head, use RotorHawk Blades initially and ultimately lauch into production with its first five customers. 

I owe so much to Ralph for getting me in a practical sense,  started on becoming a gyroplane pilot.  I will never forget the lessons learned on a napkin from a kind gracious man like my friend, Ralph.  Find a friend that flies gyros and you have a friend for life. I consider Ralph one of those people in my life.  He and I are both getting older; the last time he and I talked, I committed to picking him up in Mason, MI and taking him for a ride.  A ride that both of us have waited for over such a long time..... Find a friend that loves gyros today...if you do you will have a friend for life!

Keep dreaming,


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