Let’s look at some entry level gyroplanes
With the steadily escalating cost of engines and materials, finding good homebuilt options under $10,000 is becoming increasingly difficult. But with respect to gyroplanes, there are plenty of solid options available that come in under this arbitrary cost threshold.
Many of these are highly engineered bolt-together kits that will assemble with a week or two of easy, part-time work, but even the plansbuilt machines can be managed in a fraction of the time required to scratch-build a conventional fixed-wing aircraft.
Gyrocopter Information Sources
This month I want to discuss a range of entry-level, single-seat gyroplanes. Space won’t permit a full-scale, directory-style layout for each aircraft, but most of the aircraft are listed in several KITPLANES® aircraft directories.
A second major source is the annual directory issue of the PRA’s Rotorcraft magazine, compiled by editor Paul Bergen Abbott.
Copies of the most recent directory issue are available from the Popular Rotorcraft Association office and the directory is also available on the Internet from the PRA website at http://www.pra.org. If an aircraft is covered in the Rotorcraft directory, you will see the designation PRA.
If you have to go somewhere other than these two primary directories. I will provide the necessary contact information. While the $10,000 cutoff is pretty stingy by aircraft standards, there is a lot to be found when it comes to solid gyroplane options.
Most of these fit into the Experimental category, but there are a few legitimate Part 103 aircraft for those who want or need to take the ultralight route. Space doesn’t permit this summary to be absolutely comprehensive, but it does include a range of well-known aircraft that are regularly flown at major rotorcraft fly-ins.
The term kit can mean almost anything in the world of home-built aircraft, but in the gyroplane world most of the kit options are bolt-together aircraft that qualify as quick-build by any definition.
Despite escalating engine and materials costs, there are a number of excellent kits that come in well under our arbitrary cost threshold. There are also even more that come in just a bit higher, so if $10,000 is a comfortable range for your budget, you might want to delve into the directory listings for additional possibilities.
Air Command gyroplanes have been on the market since 1985 and, although the company has changed owners a few times since then, the present incarnation. Air Command International (KP, PRA), has built an excellent reputation for quality kits and components and a solid commitment to safety and customer support.
Air Command 447
Two of the standard kits, the Air Command 447 ($8300) and 503 ($9500), qualify in terms of cost. Construction is bolted round and square tubing, and 23-foot Sky Wheels composite blades are standard with both models.
The tail group components are of composite construction as well. The air-cooled Rotax two-strokes that are offered with each kit are obvious from their aircraft model numbers.
The AC447 will make ultralight weight in the stock configuration, and you would have additional options for accessories if you used lighter aluminum blades. Although the aircraft are typically illustrated with the optional body pod, as shown here, this is an accessory item that is not included in the basic kit.
Other highly desirable accessories include an engine-driven prerotator and brakes. The basic airframe kit is also available without an engine ($6700) for those who might already have a suitable Rotax or who want to go the Subaru four-stroke route.
SnoBird Exciter Gyrocopter
A lot of these gyroplanes are flying, and you can see them in action at virtually any rotorcraft fly-in. The SnoBird line of gyroplanes originated in the Pacific northwest, but marketing and manufacturing are now being handled by Calumet Motorsports in Lansing, Illinois.
The company’s Exciter 503 ($7995) and Charger 582 ($8995) are available as high-quality, bolt-together kits, equipped with Rotax two-strokes (indicated by the model number), Sky Wheels composite blades (23 feet), and composite tail section components.
These open-frame machines get high praise from their owners, and Doug O’Connor flew his SnoBird from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border in 1996. Calumet has under development a Part 103 ultralight kit, the Explorer that may be available by the time you read this.
The next entry in the kit category is a noticeable departure from typical sport gyroplanes, in that it looks like a conventional aircraft except that someone forgot to build the wings!
Little Wing Autogyro
These aircraft are the result of the design efforts of Ron Herron of Little Wing Autogyros, Inc. (KP, PRA). All the autogyros of the ’20s and ’30s were tractor designs, and Ron has reintroduced this concept in an innovative line of aircraft.
All the aircraft in the series have conventional welded, steel-tube fuselage with fabric covering. The long tail moment arm and generous horizontal stab result in aircraft with exceptional pitch stability and excellent flying qualities.
The Roto-Pup Ultra-light is the only one presently available as a full kit ($8995). The kit is absolutely complete including a prewelded fuselage frame, engine (2SI 460/45 hp), 22-foot Dragon Wings rotor blades, fabric and basic instruments. Built carefully, the Roto-Pup is a Part 103-legal ultralight, but there are several Experimental options.
The Pitbull ($9770) tractor gyroplane from North American Rotorwerks (KP, PRA) is another design that hearkens back to the look of classic autogyros. The composite body work wraps around a bolt-together frame, largely of 2×2 square aluminum tubing, with chromoly gear legs and struts.
The gyroplanes engine cowling even mimics a classic radial, despite the fact that a Rotax 503 is the standard engine option. The kit comes with a two-blade, 23-foot 6-inch Fleck extruded rotor system, the engine and prop, and everything else required to get the machine into the air.
The manufacturer claims three days as the required construction time, so you certainly wouldn’t be postponing your aerial fantasies! The finish of the various metal components was a bit rough when I saw the prototype at the PRA convention in 1996, but the problem is said to be solved in the production kits.
