The Rising Popularity Of Gyrocopters In Canada

Range of gyrocopters

Spectators lined up for demonstration rides. They liked what it they saw, and many were sold

The assignment this articles was covering gyroplanes (AKA Gyrocopters) and engines to find out what was new, what was not, how they flew, and how they felt.

Because of the large number of aircraft which showed up at Sun ‘n Fun this year, I was kept very busy. Somehow, though, I didn’t see any homebuilt helicopters there. I don’t know whether they were there and I missed them, or whether there just weren’t any at the fly-in this year. I hope one of our readers will call or write and tell us about it.

What I did see, however, were lots of gyroplanes. Every day during the airshow, the acknowledged Dean of Gyroplanes, Ken Brock, performed his spectacular one-man show with his personal aircraft. More people have been introduced to gyroplanes by seeing Ken perform at airshows than through any other medium.

gyrocopters pre-rotator

This is a closeup of the rotor head showing in detail the pre-rotator and flight controls.

Regular readers are undoubtedly aware of the history of autogyro which was “invented” seventy years ago, but few of us realize how long it has been lurking in the background of the homebuilt movement.

Igor Bensen started the blades whirling many years ago with his gyrocopter, and his is the only version you can correctly call a gyrocopter because he had the name copyrighted. That’s why all these other flying machines are called everything but gyrocopters. So, officially they’re gyroplanes, and the FAA does require a special license to fly them, if they fall outside the ultralight category.

Canada does not have an ultralight gyroplane; all their gyroplanes must be licensed as homebuilts.

Autogyros were responsible for the development of the helicopter industry in this and other countries. Early autogyro pioneers experimented with them because of their short takeoff and landing capabilities. When it was discovered that the distances needed for these activities weren’t really that short, helicopters were developed to be true vertical-performance aircraft.

How Gyrocopters work

Air Command gyroplane original landing gear

Mechanically, the autogyro is a much simpler device than a helicopter since it’s primarily an aircraft which receives its lift from two or more rotary wings which are auto-rotating.

Most of the popular small homebuilt gyroplanes have small engines mounted in back of the seat or seats, and an aircraft pusher propeller drives the aircraft forward, causing the rotary wings to rotate around their shaft. When enough lift is generated, the aircraft will leave the ground.

The amount of wind velocity at the time plays a large part in the amount of ground roll needed during takeoff and landings. Some gyroplanes require quite a bit of landscape on which to roll out if there’s very little wind blowing. Pre-rotation systems help somewhat, but many small gyroplanes still require a long run.

Unlike a helicopter, the overhead rotor on a gyroplane is not powered; it’s freewheeling. The passage of air flowing upward through the slightly-tilted rotor blades causes them to spin, and the blade which has an airfoil shape then creates lift. The rotor blade is kept turning by the forward speed of the gyroplane which is achieved with a simple engine and propeller.

The amount of lift created depends upon a compromise between the airspeed of the rotors and the resistance offered by the rotating blades to the airflow past them.

Air Command single seat gyrocopter

In practice, the desired lifting force is only produced when the blade speed greatly exceeds the forward speed of the machine. Today’s gyroplane design draws heavily from the work of Dr. Igor Bensen who began designing and building gyro-gliders and gyrocopters in 1953.

Gyroplanes form part of the aircraft industry which can be broadly described as sport aviation or recreational leisure aircraft. More specifically, gyroplanes represent the amateur-built rotary-wing aircraft segment of the sport aviation industry which are otherwise known as rotorcraft.

The rotorcraft segment of the recreational flying industry includes “amateur-builts” as they are known in Canada, or “homebuilts” as they are know in the states, ultralights (U.S.A. only) and kit planes.

Since they need not be registered here, no one really knows how many gyroplanes are out there, but one recent semi-official estimate claims that today gyroplanes number about 10,000.

If you live in the U.S., and your gyroplane meets the requirements for an ultralight, neither you nor your aircraft need any paperwork in order to operate it legally.

If, however, you live in Canada, if your aircraft weighs more than 254 pounds, or if it otherwise exceeds the regulation numbers, then you must conform to FAA or MOT rules governing rotorcraft flight.

The rules for registering your gyroplane are simple, both in Canada and in the United States. Inspectors examine your project as you proceed, then when properly completed, they award you a Special Certificate of Airworthiness For Amateur-Built Aircraft in Canada, and an “N” number with an Air-worthiness Certificate in the U.S.

