Gyroplanes are Fritts' business

Published 4:07 pm Wednesday, February 2, 2005

By By LYDIA GRIMES Features Reporter
If you have ever seen a small object buzzing around in the sky over Brewton, you may have wondered just what it was. It could very well have been Dofin Fritts on one of the gryroplanes that he either built or is test flying.
Fritts has one of the most unique businesses in this area but it could also be the least well-known business. He builds and flies these small machines and trains others to do the same. He and his wife, Marliese, are dealers for Rotary Air Force Marketing Inc. which is based in Canada. They can order kits for the gyroplanes for customers, give help in putting them together and then train the customer to fly the machine. It is probably news to some that people come to Brewton from all over the world to become certified in flying these small gyroplanes which are used mostly for recreation.
Gyroplanes are small one or two-passenger machines that can take off like a plane and hover in one spot almost like a helicopter. The ride is smooth and exhilarating. The new gyroplanes have come a long way in their design. The first one that Fritts owned, and still has, was much like a lawn chair attached to a motor. Things have changed quite a bit since those days. Today they fly up to 100 mph and cruise at about 80 mph. They look much like a very small helicopter but there is one big difference. The rotors on the gyroplane are not motorized like helicopters. The rotors are rotated by the air underneath while a motor operates the power to get it in the air. This is a much simplified explanation for all the things that make this machine get off the ground and fly smoothly through the air.
The gyroplane kits sell for anywhere from $5,000 up to $25,000. Most people who order the kits put them together and then come to Fritts to get lessons in flying. Fritts is a certified pilot and teacher who can help the owners get a pilot's license.
Fritts was born in Pensacola while his father was stationed there in the Navy as a helicopter mechanic.
The family moved around quite a bit over his growing up but at the time he graduated from high school they were back in Pensacola. He graduated from Escambia High School and received a chemistry scholarship for college. He planned on becoming a marine biologist, but life had other plans for him. He joined the U.S. Air Force instead and began his own travels around the world. During these years, he got involved in hang gliding, motorcycle riding and racing cars. He was assigned to the Azores for a while and then was transferred back to Craig Air Force Base in Selma. He was then sent to Turkey and then to Germany, where he began to fly with the British Gliding Club. He got his glider pilot's license before coming back to Biloxi where he joined a flying club and his powered pilot's license. After another trip to Turkey and Germany, he was sent to Homestead Air Force Base in Florida where he got back into flying fixed wing aircraft.
He took the gyroplane up to north Florida and took about two hours of training before the teacher told him 'to go try to fly it.' About that time he was sent to Saudi Arabia as part of Desert Shield/Desert Storm. After returning from Saudi Arabia he decided it was time to retire from the military. He took training to get a commercial license and instructor license. He realized that there was a need for instructors for those who wanted to fly gyroplanes.
He trained in Paducah, Ken. which was the only place to train at the time in order to get his instructor license for gyroplanes. There are a few more places now, including his own place at Brewton Airport. The gyroplanes themselves have changed quite a bit. Now they will seat two people and the Rotary Air Force 2000 is a two-place cross country gyroplane, meaning that instead of going up and flying in a small area, it is now possible to go from place to place.
Fritts eventually went to Atmore, but lost his space in the hanger there. He checked around and found that there was a hanger in Brewton that was available for someone who would open a place that would bring business to Brewton. He and his wife moved the business here in 1994. Today they do a steady business with customers from around the world.