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Gyroplane FAQs

- By Kerry Cartier

1. What does the Popular Rotorcraft Association do?

The PRA (pronounced P – R – A) is a worldwide organization of rotorcraft enthusiasts. PRA includes anyone interested in rotorcraft, and rotorcraft designers, builders, pilots, and instructors. PRA chapters offer camaraderie and rotorcraft experience, welcoming anyone interested in gyro or helicopter flight. The PRA magazine, Rotorcraft, goes to all members and is published 6 times per year.

2. What is a rotorcraft?

In the Popular Rotorcraft Association, “rotorcraft” includes anything that uses rotor blades to produce the lift needed to fly, such as helicopters and gyroplanes.  A “rotorcraft” is a specific US FAA “category” of aircraft.  “Helicopters” and “Gyroplanes” are specific U.S. FAA “classes” of rotorcraft.  “Autogyro” or “autogiro” is often the official or colloquial term for gyroplanes in many countries.  “Gyroplane” is the U.S. official term for gyros, and is often used to indicate gyroplanes that meet improved standards of safety and stability. 

3. Why are they called “gyros?”

“Gyro” (pronounced Ji-row) is slang for “gyroplane,” which covers all gyro types. “Autogyro” or “autogiro” sometimes refers to “tractor” configuration gyroplanes with the propeller in the front. “Gyrocopter” refers to gyro kits made by Igor Bensen, whose gyros with propellers in back introduced gyro flying to Experimental aircraft builders in the mid 1950s. [A gyro (pronounced guy-row) is a Greek sandwich.]

(The term “gyrocopter” is often used to represent all gyroplanes.  The terms “gyro” and “gyrocopter” commonly connotes the small and simple Bensen Gyrocopter and its derivatives.  However, the terms “gyro” and “gyrocopter”, among many people, often unfavorably connotes the less than admiral safety reputation of early “gyrocopters” and it’s sometimes unsafe derivatives.  The proper terms “gyroplane” or “autogyro” more favorably connote versions that apply safer structural, control and stability designs.)

4. What is a gyro?

“Gyro” is a commonly used term to represent all “gyroplanes” and/or “autogyros”. A gyro usually refers to a very small gyroplane with unpowered rotor blades, usually built from a kit or from plans. Agile in the air, they’re flown mostly for fun. The more proper term in the U.S. is “gyroplane”.  Most of the questions in this FAQ are about gyroplanes.

5. How big is a gyroplane?

A typical single-seat gyroplane is about 14 feet (4.25 m) long and 8 feet (2.4 m) high, with wheels spanning 6.5 feet (2 m). Empty weight is about 500 lbs (227 kg). For travel, the rotor blades are disassembled into a box 11 feet (3.35 m) long.

6. Can a gyroplane take off vertically or hover?

Most gyroplanes require a runway for takeoff but can land with a zero to 20 foot (6 m) landing roll. A few custom-built gyroplanes have “jump takeoff capability,” meaning they can jump 25 to 50 feet (7.5 to 15 m) high to t ake off. No gyroplanes can hover because their rotor blades are not powered.

7. How fast do gyroplanes fly?

Most gyroplanes cruise at 45 mph to 60 mph (72.5 to 96.5 kph). Andrew Keech’s Little Wing LW-5 holds the 2006 world speed record of 168.29 kph (104.6 mph).

8. How high do gyroplanes fly?

Most gyroplanes fly under 3,000 feet above the ground because their pilots like the scenery at the lower altitudes. Specially modified gyroplanes have gone almost 20,000 feet (6,096 m) high.

9. Can gyroplanes do aerobatics?

Most gyroplane pilots fly sensibly without trying aerobatics. With a well-trained pilot, a gyroplane is capable of doing most positive-G aerobatic maneuvers. Negative-G maneuvers which can slow or stop the rotor blades should be avoided.

 10. What makes a gyroplane fly?

Thrust from a propeller driven by an engine moves the gyroplane forward. Air coming in under the free-spinning rotor blades makes them rotate and produce lift. This is called “autorotation,” meaning they turn on their own.

