Flying Journal - Gyrocopters

[Editor's Note] Earl is in jolly old England for a couple of weeks and this article was originally published in the December 1997 issue.

Some of you met my student, Phil Horras, at our September meeting. While Phil has been taking lessons in a Cherokee 180, his dream has been to fly a gyroplane. We flew the Cherokee to Farmington Airpark in Puducah, KY, the center of gyroplane activity in this country.

A gyroplane uses an airplane engine and propeller for thrust and a rotary wing for lift. Unlike a helicopter, the engine does not turn the rotor. The rotor turns and generates lift as it is pushed through the air. This principal of physics is used by a helicopter pilot when he reverses the pitch of the rotor after engine failure so the helicopter autorotates down to a safe landing. Gyroplanes are more maneuverable than airplanes and can take-off and land in much shorter distances. Autogryos, as they were then known, were used to carry mail to and from the roofs of post offices in the 1930s. They were later overwhelmed in the marketplace by fixed wing aircraft and then helicopters.

Farmington Airpark offers training in two models. The Air and Space 18 is certified in the normal category like most of our general aviation aircraft. It is fully enclosed and with collective pitch on the rotor will even take-off vertically. The Twinstarr, while in the experimental category, has been proven for over 20 years and has been granted a waiver so it can be used for dual instruction.

Phil and I took rides in the Twinstarr. Powered by a Lycoming O-320 (like a Cessna 172), it has two-place tandem seating with an open cockpit. It was actually easier for Phil to transfer from his wheelchair into the Twinstarr than over the wing of an airplane. Phil thoroughly enjoyed the gyro and ordered a kit to build his own.

I have taken four lessons in the Twinstarr and am looking forward to my first solo. It is easy to detect yaw, because the wind hits you from the side. It is a little unnerving at first to look straight down to the ground with no structure in the way; but secure in a four-point harness, the ride is very exhilarating.

As nice as it is to travel in a plush Saratoga or Bonanza, it can be so smooth and comfortable you almost don't feel like you are flying. Part of the appeal of gyros is being closer to the sensations of flying. An open cockpit airplane is more like that but there is still that big engine out in front. In the gyro, you are aware of being suspended from that rotor and you can look right down in front of you as the scenery slips by.

I have been surprised by the reactions of some fixed-wing pilots. A couple of pilots, who have been known to do pretty daring things in airplanes, seemed very prejudiced against gyros. Apparently, some of the single seat gyros have been flown by builders who tried to teach themselves to fly. That would cause accidents in airplanes too. For as safe as we claim fixed-wing aircraft to be, we sure worry about stalls and spins. Most gyroplane rotors do not tolerate negative G-loads for long but gyroplanes do not stall. Every category has its advantages and disadvantages. The beauty of dual instruction in any category and class of aircraft is the enhanced safety while learning.


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