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Texas man constructs helicopter in backyard workshop

Jerry Scruggs stands with his home-constructed helicopter behind his house in Dallas. [BILL POTEAT/THE GASTON GAZETTE/TNS]
October 03, 2020

Some men set up miniature train tracks in their garages.

Others turn to wood working or to stained glass in their backyard workshops.

Not Jerry Scruggs.

Over the past two years Scruggs has painstakingly constructed a helicopter in the building behind his house in Dallas.

Say what?

Yes. A helicopter. A Rotorway 160 F, in fact — a light and graceful looking machine which Scruggs hopes to have completed and into the air before 2020 ends.

When the Rev. Ronnie Bowers, pastor of Gastonia’s Flint Groves Baptist Church, first told me about Scruggs’ endeavor, I was more than a bit skeptical.

A helicopter? In the back yard? In Dallas?

“He will make a great story,” said Bowers about Scruggs, who is one of his flock at Flint Groves. “And the reason behind the helicopter is really fascinating.”

Scruggs is 51, Gaston County born and reared, a 1987 graduate of North Gaston High.

After 10 years working for Freightliner, Scruggs decided he would rather be his own boss and established Scruggs Properties, which works mainly on home renovation and improvement projects.

A little more than a decade ago, Scruggs, who had long been intrigued by aircraft, particularly military aircraft, decided to become a pilot.

“Freedom,” was his one-word response when asked why he wanted to take to the skies. “Absolute freedom. There is nothing like it when you’re flying. Nothing.”

Approaching the goal of flight certification head-on, Scruggs earned his single-engine license for both land and sea planes, instrument flight certification, high performance and complex certifications, and finally, his helicopter flight license.

Scruggs then turned his interest into another profession, Scruggs Aviation, with his plane based in Lincolnton.

Scruggs was able to earn his airplane certifications in Lincoln County, but for the helicopter he had to travel to High Tide Helicopters, based on Oak Island on the North Carolina coast.

“Jessica Ward, best helicopter instructor in the country,” said Scruggs of his teacher. “Flying a helicopter is much more challenging than an airplane. You have to be 100 percent focused every second.”

Scruggs explained that he would often fly to Oak Island early in the morning, spend the day in instruction and practice on a helicopter, and then fly back to Lincoln County at the end of the day.

OK. So you’ve learned to fly a chopper and you love it. But why build your own?

“I was looking for a helicopter at a reasonable enough cost that I could afford to put it in the air,” he explained. “This model will cost about $100 to $150 for each hour in the air.”

Scruggs did not buy his helicopter directly from Rotorway. Instead, he purchased it from a man in Ohio who had bought the kit but was overwhelmed when it came to putting it together.

Instead, a 24-foot trailer, piled high with boxes and crates, carried the un-assembled aircraft to Dallas where Scruggs began putting it together back in 2018.

“Obviously, I’m careful,” he said of the effort. “Obviously, I want it done exactly right. It’s my life that’s going to be dangling from those two rubber blades.”

The assembled helicopter has already undergone one look-over from a Federal Aviation Administration inspector. A second inspection will have to occur before it goes into the air.

“My first flight will be from Lincolnton, before the end of the year,” Scruggs said. “But, I have plenty of room to set it down on the pavement here behind my house.”

OK. Great story so far, but Bowers had mentioned a deeper reason behind Scruggs’ project, and the builder and pilot grows very serious as he discusses it.

“The big part of this is not about me,” he says. “The big part is about the men I’m honoring and remembering with this aircraft. The pilots of World War II, the Greatest Generation.”

Specifically, his helicopter is meant to honor the service and legacy of Col. Clarence “Bud” Anderson, the highest-scoring American flying ace of World War II.

Anderson, who piloted a P-51 Mustang and commanded a squadron of other young pilots flying the same aircraft, is credited with shooting down 16 airplanes of the German Air Force.

Scruggs got in contact with Anderson, who now lives in California at age 98, to tell him what he was doing and consulted with the retired pilot often during the process.

Anderson’s name is on each side of the helicopter’s fuselage, and its rotor blades are painted to match the wings of the World War II ace’s aircraft.

“This is for him,” Anderson said. “This is for him and for all the men like him. We owe them so much.”

I left Scruggs’ workshop with a promise from him that he would let me know when his ship first lifts into the air. But if you live in the Dallas area and see it coming in low from the north, odds are you’ll know that before I do.


© 2020 Gaston Gazette