11. What do rotor blades do?

Rotor blades are really wings that turn about an axis. Small gyroplanes have rotor blades about 20 feet (6 m) in diameter and about 6 inches (15 cm) front-to-back. When these rotor blades are turning several hundred RPM, they produce lift enough for sustained flight.

12. Are gyroplanes hard to fly?

Flying some older generation, less stable gyroplanes may be considerably more difficult to fly than an airplane or helicopter.  Gyroplane models employing safer aerodynamic stability designs may be as easy to fly as an airplane or helicopter.   More stable gyroplanes may be considerably less sensitive to wind turbulence than other aircraft.  Gyroplanes fly differently than airplanes or helicopters, and flight training is required, whether you are a pilot or not.

13. How do gyroplane flight controls work?

A gyroplane has a joystick and rudder pedals. Visualize the rotor disc as a pie tin with the rotorhead under its middle. Pushing the joystick to the right tilts the rotorhead to the right. This tilts the rotor disc to the right, and the gyroplane fuselage follows it. Same idea for going left. To go faster, the pilot pushes the joystick forward. Pushing the right rudder pedal yaws the fuselage to the right. Rudder pedals are used in turns and to line up the gyroplane with the runway in taxiing, takeoffs, and landings. To climb, add power.

14. Are gyroplanes safe to fly?

Gyroplanes will not stall, as airplanes can, making them safer at low speeds.  Aerodynamically stable gyroplanes designs are much safer in turbulent winds.  Landings are typically made at very slow airspeeds and can be made safely in very short distances.  See “Why Rotors Instead of Wings”. Rotorcraft are typically much safer structural designs as their structures are compact and do not rely on cantilever wings. Historically gyroplanes have one of the worst safety records because gyroplane pilots often taught themselves to fly in less stable designs. Today, pilots who fly more stable designs and earn their gyroplane pilot ratings with professional gyroplane flight instructors fly much safer.

15. What happens if the engine quits in midair?

The pilot eases the control stic k forward to keep his airspeed and glides to a landing. Because the gyroplane flies in autorotation, the pilot doesn’t have to do anything to the rotor blades. A gyroplane has a steeper glide ratio than an airplane, typically four or five feet forward for every one foot downward.

16. How much does a gyroplane cost?

Gyroplanes can be built from plans, built from kits, or purchased used. It is possible to build a gyroplane from plans for under $10,000 US. Single-place gyroplane kits cost about twice as much. Used gyroplanes range from about $5,000 and up, usually with several thousand dollars more needed to get a cheap gyroplane into safe flying condition.  Two-place gyroplanes may cost much more – similar to comparable airplanes.  To all these prices, add $3,000 or more for gyroplane flight training.

17. Can I buy a ready-to-fly gyroplane?

Not in the U.S.  In the U.S. as of 2/2008, all gyroplanes are built from kits or plans or are original designs. No companies presently produce a ready-to-fly gyroplane that can be licensed to fly in the US.  In most other countries, gyroplanes can be purchased as ready-to-fly from the producer.

18. How difficult is it to build a gyroplane kit?

One gyroplane instructor’s wife built his kits for him. Most gyroplane kits use seamless aluminum tubing with aluminum plates and fittings held together with aircraft-grade nuts, bolts, and washers. No welding is required. Time to build can be as low as 100 hours.

19. What are the advantages of owning and flying a gyroplane?

             -- A feeling of real flying, just like flying used to be

            -- Flies like a baby fighter plane, very maneuverable in the air

            -- Amazing view from front seat/open cockpit

            -- Very low kit prices, compared to airplanes/helicopters

            -- Low fuel costs, using unleaded auto fuel

            -- Low maintenance costs, compared to airplanes/helicopters

            -- No hangar needed, keep gyroplane in your garage

            -- Take gyroplane to the airport on a small trailer

            -- In emergency, land on a 50 x 50-foot spot (15 m square)

            -- Pride in flying a unique aircraft you built yourself

20. If there was just one thing I should learn from this gyroplane FAQ list, what is it?

Gyroplane Flight training! Get some before you decide to build anything, to see if you like gyroplane flying. Get an instructor to test-fly your gyroplane. Get flight training through solo before you even taxi your new gyroplane. Complete flight training for an FAA gyroplane rating to fly safely. This idea holds true for helicopter flight training, too.

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