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You Could Slap This Revolution Mini-500 Helicopter Together in a Few Days, But Should You?
The Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York, is a facility dedicated to the innumerable accomplishments in aviation in New York State's Long Island region. But mixed in with all the Hellcats, Thunderbolts, and the like, is a collection of personal light aircraft that people can genuinely assemble in their backyard.

You Could Slap This Revolution Mini-500 Helicopter Together in a Few Days, But Should You?

Revolution Mini-500 Cradle of Aviation MuseumRevolution Mini-500 Cradle of Aviation MuseumRevolution Mini-500 Cradle of Aviation MuseumRevolution Mini-500 Cradle of Aviation MuseumRevolution Mini-500 Cradle of Aviation MuseumRevolution Mini-500 Cradle of Aviation Museum
But of all the personal air transportation on display, only one allows people to climb inside the cockpit. It's the Revolution Mini-500. If DIY kit cars based on old Pontiac Fieros are totally your scene, this is the helicopter for you. Though it must be said, we'd be lying if we said it didn't come with its fair share of problems. The project is the only creation of Revolution Helicopter Corporation, founded by Dennis L. Fletters in 1992.

The idea was simple, to take the familiar silhouette of an established mass-produced American helicopter, scale it down, and then sell the kits on the open market to enthusiasts who don't mind a little DIY to get a great deal on their own private helicopter. In this case, the inspiration came from the Hughes 500 line of light civilian and military choppers today known as the MD Helicopters MD500.

The base Hughes aircraft was 32 ft 7 in (9.93 m) long, 8 ft 9 in (2.67 m) wide, and had a maximum takeoff weight of 3,550 lb (1,610 kg). Safe to say, the Revolution Mini-500 fits inside those dimensions with ample room to spare. At 22 ft 6 in (6.9 m) long, 5 ft 3 in (1.6 m) wide, and with a loaded gross weight of 820 lb (372 kg), it's a real case of "Honey, I shrunk the helicopter."

The Mini-500's construction consists of a foam and glass-fiber cabin attached to a lightweight tubular steel fuselage with thin aluminum sheets laid overtop. These sheets came with drill holes pre-installed for an assembly requiring an absolute minimum of fabrication.

Powering the Mini-500 from the factory was an engine that's a bit of a landmark in itself. It's a twin-cylinder, two-stroke Rotax 582 famous for its use on paragliders and ultralight airframes. Meanwhile, its main rotor was a two-bladed semi-rigid unit with a relatively normal two-bladed rear rotor.

With 64 horsepower on offer, it was sufficient enough for ultralight purposes. But for a helicopter meant to carry one adult? It was indeed a bit out of its depths. One may question Revolution's idea to fit such a puny engine. But in defense of Rotax, they did at least provide a disclaimer in the 500-Mini's owner's manual.

The disclaimer read, "This engine, by its design, is subject to sudden stoppage. Engine stoppage can result in crash landings, forced landings, or no power landings. Such crash landings can lead to serious bodily injury or death. This is not a certificated aircraft engine. It has not received any safety or durability testing and conforms to no aircraft standards. It is for use in experimental, uncertificated aircraft and vehicles only in which an engine failure will not compromise safety."

Well then, that's reassuring to know. How losing power in a helicopter mid-flight doesn't qualify as compromising safety, we have no earthly idea. One could only assume slapping the word "experimental" inside the manual just barely enough to satisfy the company's legal team, if not the FAA. Once the first 100 DIY kit units made their way into private hands, owners complained of engineering faults that'd make a competent helicopter maker tremble in their shoes.

Engine failures at altitude, engine vibrations that'd shake the bodywork until it cracked, and other miscellaneous component failures ages before any sort should occur. One owner, a man by the name of Bill Phillips, said of the 500-Mini, "You can tell it is junk just by looking at it." going on to call Revolution Helicopter Corporation's president Dennis Fetters "one of the biggest cons that's ever hit the kit industry." The company was dead in the water and bankrupt by the year 1999.

Even so, when seeing one of these DIY helicopters up close and personal, you get the sense that it's still a remarkable achievement in spite of its flaws. The notion of building your own helicopter from a pre-made kit, the same as a sporty kit car, undoubtedly has its appeal. It's all the more enticing when you climb inside and look at the cockpit. You can almost envision yourself taking to the sky inside it.

What an enormous thrill that must have been. Assuming the engine works properly, and the airframe's structural integrity doesn't fail and either split in half or send you hurtling towards mother Earth at a high rate of speed. That'd be sure to put a damper on the occasion.

Check back soon for more from our trip to the Cradle of Aviation Museum here on autoevolution.


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