RAF gyroplane drawing

In order to fly your gyroplane in either country, you also need a simple medical certificate, a certain amount of dual — in the U.S., 20 hours dual plus 20 hours solo — and you will be awarded a Private Gyroplane License under part 61 of FAA regs. Once registered with the FAA, gyroplanes enjoy the same privileges as all other General Aviation aircraft.

In Canada, the required amount of flight experience is similar to that needed to obtain a Private Gyroplane Pilot License. I spent several days in and around the Air Command tent, and also absorbed all the information dispensed at the RAF Gyroplane display.

After carefully listening to everything which was said there, I’ll bring our readers some of the questions most often asked of the gyroplane owners by spectators and bystanders, and some of their answers.

Q. Will a gyroplane take off and land vertically?

A. A gyroplane is not a helicopter, and thus cannot take off and land vertically. While it may appear to do so when flying in a strong wind, it’s actually moving through the air while the force of the wind is pushing against it, causing it to remain over the same spot on the ground. It may seem to be hovering, but this is really only an optical illusion.

Q. Does a gyroplane glide?

A. Most gyroplanes have a four to one glide ratio which means that they’ll move forward 4000 feet for every 1000 feet of altitude they have. Weight of the aircraft and piloting techniques also influence their glide ratio.

Q. Can I tow my gyroplane?

A. Towing a gyroplane is dangerous and should never be attempted except by experts, who usually only do this during demonstrations.

Q. How high will a gyroplane fly?

A. Some gyroplanes have been operated as high as 10,000 feet, but the true joy of this type of flying is not seeing how high you can fly, but how much you can see and enjoy from a minimum altitude.

Q. Can I spray crops with a gyroplane?

A. Yes, gyroplanes are being used by many experienced pilots to spray small acreages of crops. While they cannot be used commercially in the U.S., if you own the
crops and the gyroplane, you can equip your gyroplane with a spray kit and get rid of the bugs in your own strawberry patch (for instance) yourself.

Q. Are gyroplanes safe, or do I need a parachute when flying one?

A. The FAA has repeatedly claimed that the gyroplane is one of the safer homebuilts, when built and flown correctly. A gyroplane operates in a three-dimensional environment and, as such, can be a potentially dangerous vehicle. When a properly built and flown gyroplane is operated within its envelope, it’s very strong, and a parachute is not really needed.

Q. Perhaps the most frequently asked question is this one: Can I teach myself how to fly a gyroplane?

A. The answer to this question is this, and it deserves a paragraph all to itself: DON’T DO IT!

A large number of fatal gyroplane accidents have been caused by people attempting to teach themselves how to fly in one. Reputable, responsible gyroplane companies like Ken Brock, Air Command, and RAF 2000 won’t even sell you a gyroplane unless you agree to let them teach you to fly it.

Furthermore, these people will not sell plans for gyroplanes because they insist on being sure that all the materials and components used to build the gyroplane are of aircraft quality and that it’s correctly built.

The cockpit of the RAF 2000 was very well appointed and even featured a digital engine and flight performance electronic display screen.

A gyroplane looks very simple to fly, and it really is, once you learn and memorize a few simple reflex actions. However, these simple reflex actions are completely unlike those you use to pilot other aircraft, ultralight weight-shift vehicles, automobiles or motorcycles.

Should you be flying a gyroplane when a situation arises where the right reflex action is required immediately, if you don’t have it well-programmed into your mental responses, you could get into serious trouble within seconds and, if you don’t recover immediately, you might possibly crash a few seconds later.

Gyroplanes are a blast to fly, and they’re as sate as any other homebuilt, but they must be constructed and flown properly by a well-taught pilot. I had occasion to examine Air Command’s new tandem two-place gyroplane, and I found the Rotax two-stroke-powered aircraft to be another really good-looking machine.

Tandem 2 seat rotax 912 gyrocopter

For some reason, I feel it’s almost more natural to ride in a two-place tandem-configured gyroplane, rather than one where you sit side-by-side. All weekend long, Air Command’s president, Dennis Fetters, kept their many aircraft in the air, giving demonstration rides.

These Air Command gyroplanes are very well designed and exceedingly popular. While the two-place model lacks some of the takeoff performance of the single-place, that’s to be expected as a result of the extra weight of the second seat and its passenger.

Early Command Gyroplane 1984

I can’t see two-place gyroplanes being used for anything other than training (something at which these two-placers excel) because for me, the joy of gyroplane flying is the freedom and the feeling I get that I’m all alone and almost an integral part of the airplane.

