Gyroplane Notations (A Historical Look at the Progress of the Autogyro/Gyroplane)

1920. Juan de la Cierva, A Spanish noble with a great entreuprenarial passion to develop a stable aircraft that would not stall, begins development of the autogiro. Cierva used existing airframes and modified them with his windmilling rotor.

Cierva's first model aircraft were wingless and not very successful due to problems of controlling the rotor dynamically. Cierva continued to learn and develop the rotor. The first signs he was on the right track occurred near the end of 1922 with rotor blades made of bamboo that were allowed to free flap. Rotor blades allowed to free flap lets them raise and lower themselves dependant on the relative wind. In this manner Juan de la Cierva solved the problem of gyroscopic torque, roll stability. By developing this technology Cierva found a means to prevent the aircraft from rolling over. This technology is still used today on modern gyroplanes and was the direct link to a successful helicopter.

Cierva's model C-4 was the first airworthy autogiro and flew from Madrid on January 9, 1923. This aircraft averaged a 37 mph speed on a 110 hp radial engine. The model C-5 quickly followed the C-4. The C-5 was outfitted with a three bladed rotor versus the four bladed rotor found on the C-4. The C-5 in turn gave way to the C-6 in 1924.

In 1928 Cierva develops the C-8 and in September becomes the first rotorcraft to cross the English Channel. With all these successes, Cierva moves to England and finds the Cierva Autogiro Company. Cierva granted licenses to several airplane manufacturers in the late 20's and early 30's. Manufacturers like DeHavilland, Avro, Panall, and Westland. The development intrest faded when Cierva was killed in an airline crash in 1936.

Development did progress forward with a company called G&J Weir in Scottland. An engineering firm that started building autogiros under liscense of Cierva in 1932. Their first works evolved around the single seat C-28 but powered with a Douglas Dryad engine of 40 hp and renamed the ship Weir W.1.

The W.1 was further developed into the W.2 with "jump start" capability. Further refinement saw the introductions of the W.3 and W.4 with jump takeoff capability on a 50 hp Weir engine and two bladed rotor system.

In 1937 Weir decided to concentrate on helicopter development and succeded with the W.5. The W.5 was the first successful British helicopter and flew in June 1938.

A small company in Willowgrove PA, USA started work in 1929 as the Pitcairn Autogiro Company. Founded by Harold Pitcairn. Pitcairn had met with Cierva in the UK and made patent and license agreements to develop autogiros in the United States. This Company made several types of autogyros and later the company was changed to the G&A Aircraft Division of Firestone.

Pitcairn developed the PCA-1 based off an airplane the company made called the Pitcairn Mailwing and used the rotor system from the C-19. From the development of the PCA-1 a far more improved two seat aircraft was built designated the PCA-2. The PCA-2 was powered by a Wright 300 hp radial engine and the first certificated gyroplane in the United States. This aircraft also set an altiitude record of 18,415 feet. Twenty of these aircraft were built with several delivered to the U.S. Navy as XOP-1 for ship trials.

A smaller version of the PCA-2 was manufactureed as the PAA-1 and was powered by a 125 hp engine and four bladed rotor. The rotor had a unique control that allowed the rotor to be tilted fore and aft for increased stability. About twenty of these aircraft were also made.

The PA-18 was developed after the PAA-1, between 1932 and 1933. It is interesting to note the autogiro was priced at $6,750.00 and included pilot training.

The Pitcairn Company gave the United States it's largest gyroplane in 1932 with a cabin version in four-place arrangement, called the PA-19. The 19 was powered by a 420 Wright engine with a four bladed rotor with trim control. Trim was possible by the pilot tilting the head perpendicular to the fuselage axis. This rotor design predated a similar development the Cierva Company was to later develop in England.

The Pitcairn Company manufactured many more models over the years with final design of the PA-39. In 1941 the British Air Commission requested seven of these aircraft for evaluation for its Navy in an anti-submarine role. Unfortunately some aircraft were lost in the shipment to the United Kingdom and intrest in the project changed, resulting in the endeavor being cancelled.

In 1934 Westland built an experimental autogyro designated the C-29 with a four-place cabin. The project was cancelled due to excessive problems with resonance.

Kellet manufactured Cierva liscenced autogiros in the United States in 1934 with the two-place, folding three bladed rotor, KD-1. A small single place type was later developed and used by Eastern Airlines to carry mail. A further development of this aircraft for the United States Army was made and called the YO-06 with a 300 hp Jacobs R-915 engine. The design was to be utilized in an observation role and was built in 1942.

