JACKSON — Power parachuters Stephen and Terry Rastanis, of Walker, realized when the weather was even a bit windy, their hobby often became grounded.
But after their first ride in an autogyro less than a year ago — and the realization that more wind was better — they were hooked.
Stephen Rastanis, a ship captain by trade who obtained his private fixed-wing license in 1975, began researching where to find and how to own an autogyro. He has since earned his certified flight instructor rating, which is issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Also called gyrocopters and gyroplanes, autogyros are built from a kit. The Rastanis found a German one and built it for $62,000 in a week.
Though it looks like a mini-helicopter, flying an autogyro is more similar to that of flying an ultralight aircraft. And a lot more fun.
“A helicopter’s rotor spins by an engine during normal flight, but the rotor of an autogyro is driven by aerodynamic forces in auto-rotation,” Stephen Rastanis said.
In other words, the large rotor overhead is generated by air, while the back rotor is engine-thrusted and runs on vehicle gasoline.
A full tank will take you about 300 to 350 miles or about 31/2 hours. The longest trip for the Walker couple has been about 60 minutes. They’ve flown all over the state for both fun and business.
Typical altitude is about 2,000 to 2,500 feet, but an autocopter has been recorded going as high as 26,000 feet, though Rastanis has never gone that height.
The couple’s autogyro is an MTO Sport model, and they became so enamored with it, they turned their new passion into a business, opening AutoGyro of Louisiana in November.
The company sells autogyros, offers rides as well as training on how to fly one.
“Anyone can do it,” Rastanis said. “You just need to have an interest.”
As with other pilot licenses, no medical examination is needed and a driver’s license is sufficient, but to begin training, participants must present either a birth certificate or passport to prove U.S. citizenship. Nothing is required to take an introductory ride.
Training includes 15 hours dual flight time, five hours of solo time, written exams and a check ride, after which a sport pilot’s license can be earned.
“If you’re already a certified pilot and wish to take lessons, you just need proof of your pilot’s certification and show that you’re proficient, which can take less than four hours,” Rastanis said.
The FAA requires training to fly an autogyro by a certified flight instructor and the same number of inspections as an airplane, which is every 100 hours.
Initially, the couple had a hangar at the Regional Airport in Gonzales, but through word-of-mouth, and after receiving an invitation to come check out the Aviation Business Development Complex at Feliciana Airpark in Jackson, they soon moved their operations to East Feliciana Parish.
“We love it here. What’s not to love? All this open scenic space, plus we have 24-hour access and are in the process of building our own office inside the complex,” Terry Rastanis said, who oversees AutoGyro’s operations.
Flights in the autogyro from the Airpark offer breathtaking views of Thompson Creek a half-mile away and miles of stunning geographical sights on a clear day.
“Our families, including our grandchildren, have really gotten into it with us,” Terry Rastanis said. “We’re thrill seekers, I guess you could say.”
“They are exactly why Feliciana Airpark was conceived in the first place,” Airpark Director Larry Thomas said. “It’s a great partnership.”
In 2009, the East Feliciana Parish Economic Development District, along with the East Feliciana Chamber of Commerce, began the process of bringing the Jackson Airport back to life, resurrecting it as Feliciana Airpark. The first phase of the project was funded via a Delta Regional Authority grant for $200,000.
In 2013, Feliciana Airpark officially opened, and in December, the ABDC began renting spaces to aviation businesses, experimental aircraft builders and to aviation restoration work.
AutoGyro of Louisiana will celebrate its official opening on Saturday and feature 20-minute rides in the autogyro from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Rides will be offered on Sunday, as well, and all forms of payment will be accepted.
Also on Saturday, the East Feliciana Chamber will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 11 a.m.
Hot dogs and refreshments will be served.
Feliciana Airpark is located at 5122 Airport Lane off La. 68 in Jackson, near Dixon Correctional Institute.