review of Marion' Springer's book, "Born Free- My Life in
Gyrocopters "by Dr. Bruce H. Charnov
2002* 2004 period has seen two major, significant auto/autobiographical works.
lan Hancock's 166-page "The Lives of Ken Wallis" Engineer and Aviator
Extraordinaire sets the standard for autogiro biography as it retells and illustrates
the truly extraordinary life of the designer of the pilot of James Bond's "Little
Nellie "and in the process, becoming the most famous autogiro pilot in autorotational
Happily, however, America 's own Marion Springer has risen to the challenge and produced an equally outstanding self-published chronicle of her "life in gyrocopters" available directly from her at email@example.com
Marion, America's first female gyroplane CFI, writes of her four decades of gyro experiences ,a continuation of her previous significant aviation journalism familiar to readers of Popular Rotorcraft Flying, it's successor Rotorcraft , Kitplanes and Don Parham's Homebuilt Rotorcraft. She was there, and with her late husband Alden "Docko" Springer, has lived the course of American gyro history and her story fills in the gaps left by others and what a tale it is !
Marion recounts her 1960's involvement with the Bensen Gyro glider and Gyrocopter, chapters amply illustrated with many b/w photos, the story of Marion Springer Gyrocopters and experiences as a certified flight instructor. Unlike lgor Bensen, who mentions neither his parents or wife Mary (she is, however shown in one photograph), an inexcusable absence given the prominent role she played in the history of the Popular Rotorcraft Association and management of Bensen Aircraft, Springer devotes a great deal of attention to her family. The result is an enlarged and ultimately enhanced view of the gyrocopter and a lasting and loving tribute to her husband "Docko" who played a significant role in her success.
Marion has also provided three unique perspectives on her experiences: she includes some of her past journalistic efforts that clearly deserve to be reread and treasured; she includes comments by others including Stephanie Gremminger, Shirley Jennings, Jim Vanek, Jerrie Barnett, Lee Bradshaw, Stu Fields, Larry Neal, and others; and includes comments by each of her four children on what it was like to grow up with a Gyrocopter as parental focus (surprise * her daughter Coby Springer Stipinovich titles her piece " Why I hate Gyros ").
This is a large book * 266 pages* but reads easily as Springer's style is always simultaneously informative and exceptionally engaging. Marion, also variously called " The Queen of the Gyros "and" The Gyro-Flying Grandmother ", is at her best when describing the unique events that have characterized an amazing life in gyros - and the chapter "Becoming a Movie Star", which recounts her experiences, along with Docko , during filming of the obscure 1981 movie" The Great Skycopter Rescue " is terrific !
While this 1981 movie has excellent flying scenes (and great formation flying by the Springer's), the close-up shots and dialogue were certainly done when Marion was absent * the pilot/designer advises his friend that you can fly while drinking and without a seatbelt ! Marion's retelling of this experience, reproduced from an earlier article, is the only account I have ever seen of this episode and worth the price of the book itself !
Springer has chosen to include William "Bill " Piper's 1969 article " The Piper-Marriott Auto gyro ". This article tells the story of the creation of an ultralight auto giro that was still flying almost 30 years later. Not only does this thoughtful inclusion preserve gyro history that should be remembered, it also highlights another whose story should be told. Where are the auto/biographies of Piper, John M. Miller, Jim Eich, Ken and Marie Brock ,Arliss Riggs, Harris Woods, Jerrie Barnett, Chuck Beaty, Ernie Boyette, and so many others in America along with Geof Whately, Don Campbell, Jim and Eva Montgomerie, J.A.J. Bennett, and others in the UK along with Italy's Vittorio Magni , Finland's Jukka Tervamaki and Japan's Akira lshikawa. The publication of Marion Springer's wonderful new book, as accurately described on the back cover as "a must read for anyone interested in flying and especially in flying gyroplanes ", tells of a great life while continuing to remind the reader of other lives whose stories remain to be told. One can only hope that some will follow her example and write their own books !