Kellets Autogiro's were copied in Japan with German Kobe in-line engines of 240 hp and designated Kayaba KA-1.

At this point in gyroplane history much attention was shifted from the development of gyroplanes to helicopter research and development. A notable autogyro from this period was the Rotochute that would later inspire the Bensen series of light gyrocopters.

1942, Germany. The German Navy used the Focke Achgelis Fa 330 with its submarines for reconnaissance work. The 330 had no engine as it was towed by cable from the submarine. The craft was a single seat design with three bladed rotor system. Weser Flugzeugwerk produced around 200 of the type before the close of World War II.

This note is a bit off topic but I think you will find interesting:

A great helicopter designer was German, Anton Flettner. Flettner's first model flew in 1932 and he continued to improve and make changes to his designs. When in 1939 he developed an aircraft that the German Navy took intrest. Flettner delivered 30 prototypes of the new two-place Fl 282 Kolibri that the Navy planned to use for anti-submarine reconnasissance. The first of these ships flew in 1941. The original enclosed cabin was a multi-faceted design but with time constraints many were built with an open cockpit and retained the lower plexi-glass cabin. By 1942 the 282 was in active service on operational warships. The Kolibri became the world's first military helicopter. The intermeshing rotors would later find their use in designs by Kellet and Kaman.

1947, United Kingdom. The Fairey Aviation Company develops a four seat experimental aircraft called the Fairey Gyrodyne. The gyrodyne was technically a compound aircraft. That is, it has certain properties of of flight in certain operational modes. I.E. vertical takeoffs and landings like a helicopter with power to the rotor system and cruise operation like a gyroplane, non-powered rotor. The gyrodyne was powered with a 525 hp engine that could transfer power to the anti-torque propeller and three bladed rotor. The ship set a world speed record in 1948 travelling at a speed of 124 mph. A second type was highly modified with jets on the rotor tips and first flown in 1954.

Fairey didn't stop there, development lead to a large transport based on the operational aspects learned from the Jet Gyrodyne. The new transport was designated the Fairey Rotodyne. This was definately a large compound aircraft, capable of carrying 40 passengers and a gross weight of 33,000 pounds. The four bladed rotor had a 101 feet eight inch diameter equipped with compressed air jets at the rotor tips. The spacious interior and high cruise speed of 185 mph generated much intrest in the design. The Rotodyne first flew in 1957 and on 5 January 1959 set a world record for rotary wing aircraft with a speed of 191 mph. The Royal Air Force and several commercial operators sought to exploit the design capabilities but problems aroused by noise from the tip jets and other issues within the British aeronautical industry prevented Fairey from full-scale production and the design was cancelled in 1962.

1949, France. Louis and Jacques Breguet are among the worlds most famous aircraft manufacturers but few know of their rotorcraft work. We diverse here a bit but stay with me. Louis produced one of the first helicopters in 1908 and the craft was actually able to break ground. After World War II the company, Societe Avions concentrated again on helicopters. In 1949, Louis produced his third helicopter with good market prospects and a fast cruise of 125 mph but never got beyond the prototype due to lack of funds. What is interesting here is all of Louis Breguet's helicopters were designated "Breguet Gyroplanes".

1950's/1960's, United States. Aircraft Manufacturers McDonnell and Bell started research on compound aircraft. McDonnell's prototype designated XV-1 was the genius of Austrian pioneer Friedrich von Doblhoff. First flown in 1954 this four-place pusher propeller design featured tip nozzles. In October of 1956 this incredible little ship became the first rotorcraft to reach a speed of 199 mph. Development was discontinued in 1957.

Bell took a different approach with the XV-3 convertiplane in 1955. Continued development of this technology has resulted in current application of the V-22 Osprey and 609 respectively.

Rotorcraft development had definately shifted to helicopter research especially after these compound test aircraft. The large manufacturers were designing new designs and incorporating the new turbine engines, which would bring the true life to the helicopters capabilities. If it had not been the for the accomplishments and fortitude of smaller companies to produce gyroplanes in a difficult marketplace the gyroplane may have disappeared and become a lost technology all together.

1960, The Umbaugh two place autogyro is produced in conjunction with the Fairchild Airplane Company High success of the design was expected but higher than expected production costs following the building of the intial two prototypes found restricted sales. (Note: Umbaugh/Umbaugh Company(USA)became involved in helicopter construction in the late 1950's and built the Umbaugh 18 autogyro with the Fairchild Engine and Airplane Company.)

May 28, 1965. Air and Space recieves FAA type certification approval for its gyroplane and delivers the first production model to a Mr. Willis Star.This type certificated gyroplane see higher than expected build cost and it too will have limited sales.

