Update: See bottom for explanation of why this story was too good to be true!

Update II: See here for a company that apparently has gotten much closer.

talon4[1].bmpMercury News colleague Nicole Wong has a notable story (or here) about the growing number of people commuting to Silicon Valley in private planes. Worth reading, and checking out this graphic for examples.

But a reader named Sean Cooper just contacted us, saying he’s built something called a gyroplane (picture inset).

We’d like to hear what folk think about his radical idea. Basically Cooper says he commuted to work yesterday (50 miles one way) with this gyroplane. Sure it flies, but it drives too. So he drove it from home to the airport, flew it to his destination airport, and then drove it the rest of the way to work.

He says he finished building the gyro about a month ago and that after heated negotiations with the Department of Motor Vehicles to let him register it as both a vehicle and a gyroplane, they have agreed that it can drive on the streets and highways of California.

palv.lores(Update: Check out this competing project, called the PALV, which Cooper alerted us to. It is a Dutch company, and Cooper admits he’s in a race with it. Certainly ranks high on cool-look index. Picture inset left).

Back to Cooper. In his words:

I have a simple pulley device from the front of the Rotax engine that goes to an axel that powers the two back wheels. It is remarkably simple and I am amazed no one has ever done this before. I think the mountain of red tape has probably deterred those that went before me.

In the history of aviation, no one has ever driven from home to the local airport, taken off, landed and drove from the airport to their final destination, practically door to door in the same vehicle. I am sure there would be a market for this type of vehicle.

It is a Magni design – but not quite if you know what I mean. Magni gyroplanes from Italy are the best in the industry. Magni would not sell me the plans directly but I found them on the internet for $100.00. Apparently there are about 4 companies (ELA and MT-03 gyroplanes) that have copied the Magni design and produced some very safe and reliable gyroplanes.

Imagine people on a mass scale commuting in them. Do you think a venture capital company would be interested in this aircraft/motorscooter thing?
I know it sounds ambitious but why not?

Why not, indeed? We’ll mull a story about this for the Mercury News, so will check back for comments.

PS. We did a quick search, and here’s another gyroplane project. Here’s a definition of the gyroplane, and here’s a buyer’s guide.

Update I, 6/13 am: Cooper wrote in, to elaborate even more. Here are some of his comments:

If a picture is a thousand words, a ride is a million. I think it is a pretty convincing experience. I have not yet converted a two place ship to land use so only the single seat performs both missions right now. In addition the two place is the “open” cockpit type and according to my market reasearch, the public will not go for the open style – period. Honestly the two place is more fun on lazy summer afternoons but for practical every day commuting, the fully enclosed canopy is the only way to go. The engineers are still working on the enclosed two place design.

The plan however right now would be to train people in the open two place (student up front) and then sell the single enclosed to the smitten student. If one wants to take someone along however, they would have to opt for the two place right now.

It only takes 20 hours for training for the license but 20 hours can be done like the Motorcycle Safety foundation course – two week nights and two full days on the weekend of constant flying. Training would be included in the price of the single. I think Harley does the same thing. They honestly are very easy to fly but only Magni and ELA are worth a damn. All the rest of the gyros on the market suck – as in – you will die if you fly them. I wouldn’t go near any of them.

Price? A two place is about 50K so I am hoping the single will be somwhere around $30K.

Fuel? It burns auto gas. In fact the ultra reliable Rotax engine perfers auto gas and the manufacture suggest only to use auto gas. The Gyro burns about 5 gallons per hour and the cruise is about 100 mph so it is about 20mpg but remember your flying over mountains and water in the bay area that you would normally have to route around; it is not car miles but crow miles (“as the crow flies”) so the mileage is actually alot better than that really.

It is certainly for the “been there, done that” crowd. The other day I was actually laughing to myself as I was flying over 680 in morning traffic with all those Hummers and other SUV nuckle heads below – and of course not in the car pool. I have to admit I was being a little full of myself (but I enjoyed it nonetheless) and was thinking to myself – “okay you smucks, you think you bought the utimate “off road vehicle”, look up 700 feet above your ass; I’m sitting in that “vehicle” going 120mph when your stoped dead sitting there like and idiot. Yes there is a better way people and the great thing is that it is with technology that is here now, today, not something that we need to wait on for years dreaming about what wonderful thing may come our way.

If you wan to see some good footage of gyros taking off and landing google ELA gyroplanes and go to the video section. I think you need to download a divix player but it is quick and worth it. It shows how quick these gyros take to the sky and how little real estate you need to land one.

Air traffic control not being able to support all the traffic? I suppose you could have argured that to Henry Ford when he created the Model T. It would have sounded something like this: “Henry, you fool, the Federal Highway system hasn’t even been created yet, how the hell are people going to organize themselves on these small dirt roads that don’t even have traffic lights and stop signs? In the name of God, don’t do it man, thousand of people will crash into each other and kill themselves”. Hate to break it to you but 40,000 people ever year buy the farm still we mass produce cars. I think it was still a good idea…

I commute from Concord to San Jose. I used to do it in a Cessna but I would have a number of problems that I will tell you about later that have all been resolved coverting over to this street aproved gyroplane.

Update II, 6/13 pm: We’ve decided to nix the story for now. When we asked Sean Cooper for a ride in this thing, turns out he doesn’t have a two-seater anywhere in the western U.S. (there are a couple in Mexico and back east). And obviously, he can’t take us in his one-seater. So when we said we’d meet him at the airport, and watch him land and drive off to work, he demurred there too. Turns out, he’s got a few technical and regulatory issues still to iron out: He says it takes at least 20 minutes to take the rotor blade off, before you can drive the gryo. He might be able to leave the blade on, but still needs to negotiate DMV’s permission to do that, and it might require putting red flags on the ends to warn traffic. Add that to the minor inconvenience that the engine only drives in first gear while on the road, so no freeway driving just yet (looking at the picture, we’d figured it was no speedster). Cooper says he made the trip last week, driving a couple of blocks from San Jose Airport to his county job on North First Street, he tells us — and he lives a couple of blocks from the Concord airport. Even then, it is sort of a pain, and he hasn’t done it more than once. So he’s going to put his head down and work on this a bit more, he tells us. And, oh yeah, he’s still interested in funding.