January of 1923 brought the introduction of the autogiro to the aviation market. Juan de la Cierva developed a rotor sytem that revolutionized the rotary wing field. This design concept would pave the way for the first practical helicopter control in years to come. April, 1923 was a historic day in U.S. rotorcraft annals as the first autogyro certificate for any rotary wing aircraft was granted to the Pitcairn PCA-2 under type certificate number 410.
Autogiro, autogyro and gyroplane all describe the same basic air transpotation vehicle. "Autogiro" was originally a trademark used by Cierva. When Pitcairn started producing these aircraft he changed the spelling to autogyro. Another common term you may hear is gyrocopter, which is also a trademark and belongs to the Benson Aircraft Corperation. I am not certain which came first in the case of the word gyroplane. The term gyroplane was used by Aeronautica Industrial S.A. for their autogyro designs and was also adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States as the official designation for the type. Years later the FAA changed the term to be officially called the gyroplane. Got all that?
So what exactly is an autogiro, autogyro? According to our good friends at Webster an autogiro is an aircraft that moves forward by means of a propeller and is supported in the air by means of a large rotor mounted horizontally above the fuselage and turned by air pressure rather than motor power.
Webster gives the following definition for gyroplane: any aircraft having wings that rotate about a vertival or nearly vertical axis as the autogiro.
I personally like the following definition to desccribe them all, an aircraft that achieves lift by a free spinning rotor. Let's get back to Mr. Cierva.
Cierva was concerned about the safety of aircraft during his time. The chief concern was aircraft control and stability, in particular, when the aircraft entered a stall. Stalling an airplane inadvertantly was a rather easy condition for a pilot to enter into. Cierva reasoned if the wing was prevented from stalling the aircraft would be more stable and safe, and it was.
A helicopter on the other hand is far more complex with the addition of transmissions, gearboxes, more moving parts and requiring an even higher degree of flying technique. The rotor on a helicopter is driven by a rotating shaft and has the added abilities of sustained hover, vertical takeoffs and landings, and rearward flight.
A gyrodyne is a hybrid rotorcraft that operates similar to a helicopter in takeoff and landing but utilizes a free spinning rotor for cruise. The British Fairey Rotordyne has been the only practical application of this technology to date; however a similar concept can be found in the CarterCopter by Jay Carter.
The 60's and 70's saw a resurgance of intrest in the gyroplane. Sales of Bensen gyrocopters, McCulloch J-2/Air & Space gyroplanes were good. A potential buyer was able to find an entry level ship and a certificated rather sophisticated type available.
Like many other designs the gyroplane of the 80's was viewed as more or less an oddity. Seen primarily at airshows with Ken Brock demonstrating the safety and maneuverability of the design. It was easy for the general public to see the benefits of helicopters in their use in the military, public and personal transport as well as medical/rescue and law enforcement roles. Sadly most never knew that it was the gyroplane that first established the airmail routes in the United States. Both the British and Germans used the advantages and simplicity of the gyroplane during World War II and a X-plane in the United States was evaluated.
The later 80's and 90's spawned a new intrest in this versitile aircraft as engines were available with greater power and airframes incorperating composite materials as found in the Rotary Air Force 1000 and 2000 series. The Groen Hawk series developed and flew a remarkable set of sorties during the Salt Lake City Olympic Games. Groen also introduced a turbine powered gyroplane during this period and future design testing of the gyroplane was begun on Jay Carter's CarterCopter, with hopes of achieving airspeeds rivaling that of modern helicopters and possibly beyond.
One great advatage in terms of safety over a helicopter is in an engine out event. A helicopter with a loss of power must quickly be recognized and accurately manipulted by the pilot to place the helicopter in an autorotative state. A gyroplane is in perpetual autorotation and during the same senario simply maintains landing speed and flies the gyroplane to the best available landing area.
Gyroplanes are currently used as training aircraft, military roles, reconnaissance, air survey, photograghy, police roles and personal pleasure. Surely a modern kit can be found for your needs.