It’s a bird, it’s a plane… no, it’s Steve Rastanis and his autogyro flying high above Hammond. Rastanis offers flying lessons to those looking to learn to pilot this tiny scooter in the sky.
It’s always been a dream of mine to fly an airplane. I was dreaming of a bit of a bigger situation, but until someone offers me that type of flying lesson, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the autogyro.
The autogyro is different aesthetically from normal planes in the sense that you’re completely out in the open. There are no doors on an autogyro, making it the windiest flight I’ve ever taken. “Gyro’s cannot stall or go into a spin like a fixed wing,” explained Rastanis. “ It’s more stable in the air and needs very little room to land in the event of an engine failure. It is also about 10 percent of the cost of a helicopter.”
Rastanis has been a pilot for years manning aircrafts such as fixed wing Cesnas, powered parachutes and was even a semi-professional skydiver. As he began to talk of his love of flying and how he’s taught countless pilots everything they know, I knew I was in good hands.
Since it was my first flight, Rastanis gave me a mini lesson. Typically, an autogyro can cruise at 100 mile per hour and fly to 10,000 feet. I’m unsure of the speed we were going, though my hair acted as if we were at tornado speed, but Rastanis only took me about 2,000 feet for my first fly. It was pretty magical, and I couldn’t imagine being five times higher than I was already.
The airport is located in Hammond, only about 45 minutes outside of the city. And Rastanis teaches seven days a week, by appointment only, with the training outline including about 20 lessons. To achieve their pilot license, flyers much complete a minimum of 15 hours dual instruction time and five hours of solo flight time before being able to take the written exam. AutoGyro of Louisiana, 225-503-5168, autogyrooflouisiana.com.
The day was perfect for flying. Not a cloud in the sky and the sun was shining in full force. I felt like I could see on for days at how high we were eventually soaring. When I first arrived, Rastanis gave me a lowdown of what to expect and situated me with a helmet and into my seat for the flight. When taxiing into position for takeoff, I was unsure that this thing I was in was going to get off the ground. But I trusted Rastanis, he gave me the signal we were going – which he will let you know means a warning to move your legs out of the way, as the control stick pulls back full force, and we were off.
Rastanis told me we only went about six miles away from the airport that day, but it felt like much longer. The ride is smooth and, unlike in a regular airplane, you can see everything right below you. Though I tried to act unmoved, I was a little uneasy at some moments.
I have literally jumped out of a plane, landing on the ground, but something about my arms and legs being able to hang out of the plane was a feeling I had to move past. I did, and even when it was my turn to “take the wheel” I felt comfortable with Rastanis there to back me up.
Landing was as nerve-wracking as taking off, but after seeing miles and miles of lush green and the clear blue sky, I can’t wait for my next lesson.
Textile Collection at Lambeth House
A private collection of Japanese woodblock is now on display at La Petit Galerie in Lambeth House, thanks to private collector and Lambeth House resident Diane Genre. Mokuhanga, or woodblock printing, transferring images and patterns onto textiles and paper was widely used throughout East Asia and was hugely popular during the Edo period (1603-1868) in Japan. Lambeth House is a continuing care retirement community. Visitors can also examine an historic letter collection and Mitchell Goudet glass sculptures. Lambeth House, 50 Broadway Street, 865-1960, LambethHouse.com.
A Natchitoches Christmas
The City of Natchitoches, founded in 1714, only has a population of 40,000, however it punches well above its weight in reasons to visit. Named the “Best Southern Small Town” by USA Today, it is also the home to a six-week long festival of Christmas that sees the Cane River Lake illuminated by more than 300,000 twinkling lights and 100-lighted set pieces. Among many events, is the Fete d’hiver, which takes you back to Christmas in the 18th Century. City of Natchitoches, 781 Front Street, Natchitoches, 318-352-2746, NatchitochesChristmas.com.