Classic Rotors is a special aircraft museum in Ramona California. One-of-a-kind refers both to the museum and the helicopters. The museum is dedicated to rescuing one-of-a-kind and unique historically significant helicopters. The all-volunteer museum staff is bringing these historical aircraft back to flying condition and then flying them. They have several one-of-a-kind helicopters and some are the only flight-capable helicopter models of these historic helicopters in the world.
Image at the top
The photo at the top of this page is a newly refurbished H-46 Seaknight. It came from the Marines at Cherry Point. The original H-46 is nearly as old as I am. The H-46 is also one of the few aircraft at Classic Rotors that I have flown and then only for about one hour. During that time I learned that it is easy to fly. But, as far as I am concerned it is nearly impossible to taxi on the ground. The only way I could roll the aircraft across the ground was to lift the front wheel into the air and then roll the rear wheels along behind me.
The H-46 is one of only a few aircraft on display that was flying when the Museum received it and it was newly refurbished by the military right before they gave it to the museum.
Really Classic Rotors is not just a helicopter museum. Rather the common theme is that all the aircraft in the museum have a rotor system that enables or more accurately creates lift which enables flight. The museum includes non-helicopters that are held in the air with rotating wings.
Most of the rotorcraft in the museum are standard configurations, either a main rotor and tail rotor combination or two main lifting rotors. Other aircraft are unique including some that only have one main rotor and no tail rotor and even two aircraft that create thrust by either burning fuel at the tip of the rotor or exhausting pressurized air from the tip of the rotor. Classic Rotors also has several models of helicopters with two rotors on a single mast and even one that has intermeshing rotors. In addition to these unique helicopters, they have helicopter prototypes that never successfully flew and even some rotorcraft that were not helicopters.
Classic Rotors has some models that even the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum doesn’t have. Some of these aircraft are the only flying aircraft of this type, others are the only aircraft ever created of a certain type. The staff at Classic Rotors often restores these historical aircraft back to flying condition (assuming they ever few in the first place).
Classic Rotors has multiple aircraft (including some pictured here in this blog) that I never knew existed. Some of these historic and unique aircraft were one of a kind. Some were failures and never achieved flight, others are the only left remaining aircraft of many produced.
Mark DiCiero didn’t start out as a collector. He started as a dreamer that thought he could build a helicopter, in his garage, and then learn how to fly it, without any instruction in his backyard. The amazing thing is that he accomplished both of these nearly impossible tasks.
Just like the early helicopter pioneers, he built a helicopter and learned how to fly it without instruction. Mark didn’t invent his own helicopter but rather purchased it as a kit. More than 2500 of these kits were sold and Mark was one of very few ever to achieve flight. After finishing the kit, he may have been the only non-helicopter pilot to then teach himself to fly other than the early helicopter pioneers.
Any helicopter pilot will tell you that the most difficult thing about flying a helicopter is first learning how to hover. Mark learned to hover by reading a book and then carefully applying the steps from the instruction book. The story goes that he was demonstrating how to slide the aircraft along the ground to some curious friends. After the demonstration, his friends told him that he was in the air and not sliding on the ground.
After building his own helicopter Mark took it to the national fly-in of experimental aircraft. Sometime after that, he started a helicopter rescue collection and rescued multiple aircraft. Instead of using a helicopter to rescue people, Mark started rescuing helicopters. Mark’s volunteers then put in countless hours to restore these vintage aircraft to flying condition. I know of only four aircraft in this collection that were flyable when the museum picked them up. Some of the aircraft he rescued were in a scrapyard, like the Piasecki HRP (picture above). It was being sold for metal scrap.
The Classic Rotors Helicopter Museum
The Classic Rotors Helicopter Museum has more aircraft (on display) than it has display space. I only visited the main hangar. There they have aircraft stuffed into an aircraft hangar with most aircraft overlapping other aircraft. The main hangar has aircraft on display that cannot be photographed individually.
At Classic Rotors they know they need more space, lots more space. It isn’t a critique but rather just a fact. Many one-of-a-kind priceless aircraft are squeezed into this museum. Many other aircraft are not on display just because there is no room to display them.
A big part of what happens at Classic Rotors is behind the scenes. When you pick up an aircraft from a salvage yard, you can’t put it directly on display. Sometimes the helicopter looks like a collection of unrelated parts. Sometimes it looks like corrosion on these old parts has eaten away all the metal.
Many of the oldest aircraft rescued by Classic Rotors were fabric covered. The fabric turned to dust long ago and only threads remain. Restoration is a slow process and I don’t really understand how they do it. Perhaps on my return visit I can spend lots more time and make some visits to see restoration in process.
The Ramona Airport is where the hangers are located. Ramona is located about 35 miles to the northeast of San Diego. Classic Rotors also knows that if you are not looking for it (at the airport) and really intended to find it, then you are not going to find it. The location has almost no drive-by traffic.
Notice the sign on the wall above the helicopters. The Aerolift was a rotor-powered balloon. The sign came from Tillamook Oregon. We visited the Tillamook Air Museum last fall and saw pictures of the Aerolift. I wonder if they want their sign back.
To visit Classic Rotors you are first going to have to find your way to Ramona. That will be the hard part. The airport is to the north of Main Street. The easy way (to describe the route) will be to go north of Main Street on Montecito Road. Montecito Road will curve around to the west and once you get to the airport area, Classic Rotors will be on the left side of Montecito Road.
It should be obvious that I had nothing to do with making this video about historic helicopters. But watching it will give you an insight as to the kind of aircraft that Classic Rotors is trying to find and restore. Many of the aircraft in this video are only found on film. Others are in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
This even older video from 1943 describes Mark’s vision of building a helicopter and using it for his everyday chores.
If you happen to know about any old helicopters or even old helicopter parts make sure to give Classic Rotors a call and hopefully, they can rescue them. Most of these old helicopters are lost to history and will never be found, but just like old cars, some may be hidden away in the back of a barn somewhere waiting for Classic Rotors to rescue them.
Nearly all the photos in this blog post were taken by Classic Rotors, not by me. The museum is too tightly packed for me to take pictures of individual aircraft.
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