Mini copter not short on fun


Single-seat helicopters sold as a kits out of a Trenton manufacturing plant will be featured in Canada on the Discovery Channel and later this month in the United States on the Science Channel.

KAREN VOYLES/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, January 16, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 15, 2006 at 11:36 p.m.
Dwight Junkin knows what his latest product looks like to most passers-by - a kiddie ride normally found outside a grocery store offering for 50 cents a few minutes of thrills to children.
The tiny, one-seat helicopters Junkin makes at his boat-building plant are lots more fun - and much more expensive. They run about $20,000.
"Taking one of these up is like riding a roller coaster with no tracks," Junkin said.
The excitement and fun of piloting the Mosquito brand mini-copters, which got their start in Canada, convinced producers at Canada's Discovery Channel to send a crew to Gilchrist County last week to tape a five-minute segment about them.
The inventor of the Mosquito, John Uptigrove, is an engineer in Calgary. He manufactures most metal parts for the Mosquito in Canada, then ships the components to Junkin who manufactures other portions of the helicopters in Gilchrist County with his brothers and son. Mosquitoes are sold as kits that take about 200 hours to assemble. Only a handful of the more than 40 sold so far have been delivered in ready-to-fly form.
The television segment is also expected to air in the United States later this month on the Science Channel, according to Doug Crosbie, the producer overseeing the taping.
Matching Uptigrove with Junkin was the work of George Boynton, of Cape Coral, who knew about Uptigrove's efforts to produce a small helicopter because of his own lifelong interest in aircraft. Boynton knew Junkin because he had hired him to work at Boynton's Shamrock Boats plant in South Florida.
After Boynton sold the boat-building company, Junkin decided he didn't want to work for the new owners and headed north to Gilchrist County where he developed his own boat-building plant off of State Road 26 on the east side of Trenton.
Meanwhile, his former boss discovered he was not a fan of retirement.
"After I retired, I caught myself watching Oprah so I knew I had to do something. I called up Dwight and told him I wasn't doing anything, so we should make helicopters," Boynton said.
The magazine "Kitplanes" published a review of the Mosquito in its May 2004 edition, describing it as a "zippy aerial sports car" and the "ultimate in a low-cost, above-ground, all-terrain vehicle."
Designated as an ultralight in the United States, Federal Aviation Administration officials said no license is required to fly a Mosquito.
The copters are 20 feet long, 6 feet wide and - depending on the model - can reach speeds of up to 80 miles per hour, Junkin said.
Pilots can weigh up to 250 pounds, depending on the model. With a five gallon fuel capacity, the tiny machines can remain airborne for up to an hour.
"It took a lot less time than that for me to get interested in helicopters," Junkin said. He was an 8-year-old boy 36 years ago when his older brother Gary took him to the Ohio State Fair and spent $20 so the younger Junkin could take a ride in a helicopter.
"That was when I was bitten with the helicopter bug," Junkin said.
Now Gary Junkin, 48, does some Mosquito fabricating while another Junkin brother, James, 27, handles the paint and bodywork and the next generation of Junkin men, Dwight's 22-year-old son, Leslie, is foreman of the laminating crew.
"We are still primarily boat builders, but a lot of what we know about boat building we can use on these (mini helicopters), too," Junkin said.
Karen Voyles can be reached at (352) 486-5058 or voylesk@ gvillesun.com

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