“An autogyro (from Spanish autogiro), also known as gyroplane, gyrocopter, or rotaplane, is a type of rotorcraft which uses an unpowered rotor in autorotation to develop lift, and an engine-powered propeller, similar to that of a fixed-wing aircraft, to provide thrust. While similar to a helicopter rotor in appearance, the autogyro’s rotor must have air flowing through the rotor disc in order to generate rotation.
Invented by the Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva to create an aircraft that could safely fly at slow speeds, the autogyro was first flown on 9th January 1923, at Cuatro Vientos Airfield in Madrid. De la Cierva’s aircraft resembled the fixed-wing aircraft of the day, with a front-mounted engine and propeller in a tractor configuration to pull the aircraft through the air. Late-model autogyros patterned after Dr. Igor Bensen’s designs feature a rear-mounted engine and propeller in a pusher configuration. The term Autogiro was a trademark of the Cierva Autogiro Company, and the term Gyrocopter was used by E. Burke Wilford who developed the Reiseler Kreiser feathering rotor equipped gyroplane in the first half of the twentieth century. The latter term was later adopted as a trademark by Bensen Aircraft.”
Despite predating the helicopter and a promising start in life, and with a few notable exceptions like the massive passenger carrying Fairy Rotordyne, the gyro that existed up until 15 years ago was seen as a home built death trap. A reputation that was partly deserved. Some larger manufacturers had built prototype gyros for commercial purposes, but none have been seriously pursued despite their undisputed potential advantages over many of the “conventional” aircraft. However, in the past few years, some manufacturers have stepped up their game. Aircraft like the (originally Canadian built) RAF2000 showed up as a high quality factory built kit and this signaled the start of the revolution. Since then:
- Gyros have been developed from kits to be assembled in someone’s garage, into technically advanced, factory built machines.
- They have graduated from the home built/experimental category into certified aircraft in many countries.
- They have been approved for commercial work including spraying, surveying and law enforcement in several European countries.
- They are currently being trialed by several US Government departments for commercial applications. In 2010, the Tomball Police Department in Texas started active use of a gyro for aerial support work and all reports indicate that they are very happy with the aircraft.
With this fast paced development and recognition, it seems clear that this type of machinery is coming of age and it is only a matter of time until Transport Canada catch up and recognize these aircraft for what they are, useful and versatile aerial tools that are now reliable, safe and cheap to run.
On a final note, it’s interesting that Sikorsky’s brand new military prototype aircraft, the X2, has probably got more in common with a gyro, than a modern helicopter. Maybe they are realizing the potential that has been overlooked and under developed for all of these years.