The origins of the present
day Autogyro come from the original 'Autogiro' invented by the Spanish
Engineer Juan de la Cierva. They are now known as autogiros, giros,
gyrocopters and gyro kites depending on their origins. These aircraft
share the generic category of Rotorcraft with Helicopters, which use an
overhead rotor to generate lift rather than wings, but are distinctly
different in the way they fly.
Like a helicopter, a Gyroplane generates
the lift needed to fly by using Rotors rather than wings - that is the one
and only similarity they have. Unlike a helicopter, the rotors are not
actually powered - all they need to keep moving is a flow of air over
their surfaces. The lift this creates will become a self-sustaining force
which both keeps the aeroplane in the air and keeps the Rotors turning.
Also unlike a helicopter, a Gyroplane has a propeller which is powered by
the engine to generate thrust which moves the machine forward.
Though they share the
same basic controls as a fixed wing aeroplane - Stick, Throttle, and
Rudder pedals - Gyroplanes are totally different. Though the same basic
control inputs are needed as a fixed wing aeroplane, the Gyroplane is
significantly more nifty and manoeuvrable. Gyro pilots will routinely
perform manoeuvres such as steep turns which would leave their fixed wing
counterparts gasping for breath. As if that wasn't unusual enough in
itself, these manoeuvres are also performed without any of the
gut-wrenching changes in G force "enjoyed" by fixed wing pilots.
Autogyros tend to look rather goofy: either
like airplanes with a giant rotor where wings should be, or like stunted
helicopters missing their tails. They can’t fly as fast or as far as
fixed-wing airplanes, and they can’t hover or manoeuvre like helicopters.
(Some designs, however, do provide power to the rotor temporarily to
facilitate a vertical or near-vertical takeoff and landing.) If those
trade-offs sound like the worst of both worlds, though, consider that
unlike airplanes, autogyros are virtually stall-proof, no matter how slow
they’re going. If the engine gave out, the rotor would keep spinning, and
the craft—if controlled carefully by the pilot—could simply float to the
ground. All this does not necessarily mean that autogyros are safer than
other aircraft; numerous other considerations come into play. But in
certain circumstances, with proper design and a well-trained operator,
they can sometimes be safer.
There are numerous autogyro flying schools
around the world and each country has its regulatory body governing the
need or otherwise for a pilots licence. In some countries if the aircraft
is under a certain weight you do not need a licence. However, wherever you
live in the world and regardless of your previous flying experience you
must undergo proper training these machines do not respond like a fixed
wing aircraft or a helicopter.
If you try and teach yourself you will CRASH and become a
statistic, possibly a dead one.
In summary therefore, Gyroplanes are a
unique hybrid which have been around for years, but are now beginning to
grow in popularity once more. It must be said that over the years, there
have been a disproportionate number of fatalities in autogyros. New models
are vastly improved, but great care should be taken in choosing which
aircraft type to fly in.