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  1. Life & Culture

State You're In: A brief history of gyrocopters in the Times; 'Cuba Straits' excerpt; May's by the numbers

"Gyrocopter" became a term of interest when Ruskin postal carrier Doug Hughes landed his on the U.S. Capitol lawn last month to deliver letters of protest about campaign finance reform. But the adventures of gyrocopters specifically the Bensen Gyrocopter, named for Russian emigre Dr. Igor Bensen, who developed it in the 1950s — have long, if sporadically, been chronicled in the Times.

At St. Petersburg's Albert Whitted Airport in August 1963, little Willie Wynperle, decked out in his Cub Scout uniform at 10 years of age, sat in what passes for the cockpit of a gyrocopter.

In 1982 at the Dunnellon Airport, the Sunstate Rotor Club held its annual Bensen Day Fly-in to celebrate Bensen's birthday. Nearly 60 of the contraptions took part, including a flying demonstration by a pilot who had traveled from Anaheim, Calif. The Bensen Gyrocopter was a no-nonsense, no-extraneous-parts affair intended to be fairly easily built from kits and parts widely available. The ease included switching to square tubing from the circular tubes specified in earlier models; square tubing was easier for amateurs to work with.

The top blade on an autogyro is not powered. It spins freely and acts like an airplane's wing, providing enough lift for takeoff once the rig, pushed by the motor-driven propeller on the rear, reaches a high-enough forward speed, usually in the low 20 mph range.

10

Years since the first case of citrus greening, a devastating disease, was confirmed in Florida.

$7.8B

Cost of greening to Florida growers in the juice business since 2006, a report by a University of Florida economist says.

47 Percentage points by which the Miramar police force is "more white" than the city. Of the force's 191 officers, 59 percent are white. Only 12 percent of the city's 122,041 residents are white; 43 percent are black and 37 percent are Hispanic, says a New York Times analysis of disparities between police departments and the communities they protect.

15,728

Number of teachers in Hillsborough County public schools.

225

Number of those teachers with a 2014 "unsatisfactory" performance rating.

7,309,847

Cars registered in Florida as of 2013

In Cuba Straits, novelist Randy Wayne White continues the adventures of Doc Ford. This time, Doc's old friend has been smuggling Cuban baseball players and "high-profile collectibles" into the United States. Here Doc and another buddy, known only as Tomlinson, are dealing with some of those collectibles — purported love letters from a young Fidel Castro.

What's in the briefcase? Ford wanted to ask, but held off. Through the mangroves, he watched fishermen wade the sandbar and a lone woman paddle-boarding. Tomlinson had his quirks but also a gift for reading people accurately. Stoned or straight, his IQ was off the charts. If this wasn't paranoia, it was serious.

He waited for background noise to quiet. "I warned you about Rivera, remember? So whatever you say, sure. If you want, I'll help you pull some kind of switch, or just play dumb. Tell me what to do, I'll do it."

Tomlinson, reading Ford's mind, said, "After I tell you what's in the briefcase, you mean?

Watching the woman paddle-boarder, he left a message for a friend who owned Tampa-Havana air charters, then left another for his seaplane pilot pal, Dan Futch. If Tomlinson panicked and turned his phone off, no contact, so Ford might need to fly out tomorrow; Thursday at the latest. A narrow window. Even in a clunky old Morgan sailboat, Key West to Cuba was only a full day's sail; two if the wind was wrong.

It all depended on Tomlinson … and if Juan Rivera would talk.

At McGregor Boulevard, he turned right toward Fort Myers Beach, still unsure if his pal was in danger or just reacting to THC and systemic guilt. The contents of the briefcase, albeit valuable, weren't as dangerous as he'd feared. It contained love letters to a young girl, nearly 100, written between 1953-1963 by two men who even then were the equivalent of Cuban rock stars. Fidel Castro and his younger brother, Raúl.

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