Plans with Parts Support
Building a fixed-wing aircraft from plans is usually a labor of love that can eat up a tremendous number of hours. Gyroplanes, given the simplicity of the airframe and the low parts count, represent much shorter projects.
This is particularly true if the supplier stocks critical parts or even complete kits, so that you can mix and match homemade and commercial components, striving for your own balance of time and money invested.
Ken Brock Manufacturing KB-3 Ultralight Gyroplane
Ken Brock Manufacturing (KP, PRA) produces highly regarded kits for its KB-2 Experimental and KB-3 ultralight gyroplanes but also provides plans for either model for $125 a set.
The fit and finish of Brock parts is exemplary and the company sells sub-kits or individual components for either of these models, so you can tailor the project to meet your budget and time constraints.
Both aircraft are bolt-together projects using 2×2 square aluminum tubing and extruded angle stock. The KB-2 gyroplanes are the model that Ken flies at Oshkosh each year and can be powered with a McCulloch two-stroke or a VW.
The ultralight KB-3 uses the Rotax 582 two-stroke. Both machines feature built-up aluminum tail group components, which can be purchased, and the plans also document low-cost plywood alternatives.
Although the aircraft look very similar to the original Bensen machines. Ken has steadily incorporated changes over the years, so you get a nostalgic look but a thoroughly up-to- date aircraft.
I have already mentioned the tractor-style aircraft from Little Wing Autogyros (KP, PRA) in the discussion of kits, but this line also includes several Experimental variants, all of which are covered by the basic plans set, available for $175.
A prewelded gyroplanes fuselage ($3000) is available that will greatly shorten the time required to complete any of these projects. A wide range of larger two- stroke and four-stroke powerplants can be employed, as well as a range of blade types and sizes to match almost any design weight.
These aircraft draw a crowd at any fly-in and fly as well as they look!
Rotor Flight Dynamics Dominator Gyrocopter
If I had to mention a single designer who has had a major impact on the sport over the past several years, it would be Ernie Boyette of Rotor Flight Dynamics (PRA). Ernie’s Dominator single-seater is a plans-built machine ($175) that incorporates a lot of ingenious ideas, leading to a very distinctive appearance.
The high pilot seating is designed to optimize the position of the engine thrustline with the vertical e.g., minimizing pitch changes with throttle variations and thus enhancing pitch stability.
The tall-tail configuration— popularized by Ernie’s machine—acts as a flow-straightener, improving thrust efficiency and minimizing P-factor trim changes. The Dominator uses the low-drag Dragon Wings bonded aluminum rotor blades, which are manufactured by the company.
The aircraft can be powered by a dual-carb Rotax 503 or larger engines and features excellent flight stability and outstanding rough-field capabilities. The basic airframe is welded chromoly, and a prewelded airframe kit is available ($1095), which certainly helps cut down the time required for construction.
Other components, including a custom rotor head, control stick, tail group, and a powerful hydraulic prerotator, are also available. The Dominator is becoming a very popular gyro and you can usually catch one or more at the larger PRA fly-ins.
There are a number of plansbuilt – only options that can easily be built for well under $10,000.
Even here, you don’t necessarily have to build from scratch, since many standard gyroplanes components such as blades, rotor heads, control sticks, and tail group components can often be used if you want to trade off cost against time invested.
Plans for Martin Hollmann’s Bumble Bee (KP, PRA) have been available from Aircraft Designs ($180) for a number of years. Martin is a highly regarded professional designer (the composite Stallion fixed-wing is his latest project) who has several gyros to his credit.
Hollmann’s Bumble Bee was introduced in 1984 and was the first Part 103-legal ultralight gyroplane. The plans package also documents the rotor head and a very light but powerful pre-rotator.
The gyroplanes drawings do not cover the composite tail group components or the instrument panel/windscreen, as these were originally offered as part of a kit that is no longer available.
The aircraft uses a Rotax 447 and Martin’s low-drag composite rotor blades, which are still available on a limited production basis. Perhaps a dozen of these aircraft have been built over the years, but the design has a low profile.
At one time or another I have talked with perhaps half the builders and they were all quite pleased with the performance and handling of the aircraft. A new entry into the plansbuilt arena is Rotor Wing Aero’s 3D-RV (KP, PRA).
This is a bolt-together project featuring a tall tail and a drop-keel configuration to provide an optimum position for the engine thrustline. The basic plans are $100, with a set of rotor head drawings available for an additional $25.
The aircraft can be built within the guidelines for Part 103 if a Rotax 503 or 582 is employed. In the Experimental category, a Subaru EA-81 or EA-82 can be fitted, not to mention a wide range of two-stroke options.
Although I haven’t exhausted all the possibilities, my space this month is used up. Whether you call them entry-level or affordable, it’s obvious there is plenty to be had at the low-cost end of the gyroplanes price spectrum.
If you browse the KITPLANES and PRA directories, you will find additional aircraft that make the cost cut, not to mention a host of other aircraft that are definitely cost-effective when measured against the rest of aviation.
If you add a fascinating performance envelope and the ability to handle wind and turbulence into the equation, it’s easy to see why so many of us are fascinated by these compact little flying machines!