Gyrocopters have become a regular sight at all airfields around the country and at fly-ins, in recent years they have even made their way onto the airshow scene. Not many people know where these amazing machines hail from.
Titanium Autogyro (TAG)
Juan de la Cierva a Spanish engineer and aeronautical enthusiast participated in a design competition to develop a bomber for the Spanish military in 1921. De la Cierva designed a three-engine aircraft, but during an early test flight, the bomber stalled and crashed. De la Cierva was troubled by the stall phenomenon and vowed to develop an aircraft that could fly safely at low airspeeds. The result was the first successful rotorcraft, which he named Autogiro in 1923. De la Cierva's autogyro used an aircraft fuselage with a forward-mounted propeller and engine, a rotor mounted on a mast, and a horizontal and vertical stabilizer.
De la Cierva developed his C.6 model with the assistance of Spain's Military Aviation establishment, having expended all his funds on development and construction of the first five prototypes.
The C.6 first flew in February 1925, piloted by Captain Joaquín Loriga, including a flight of 6.5 miles from Cuatro Vientos airfield to Getafe airfield in about 8 minutes, a significant accomplishment for any rotorcraft of the time.
Shortly after De la Cierva's success with the C.6, Cierva accepted an offer from Scottish industrialist James G. Weir to establish the Cierva Autogiro Company in England, following a demonstration of the C.6 before the British Air Ministry at RAE Farnborough, on 20 October 1925. Britain had become the world centre of autogyro development.
RAF Cierva Autogiro
A crash in February 1926, caused by blade root failure, led to an improvement in rotor hub design. A drag hinge was added in conjunction with the flapping hinge to allow each blade to move fore and aft and relieve in-plane stresses, generated as a by-product of the flapping motion. This development led to the Cierva C.8, which, on 18 September 1928, made the first rotorcraft crossing of the English Channel followed by a tour of Europe.
An autogyro is characterized by a free-spinning rotor that turns because of the passage of air through the rotor from below. The vertical (downward) component of the total aerodynamic reaction of the rotor gives lift for the craft and sustains the autogyro in the air. A separate propeller provides forward thrust and can be placed in a tractor configuration with the engine and propeller at the front of the fuselage, or pusher configuration with the engine and propeller at the rear of the fuselage
Sycamore MK1 Eagle
Whereas a helicopter works by forcing the rotor blades through the air, drawing air from above, the autogyro rotor blade generates lift in the same way as a glider's wing, by changing the angle of the air as the air moves upwards and backwards relative to the rotor blade. The free-spinning blades turn by autorotation; the rotor blades are angled so that they not only give lift, but the angle of the blades causes the lift to accelerate the blades' rotation rate until the rotor turns at a stable speed with the drag and thrust forces in balance.
Because the craft must be moving forward (with respect to the surrounding air) in order to force air through the overhead rotor, autogyros are generally not capable of vertical take-off or landing (unless in a strong headwind). A few types have shown short take-off or landing.
ELA Aviacion ELA-07
Pitch control is achieved by tilting the rotor fore and aft; roll control by tilting the rotor laterally (side to side). Three designs to affect the tilt of the rotor are a tilting hub, swashplate, or servo-flaps. A rudder provides yaw control. On pusher configuration autogyros, the rudder is typically placed in the propeller slipstream to maximize yaw control at low airspeed but not always, as seen in the McCulloch J-2, with twin rudders placed outboard of the propeller arc.
There are three primary flight controls: control stick, rudder pedals, and throttle. Typically, the control stick is termed the cyclic and tilts the rotor in the desired direction to provide pitch and roll control, some autogyros do not tilt the rotor relative to the airframe, or only do so in one dimension, and have conventional control surfaces to vary the remaining degrees of freedom. The rudder pedals provide yaw control, and the throttle controls engine power.
Secondary flight controls include the rotor transmission clutch, also known as a pre-rotator, which when engaged drives the rotor to start it spinning before take-off, and collective pitch to reduce blade pitch before driving the rotor. Collective pitch controls are not usually fitted to autogyros, but can be found on the Air & Space 18A and McCulloch J-2 and the Westermayr Tragschrauber and are capable of near VTOL performance. Unlike a helicopter, autogyros without collective pitch or another jump start facility need a runway to take off; however, they are capable of landing with a very short or zero ground roll. Like helicopters, each autogyro has a specific height–velocity diagram for safest operation, although the dangerous area is usually smaller than for helicopters.
Modern autogyros typically follow one of two basic configurations. The most common design is the pusher configuration, where the engine and propeller are located behind the pilot and rotor mast It was developed by Igor Bensen in the decades following World War II, and came into widespread use shortly afterwards.
Less common today is the tractor configuration. In this version, the engine and propeller are located at the front of the aircraft, ahead of the pilot and rotor mast. This was the primary configuration in early autogyros but became less common after the advent of the helicopter.
In 2002, a Groen Brothers Aviation's Hawk 4 provided perimeter patrol for the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. The aircraft completed 67 missions and accumulated 75 hours of maintenance-free flight time during its 90-day operational contract.
In an 18-month period from 2009 to 2010, the German pilot couple Melanie and Andreas Stützfor undertook the first world tour by autogyro, in which they flew several different gyroplane types in Europe, southern Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the United States, and South America.
The adventure was documented in the book "WELTFLUG – The Gyroplane Dream" and in the film "Weltflug.tv - The Gyrocopter World Tour".
Many world records have been established over the years in various Gyrocopters dating back to 1931.
In 1931, Amelia Earhart (USA) flew a Pitcairn PCA-2 to a women's world altitude record of 18,415 ft.
Wing Commander Ken Wallis (UK) held most of the autogyro world records during his autogyro flying career. These include a time-to-climb, a speed record of 111.7 mph and the straight-line distance record of 540.11 miles On 16 November 2002, at 89 years of age, Wallis increased the speed record to 129.1 mph – and simultaneously set another world record as the oldest pilot to set a world record.
Wing Commander Ken Wallis
The autogyro is one of the last remaining types of aircraft which has not yet been used to circumnavigate the globe. Expedition Global Eagle was the first attempt in history to circumnavigate the globe using an autogyro. The expedition set the record for the longest flight over water by an autogyro during the segment from Muscat, Oman, to Karachi. The attempt was finally abandoned because of bad weather after a trip totalling 7,500 miles.
Expedition Global Eagle
As of 2014, Andrew Keech (USA) holds several records. He made a transcontinental flight in his self-built Little Wing Autogyro "Woodstock" from Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to San Diego, California, in October 2003 and set three world records for speed over a recognized course. The three records were verified by tower personnel or by official observers of the United States' National Aeronautic Association (NAA). On 9 February 2006, he broke two of his world records and set a record for distance, ratified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI): Speed over a closed circuit of 500 km (311 mi) without payload: 104.57 mph, speed over a closed circuit of 1,000 km (621 mi) without payload: 102.57 mph, and distance over a closed circuit without landing: 1,019.09 km (633.23 mi).
Little Wing Autogyro
On 7 November 2015, the Italian astrophysicist and pilot Donatella Ricci took off with a MagniGyro M16 from the Caposile aerodrome in Venice, aiming to set a new altitude world record. She reached an altitude of 8,138.46 m (26,701 ft), breaking the women's world altitude record held for 84 years by Amelia Earhart. The following day, she increased the altitude, reaching 27,556 ft, setting the new altitude world record with an autogyro.