Home' Advocate Communications : Fiordland Advocate 8 May 2014 Contents LOCAL NEWS
Page 14 | 8 May, 2014
A 20-year love affair with a
gyrocopter has ended not in tears,
but in red tape for Nightcaps
resident Leith Compton.
In an era where the spirit of do-it-
yourself and flying by the seat of
your pants has been crushed by
risk averse culture he has hung
up his flying gear and donated
his historic gyrocopter to the
Ashburton Aircraft Museum where
it now rests nestled under the
wing of a DC3.
Leith first saw a gyrocopter in the
air in Australia about 20 years
ago and immediately bought one.
Initially he controlled it by trial and
error until a spectacular crash into
a swamp on the edge of Newcastle
which had the Emergency 111
system overloaded and Leith as
the lead item on the TV news.
You know the old saying when all
else fails read the instructions.
Well, Leith decided it was time to
take some lessons. This initially
involved hooking up the gyro
behind a slowly moving car as
Leith learned to manoeuvre by
listening to the sound of the
Not even that was without
“One time the car towing me
slowed down and I just fell out of
the air from 100ft,” recalls Leith
“With my third crash the rudder
broke when I was up at 600ft. Not
a problem, though, the gyro falls at
the same speed as a parachute.
So two of the three crashes were
largely beyond my control.”
His favourite story concerns a
prank at a prison near Newcastle
where he knew the governor and
some of the guards.
“I did a few laps around the
perimeter walls but unbeknownst
to me a relieving governor was
there that day and the next minute
the prison was in lockdown and
the place was alive with police.
“When I landed on the nearby
farm airstrip I was corralled by
cop cars. They did eventually see
the funny side of it and later I was
invited back to have afternoon tea
with the governor.”
Taking off into the outback
chasing kangaroos, zipping
over the wide open spaces,
these are Leith’s favourite
memories of his machine.
Another important part of
the gyro’s appeal is its ease
of modification. Leith has
rebuilt it from the front to
the back over these last 20
years. In fact the front is now
“Although a tail wheel works
well on some aircraft the
gyro wouldn’t taxi properly.
So we cut the engine off
and swapped everything end for
end. Now the tail wheel is a nose
“As far as I know it’s the only
airframe in the world that’s been
Leith believes it scores another
first as the only gyro with a
propeller at the front; most of
them have rear propulsion.
While tractor-powered (that is with
the engine out front) gyrocopters
are fairly common overseas, Leith
says if he had completed this
project, including and test flying it,
it would probably have been the
first tractor machine to fly in New
However the cost and effort of
compliance for 20 hours a year of
flying fun doesn’t add up he says.
He cites costly medicals and other
general costs plus a biannual
flight review with an approved
instructor which involves flying up
to Nelson and hiring a machine as
part of the ‘cotton wool’ conditions
imposed these days.
“My mate ‘Mac’ McKenzie in
Masterton built a copy of an
historic gyrocopter to 90 percent
finished and now he’s burnt most
of it in protest,” he said.
Leith is very pleased with the
resting place of his gyro.
“The museum has 400 volunteers,
all enthusiasts about aviation. All
the stuff they have there is mint.”
Unique gyrocopter grounded
Leith Compton all packed up and ready to head to the aircraft museum in Ashburton to donate his gyrocopter, which is
powered by a Skidoo 65hp snow bike engine. The registration letters RLC stand for Rotocraft Leith Compton.
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