I also enjoyed seeing the RAF (Rotary Air Force) gyroplanes, powered with quiet, fuel-efficient, German-made Hirth two-strokes of 95 to 110 SAE horsepower, using electric start, and possessing superior power-to-weight ratio.

These interesting vehicles were extremely well designed by Canadian gyroplane pioneer Bernard J. Haseloh who has been designing helicopters and gyroplanes since 1943, when he built his first homebuilt helicopter.

RAF2000 GTX SE gyrocopter

At that time, the Canadian government didn’t have any provisions for licensing homebuilt helicopters, and officials there believed them to be much too complicated for civilians to attempt, so Haseloh turned his talents to designing gyroplanes and gyrocopters. His first aircraft took flight in 1954.

Mr. Haseloh is highly respected by Canadian Federal Aviation Regulators and holds the first Gyroplane License issued in that country. He also served as the designated gyroplane instructor for Alberta, Canada for many years.

Bernard Haseloh is the key technical advisor to the Rotary Air Force gyrocopters and has been heavily involved with the testing, design and ongoing research and development of all Rotary Air Force aircraft.

The RAF 1000 and RAF 2000 kits qualify as accepted homebuilt gyroplane kits in both the United States and Canada and are eligible for homebuilt status when completed. The company had a very good looking RAF 2000 on display in their area and, under the guidance of Don LaFleur, company personnel were constantly answering questions about their new aircraft.

Early Air Command gyrocopters

Dennis Fetter’s Air Command fleet of gyroplanes grows each year. This year’s new model is the tandem two-place at left of the picture.

The 2000 is a two-seater and has an elaborate pre-rotation system on board to reduce ground-running distance to a minimum. It boasted a luxuriously upholstered cabin, complete with a digital readout engine component and aircraft performance series of almost heads-up display — obviously a top of-the-line deluxe gyroplane.

Its large Hirth two-stroke engine of over 100 hp will propel the aircraft at almost 130 mph at optimum cruise under perfect conditions. At these speeds, and with their comfortably appointed cabins, cross-country flights in gyroplanes are not only feasible, they are now a reality.

Air Command tandem gyrocopter

Although I didn’t personally get to see this aircraft fly in Florida, I’m really looking forward to flight testing it in the near future. The RAF two-place aircraft are powered with large Hirth engines so they should have much higher performance parameters than the smaller Rotax-powered two-seaters.

It will take a first-person flight test and the test of time before we can bring you actual performance figures of the two-place gyrocopters from Canada. They sure look exciting. Now, if they perform as well as they look, they should quickly join the ranks of the world’s most popular gyroplanes.

RAF 2000 hirth gyro

A new visitor from Canada to Sun ‘n Fun this year (1990) was the Rotary Air Force RAF 2000. This two-passenger gyroplane used a 100-hp Hirth engine.

RAF Series 2000 HIRTH F-30 Two Stroke Two-Place Gyrocopter
Length 13.6 ft
Height 8.2 ft
Width 5.0 ft
Aircraft dry weight 420 lbs
Payload 520 lbs
Engine F30 Hirth
Displacement 1070 cc
Horsepower S.A.E 110 hp two stroke
Fuel requirements Autogas/Oil Pre-Mix 50-1 Ratio
Cooling Free airstatic
Engine thrust 500 lbs
Miminum speed 10 TO 15 mph
Maximum speed 130 mph level (under optimum flight conditions)
Cruise speed 95 mph @ 75% throttle
Stall speed Aircraft will not stall
Takeoff speed 20 mph
Takeoff roll 0 TO 100 ft (depends on wind)
Landing roll 1 TO 10 ft
Rate of climb 1200 fpm
RAF 2000 Two Place Hirth F30 Powered Gyrocopter

The large Hirth F30 engine featured a belt-reduction drive and a pre-rotator for the blades.


Air Command Triple Tail

Air Command’s Triple Tail offers an effective horizontal stabilizer with vertical winglets and rudder.

Air Command International (www.aircommand.com) has begun producing a new version of their tail/horizontal stabilizer empennage (2005) called the Triple T Tail. The new product will provide pitch stability for Air Command gyroplanes with a 2″ keel.

The tail is mounted using standard aircraft materials. The eye-catching tail has 2 vertical winglets to aid in stability. Another new product from Air Command is a massive 10 gallon seat tank. Contact Air Command for pricing and availability.

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The Rising Popularity Of Gyrocopters In Canada
Article Name
The Rising Popularity Of Gyrocopters In Canada
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A historical look at the rising popularity of Gyrocopters from the early 90's at Sun - n - Fun Canada featuring the Air Command and RAF gyrocopters.
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