1960, Canada. The Avian Aircraft Ltd. Founded in 1959 by Peter Payne from inception on concentrating on the design and construction of helicopters and autogyros. Avian unviels a small two-seat gyroplane in 1960 known as the Avian 2/180 Gyroplane with a ducted pusher propeller. As improvements were incorporated into the design the type was granted Civil Approval in 1967. Like the Umbaugh, high costs prevented further development.

1969, Great Britian. A small company founded by Wing-Commander K.H. Wallis called Wallis Autogyros Ltd. in 1961. Mr. Wallis wasted no time, flying his first autogyro in August of 1961. Building nine variants of single place autogyros, construction of a two-place type was started in 1969. Testing was then begun with a four bladed rotor and produced as the Wallis WA-116F.

Wing Commander Wallis flew the WA-116F on a closed circuit course and set a world speed record in 1974 travelling 416.48 miles. Wallis autogyros vary in powerplants from 72 to 160 hp. These gyroplanes have been employed in variuos mission roles from James Bond movies to research with Sperry Radar.

1971, United States. The Bensen Aircraft Corporation has been the largest manufacturer of light gyroplanes, available in kit form since the fifties. The Bensen B-8M single place gyroplane made its debut in 1971 with a 72 hp McCulloch engine, overhead control bar and tubular frame construction. This open cockpit design has inspired and trained many gyronauts over the years. Prior to and since the passing of Dr. Bensen an annual gyroplane fly-in in his honor is held in Wachula Florida.

1980, Spain. AISA- Aeronautica Industrial S.A. a company founded in 1923 with previous building experience on Cierva autogiros, set out designing its own autogyro. The design was intended for civil use with greater capacity than designs that were currently being offered by the United States and Great Britian. A Lycoming LO-540 powers the AISA Autogyro GN with a four bladed articulated rotor. The cabin is a four place design with access from both sides of the fuselage. Stub wings support twin booms and dual vertical stabilizers. Max spped is 150 mph.

1980's Kits. Outside of Bensen, Ken Brock with Brock Gyrocopter offered plans and kits for the gyroplane he regularly flew at airshows. His demonstrations showed the aviation world the versatility of the gyroplane and his kits helped more individuals build their own aircraft. Since the 80's many more kit manufacturer's have joined the ranks and offer a variety of styles that have provided the gyroplane adventure for new generations.

1990's United States. CarterCopter by Jay Carter Jr.. Mr. Carter envisioned greater rotorcraft potential by unloading the rotor system at higher airspeeds. The concept was not revolutionary but the means to do it was. By using new materials to create a high inertia rotor capable of providing a MU factor of one. An accomplishment not even achieved in helicopter design. The result is an experimental research vehile of gyroplane design called the CarterCopter. The aircraft has reached it's goal of MU1 but unfortunately the program has suffered several mishaps in landing situations with the ultimate loss of the aircraft. The reseach, technology and talent as well as motivation to develop a production version lays on the horizon for Jay. Carter needs what other gyroplane companies in the past needed-funding.

Present Kits. The modern gyroplane typically is a homebuilt of experimental nature and is available in kit or plans form. The modern gyroplane kit is a simple, safe and effective way to mass produce the gyroplpane on a semi-large scale. The kits can be found in open cockpit or enclosed cabin designs. Check out the designs on the Kits page or Kit Selection page.

The preceding information has highlighted some of the grander points in gyroplane development and it is hoped that this information wetted your appetite and intrest to further research. Certainly there have been manufacturers in many other countries with many unique designs.

The Hofstra University has some great historical data on gyroplane historythat you may find interesting.

Ther are also many books in several languages that provide some super photos and information. Try searching Amazon and other book stores for your preferences or simply go to the books section of this site.

As you can see even the historical record of gyroplanes can be an adventure all in its self.

My great thanks to Tim for the use of this video.

Historic Gyroplane Aviators

Aviation Historic posters and prints

Historic Gyroplanes

In support of aviation history, the State of Florida has a very rich history. A part of that history was the first regularly scheduled passenger airline. In 1914, Mr. Tony Jannus flew from St. Petersburg to Tampa in a Benoist biplane.

2014 will mark the centennial of birth of the commercial aviation industry. Plans are under way to mark this historic event. Www.gyroplanepassion.com is proud to support the efforts of the Florida Aviation Historical Society and the Flight 2014 project.

To learn more or give your support of the event follow the links below...

Florida Aviation Historical Society

Flight 2014