From the Cockpit Part 43: ELA 07 Cougar

Todays News


Editor’s Note: This is part 38 of an ongoing series documenting the flights of active-duty US Navy Pilot Ryan Rankin on his journey to fly 52 planes in 52 weeks through the year 2017.

He’s flown airplanes and helicopters, mastered landing tailwheels in the brush and wrestled with both propellers and jet engines, hopping with ease from pleasure craft to warbird. But this week Rankin tackles a whole other beast—the gyroplane. A separate category of aircraft from airplanes, helicopters, balloons and gliders, Rankin’s flight certification doesn’t apply here.

His first gyroplane, Rankin’s initial assumption upon seeing the ELA 07 Cougar was that it would fly similar to a helicopter. “You look at it and it has a big rotor blade on top,” Rankin says in his defense. “But the controls are very much airplane-like.” Because that big rotor on top is actually unpowered and uncoupled. The Cougar does have an engine, of course, strapped to the back and powering a separate propeller positioned perpendicular to the aforementioned. Working the stick, it’s this propeller that the pilot controls, giving the gyroplane horizontal thrust down the runway like a plane. As wind rushes through the top rotor, it begins to spin. “Almost as if you were to blow on a fan,” explains Rankin. With enough speed, pilot and gyroplane reach liftoff.

An unpowered rotor responsible for flight may seem odd, but there are precedents. Many helicopters, for instance, are designed to purposefully uncouple their rotors upon engine failure, allowing the propeller to spin with the wind and achieve a softer landing.

But the gyroplane is not a helicopter, and taking off from Sebring, FL with Chris Lord of, this makes Rankin very happy. “I felt more at home in this cockpit than a helicopter cockpit,” he says, reporting the transition to be “100 percent” easier. Whipping through the air in an open cockpit, Lord and Rankin dart to and fro at an impressively low altitude, again reminding him of the craft’s odd hybrid nature. “What it can do is more like a helicopter, but it flies like an airplane,” he says. “If that even makes sense.”

Back at Lord’s hangar, Rankin sees folks all sorts, even husband-and-wife teams, building their own Cougars. Built from kits, Lord imports them at about 49 percent completion; buyers can then take a bay in the hangar—equipped with tools and a TV with instructive video—and build the rest themselves.

A rather affordable craft, especially considering how pricey aircraft can get, Rankin understands the temptation to build his own. “I was blown away,” he says. “I can’t think of a flight I’ve had more fun on recently.”

For more about the flight in Rankin's own words and a video of the flight, follow the link below.

Pictured: Ryan Rankin and Chris Lord fly the ELA 07 Cougar. Photo courtesy of Ryan Rankin.

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