In 1974, Lew Blackmore ordered a new McCulloch Aero Resources Super J2 VA-18 Gyroplane. He saw this new rotary wing aircraft as being suitable to assist mustering operations on Gregory Downs, in Queensland’s Gulf Country. The Gyroplane had a Hughes rotor system and a Lycoming 180 HP aircraft engine that was widely used in light aircraft.
Lew, from “Cootharaba” near Kin Kin, and living at Buderim, his son Greg, from Rockhampton and another pilot, Mick Robbins, also from Rockhampton, went to Maroochydore to learn to fly the gyroplane. Mick was to be employed to fly the aircraft at Gregory Downs.
All three pilots completed their training for a licence endorsement, however due to time constraints with the DOT (previously DCA) Examiner, Mick was the only one tested and licenced prior to the delivery of the new aircraft for Gregory Downs. The aircraft they trained in was VH-MGP (Construction number 96)
The instructor was Patrick Lewis, an ex US Army pilot and after a voluntary RIF (Reduction in Force) in 1970 at the end of his second Vietnam tour emigrated to Australia. He worked for several helicopter companies here and was offered a position with Hawker de Havilland based at their Bankstown GA airport during the mid 1970s. HdH had purchased 8 J-2s and needed an experienced rotary wing instructor pilot for sales demonstrations and flight training. His first job was to draft a flight manual syllabus that satisfied the senior examiner. The first J-2 arrived with an instructor pilot who checked out HdH’s test pilot who in turned checked Patrick out. He then checked out the local rotary examiner who then signed him off as a qualified instructor. HdH mechanics outfitted a J2 with an extra fuel tank and Patrick made sales demonstration trips from Melbourne in the south to stations in the Darwin area and on to the north west cattle stations. His experiences while all this was going on are too many to list. Patrick eventually retuned to the USA to live in Palm Springs, California. (There is a J2 in the Pima Air & Space Museum at Tucson)
Mick Robbins took delivery of the new gyroplane VH-BLD (construction number 77) and started out for Gregory Downs. Unfortunately when the aircraft had been last serviced a fuel union was left loose and a leak developed over Wumalgi, just north of Marlborough and fuel leaked back on to the exhaust stacks, as the engine was in the rear in a pusher configuration. The fuel ignited and the first Mick knew about was when he felt his seat back becoming hot and his coat behind the seat began smouldering. Fortunately, he was able to land the aircraft successfully on a clay pan near the railway line, with the door held open with his foot to keep his head out of the smoke coming from his melting jacket that was behind the seat. Mick had turned the fuel off and shut down the engine in the air and done an autorotation in to land and he then tried to extinguish the fire with the fire extinguisher. Major damage was done to the engine and the A frame supporting the rotor system and the aircraft was at first thought to be repairable but was subsequently written off.
The aircraft remains were put on a railway wagon and moved to a road crossing where, Allan Rose, the engineer from Rockhampton (Anstey Rose Engineers) trucked it back to their hangar. Allan ‘nick’ named it the “Black Looking Doover” after it’s registration.
That finished the Gregory Downs experiment with gyroplanes. The McCulloch Aero Resources Super J2 VA-18 Gyroplane was a well made and capable aircraft and it was unfortunate that this incident may have may have reduced the potential of the aircraft in Australia for other buyers.