The Air & Space 18A is a gyroplane manufactured in the central United States between 1965 and 2000.
The Air & Space 18A is one of the last three gyroplanes issued a Standard Airworthiness Certificate (September 1961) by the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Raymond E. Umbaugh, a manufacturer of agricultural fertilizer, founded Umbaugh Aircraft Corporation in Ocala, Florida, in 1957 to develop a gyroplane based on experience he acquired while modifying single-seat Bensen Gyrocopters. Gilbert Devore commenced the design of Umbaugh’s tandem two-seat jump-takeoff gyroplane in 1958, basing the rotor system on that of the Sznycer Omega BS-12 helicopter. The prototype Umbaugh U-17, built by Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation of Hagerstown, Maryland, flew in August 1959. Further test flights were conducted by chief pilot Ken Hayden and former Pitcairn Autogiro Company pilot Slim Soule. The prototype exhibited stability problems due to its single rudder and minimal T-tail horizontal stabilizer positioned on a boom behind the pusher propeller. The second prototype, named Umbaugh U-18, was fitted with a V-tail which also proved inadequate. The third empennage tested, also unsuccessfully, was a T-tail with two large vertical end plates on the horizontal tail plane. Sufficient stability was finally achieved by the use of two fixed vertical fins with a centrally mounted all-flying rudder, all mounted on a horizontal stabilizer. Umbaugh had by this time concluded an agreement for Fairchild Engine and Airplane Corporation to undertake final development and mass production of the U-18 as the “Flymobil.”
Fairchild built five development gyroplanes during 1960, one of which was used to gain FAA Approved Type Certificate 1H17 in September 1961. Umbaugh established a large network of dealers and distributors in the United States, upon whom he imposed minimum sales quotas to generate a large order backlog, but he experienced difficulty filling the orders due to inadequate manufacturing capability at Fairchild. Under pressure from the dealers, Umbaugh Aircraft Corporation ceased operations in 1962 and the agreement with Fairchild was terminated.
About one hundred Umbaugh dealers took over the assets of Umbaugh Aircraft Corporation and in 1964 established Air and Space Manufacturing, Inc., of Muncie, Indiana, to commence production. In early 1965, the FAA awarded the corporation a production certificate for the Air & Space Model 18A gyroplane, a model which had only minor differences from the Umbaugh U-18. By late 1965 sixty-eight gyroplanes had been completed and delivered, 14 more were near completion, some were later stolen when Air and Space Manufacturing was in receivership. Air and Space Manufacturing, Inc., was again faced with dealer pressure for aircraft and commenced efforts to raise $ 2.5 million for expansion. The fund raising resulted in accusations of stock irregularities by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and though those concerned were eventually cleared of all charges, the associated costs and delays resulted in the collapse of the company in 1966.
The assets of Air and Space Manufacturing went into storage, and were eventually (in the 1980s) acquired by one of the dealers, retired Pan Am pilot Don Farrington of Paducah, Kentucky. John Potter (former Vice President of Air & Space Manufacturing, Inc.,) went into partnership with Don Farrington until the year 2000 when Don died of a heart attack. Potter tried to re-establish the 18A program and transported an inventory of parts and some 18As to LaBelle, Florida, where he and partner Gene Ferrel established Heliplane Aircraft International Corp. Robert Kelsall of Euroa, Australia, was engaged to design a four-place version of the 18A termed 28A. Potter died of cancer in 2006.
Heliplane Aircraft International Corp. currently resides in Summerville, SC outside Charleston. Gene Ferrel owns the FAA Type II certificate for this aircraft, along with three trailers full of parts, fuselages and airframes. As of November 2011, no progress has been made placing the 18A back into production.
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