A local engineering firm brought to Lawrence on Wednesday what is being called an experimental helicopter with the capability of flying friendlier in the skies.
The helicopter, with the word "experimental" written on one side, landed under less than amiable skies shortly before 11 a.m. Wednesday in the parking lot of the Bendix-King plant in southeast Lawrence.
"It's on loan to Bendix-King for the development of a new autopilot system," said Lloyd W. Bingham Jr., chief test pilot for Bendix-King General Aviation Avionics Division in Olathe.
A Japanese trading company, Mitsui, is lending the helicopter to Bendix-King.
Bingham said he wanted to bring the helicopter to the Lawrence plant before engineers and workers begin forging ahead on the project.
"It's a show-and-tell to let people see" their work, he said.
AND LIKE the rain, employees trickled in and, at times, even poured in to many of the helicopter's navigation and communication devices that are assembled at the plant.
Kay Johnson, a secretary at Bendix-King, said she thought her fellow employees, who number about 500 at the Lawrence plant, appreciated the chance to look at their work.
"I think they really enjoyed it from the standpoint they get to see something they built actually in use," she said.
Johnson has been working for several weeks on arrangements for the helicopter's trek to Lawrence.
The aircraft left the Lawrence plant shortly after 1 p.m. Wednesday and returned to its temporary home at Johnson County Industrial Airport, in southwest Olathe. The helicopter was expected to fly to the Ottawa plant this morning and then return to the airport where installation and testing will begin on the autopilot system.
BINGHAM said he expects some of the autopilot equipment to be tested and assembled in Lawrence.
Once it is approved by federal regulators the autopilot system will have the capability of flying in clouds with few problems, Bingham said.
He explained that helicopters, unlike airplanes, don't have inherent stability. The autopilot system will allow the aircraft to maintain a certain level of its equilibrium when it encounters turbulence. The system also will empower the helicopter to know, among many other things, its location above Earth, providing the pilot and air traffic controllers with better navigation information.
"THE SYSTEMS in here (will) have the capability of saying `I'm in Lawrence and I want to got to Tokyo,'" he said. "And then it (the helicopter) does it."
One reason Mitsui had decided to lend the helicopter to Bendix-King is so the engineering company could look into the trading company's request for a cost-efficient autopilot system.
Bingham estimates the new system will be $100,000 less expensive than their competition. He added that the autopilot system would cost $200,000 alone. The helicopter, equipped with the autopilot, communication and some navigation equipment from Bendix-King totals $3.6 million, Bingham said.
The project will not be completed until April 1993, so it's back to work this afternoon for approximately 80 mechanics and engineers working on the autopilot system, he said.
Bingham said they will be working closely with the Federal Aviation Administration every step of the way.
"We have to work on this to the point where failure" would be nearly impossible, he said.