by Pham Khoa
|Little Nellie: The helicopter made by Hien in his garage. This steel bird can carry about 50kg of goods, consuming approximately 15 litres of petrol per hour. — VNA/VNS Photos Duong Chi Tuong
|Mechanical wonder: Nguyen Bui Hien stands beside the autogyro he built from salvaged parts.
After carefully checking the engine and putting on his helmet, 58-year-old Nguyen Bui Hien straps himself into the plastic seat and starts the engine.
Hien guns the accelerator and as the rotor begins to pick up speed, he pulls gently back on the joystick and the small helicopter slowly rises about 70cm above the ground.
With nearly 20 years working as a mechanical engineer and three years conducting research and experiments, Hien from Thuan An Town in the southern province of Binh Duong has realised his dream: inventing a small helicopter by himself made from salvaged parts.
The limited space in his garage as well as a lack of flying experience have hindered Hien from flying any higher, but 70cm is high enough for this invalid to confirm that: "I can fly, and fly higher".
Taking off the old helmet, Hien smiles with satisfaction. "I want to show that Vietnamese people have always had a talent for science and technology and can manufacture helicopters," he says happily.
Hien is a veteran from the battle fields of Cambodia. After getting injured and demobilised, he was assigned to work as a technician at Plantation Base D in Binh Duong Province in 1978.
In 1997, when he resigned from his job to run a garage at home, Hien's dream of flying started to develop, especially after he became interested in model helicopters.
However, after pursuing his costly hobby for a while, Hien turned his attention to creating a real helicopter for himself.
In the middle of 2009, Hien embarked on the first steps of realising his dream by conducting research on helicopter technology. Thanks to his garage, Hien had the opportunity to practice all the things he read.
In Viet Nam, helicopter parts are not easy to come by, so Hien had to improvise by using parts from cars, motorbikes and even canoes.
Hien realised that four-stroke engines were too heavy and unreliable, so he decided to experiment with two-stroke engines used in motorboats.
He purchased a boat and removed the 106 horsepower engine, more than enough to cope with the 70 to 80 horsepower he estimated would be required.
After struggling to adapt the engine and find the right parts, Hien was then faced with the challenge of fashioning the rotor. Initially, he intended to use fibreglass, but found that it was too heavy.
Not discouraged, Hien tried using aluminium, but despite all his efforts, the aluminium rotor proved too flimsy.
Finally, he went for a stainless steal design, and found it was the perfect answer to his problem.
After nearly 1,000 days, Hien completed his masterpiece. With an initial investment of VND 200 million, his dream of flying was about to be fulfilled, and in January 2012, Hien's passion and efforts paid off, when his helicopter took off for the very first time.
Taking a look the fruits of Hien's labour, many may be surprised because of its outlandish design. Its fuel tanks are plastic cans, the pilot's seat is a plastic chair with its legs removed, and there are still traces of the cutting and workmanship that went into its construction. However, what takes them by surprise the most is that the pilot, who is also the inventor, is an invalid with a lot of shell fragments still remaining in his body.
According to Hien, his helicopter is about 250kg (without pilot), 2.95 long, 1.2 wide and 2.4 high. Its capacity is 106 horsepower while its rotor can reach 12,000rpm.
The helicopter can carry about 50kg of goods, consuming approximately 15 litre of petrol per hour. He also confirms that his steel bird can fly 200m above the ground and reach 200km per hour with a 30 minute flight time.
However, in order to make it a complete aircraft, Hien still needs more time to improve its capacity, accuracy and technical details.
Holding tightly to the frame of his helicopter, Hien says: "I will try to learn how to control my steel bird more adeptly in the near future. By supplementing other necessary missing details like altitude readings and speedometers, I hope to improve my helicopter so that my dream of flying can be totally fulfilled". — VNS