Lift Without Wings?

little wing autogyro ron herron gyrocopter

The Little Wing gyroplane relies on a rotor


Who would want to return to the days of flying aircraft without wings? Ron Herron. He harkened back to the 1920-1930s’ gyroplane days. He was especially partial to tractor-engine-configured Cierva and Pitcairn gyro­ planes—so much so that he designed his own: the Little Wing. Herron built a Bensen Gyrocopter and flew it for 20 years.

He has logged 800 hours with his private fixed-wing certificate and 600 hours with his gyroplane rating. Kris, Herron’s fiancee and business partner, also has a private fixed-wing certificate and is working toward her gyroplane rating.

ron herron little wing gyroplane

Ron Herron flies the LW-3 Little Wing gyroplane. A two-seat version is due soon.

Together, they fabricat­ed three Little Wing prototype gyros. The LW-1 was built around a Piper PA-11 Cub fuselage, starting in 1989, but other work delayed its completion. The first flight was in fall 1994.

“It was only a proof-of-concept aircraft to check rotorhead lateral movement and use of an elevator for pitch control and a 100-hp Continental 0-200 engine.” Herron said. “I only flew it for a couple of hours, but it led to further research.”

Second Try

The LW-2 was built and flown in a two-month period. It first flew in April 1995. It was a Part 103 legal ultralight and was initially called Rotor Pup because the welded chromoly airframe, although built from scratch, partially dupli­cated that of Bob Count’s single-seat, fixed-wing Preceptor Ultra Pup. The LW-2 also has airplane-type tail feath­ers (rudder and elevator) and was powered by a 90-hp McCulloch 0-100 former drone engine.

It logged 46 hours, but the McCulloch engine was recently replaced by a 70-hp AMW 540L engine with electric start, dual ignition and tuned mufflers for less noise. A switch from a two-blade propeller to a 68-inch, three-blade Warp Drive propeller was also made.

Another Refinement

The LW-3 (Herron’s latest prototype) made its first flight in September 1996. It had 46 hours logged by the end of Oshkosh ’97. It incorpo­rated numerous changes from the prior model. First, power is a 70-hp Total Engine Concepts (TEC), dual-ignition, 2180-cc VW conversion turning a 62×28-inch Culver wood propeller.

The rotor pylon is redesigned and simplified. The earlier, four-tubular-leg chromoly pylon was replaced by a 2×2-inch aluminum main rotor mast with triangular tubular aluminum bracing. The pylon’s position is also adjustable for varying c.g. situations.

Empty weight of the LW-3 is 452 pounds, 101 pounds lighter than the LW-2. Gross weight is 750 pounds. Herron reports that the LW-3 gyroplane takes off in 200 feet, climbs 800 fpm at 55 mph and cruises at 65-70 mph.

two stroke gyrocopter

Here’s the LW-2, which uses lateral cyclic for bank control and an elevator for pitch. That’s unusual in a modern gyroplane.

The LW-2 cruises at 60 mph with the McCulloch engine. Fuel burn is 3.5 gph, and the range is 140-150 miles—2 hours with reserves. The approach is flown at 40 mph. On landing, the aircraft is flared and comes to a dead stop in about 10 feet.

The LW-3 has a universally tilting rotorhead and a Bensen teeter-type rotor—the same on all Little Wings. But the elevator and stabilizer of the LW-2 were replaced by a fixed horizontal stabilizer with tip plates.

Improving Points “In the LW-2, lateral tilting of the rotorhead provided roll control, and the elevator handled pitch control, but some were skeptical of the elevator being ade­quate at slow speeds,” Herron said.

little wing autogyro

Quick! What’s missing? There’s no elevator on the LW-3, which controls both roll and pitch with the rotor disc.

Pitch stability, though good in both the LW-2 and LW-3, isn’t as rock-solid in the LW-3 as with the 10-square-foot elevator control of the LW-2. The LW-3’s directional stability seems better, he says, and the fully tilting head provides for more comfortable flight. The electric prerota­tor on the LW-3 will soon be changed to a hydraulic system.

The LW-3 also has a beefed-up air­ frame with gussets added in high-load sections. The belly is rounded to locate the control system under the floor. The 24-inch-wide cockpit is configured like a fixed-wing aircraft.

Herron used a control-stick lock, along with centering springs on the control system, to neu­tralize stick position at lower speeds on the ground. Bensen blades were originally used on the LW-3, but it is now equipped with Ernie Boyette’s 23-foot-diameter, 7-inch-chord Dragon Wing aluminum blades. Nine gallons of fuel fit in a Ken Brock seat tank.

littlewing gyrocopter parts

LEFT: The LW-3’s rotor tower includes electric prerotation, which will be replaced by hydraulic prerotator power in the production kit.
RIGHT: LW-3’s maingear is prepared to absorb heavy-handed touchdowns if necessary.

Little Wings are all taildraggers, with 7-foot tread and 13-foot wheelbases. The main landing gear has built-up tubular steel legs with Harley Davidson 80-cubic-inch hog shock absorbers and Azusa aluminum wheels with 6.00×6 tires.

The steerable tailwheel system is a 1930s Heath, using a solid 6×2.25 tire. “I make a habit of collecting oddball items because I never know when they will come in handy.. .like the tailwheel,” Her­ron said.

More to Come

A two-seat trainer is under construction and is scheduled for a spring 1998 first flight. To accommodate tandem seating, its fuselage is 2 inches wider and a bit longer. Meanwhile, Herron has sold 16 sets of drawings of the single-seater to U.S. and foreign customers, including two each in New Zealand, Aus­tralia and France, and five in Canada.

Plans are $175. A welded fuselage is available for $2500, as well as some other components. Herron is working on supplying kits. He also reports he has had inquiries about becoming dealers.

vw gyrocopter engine

The LW-3 is motivated by a 70-hp TEC VW-derived engine.

Before Oshkosh Herron attended the annual Popular Rotorcraft Assocation gathering, where he received the Man and Machine award for his LW-3, as well as Best New Component for Rotor­craft award for a teeter-limiting device for the teeter-type rotor. If you need help losing your wings, contact Herron; he can help.

What’s New?


NEW STRETCH VERSION (6″ longer 2″ wider)

Completed LW4S airworthy includes: 100hp engine, brakes, pre-rotator, full electrics, rotor blades, rotor tachometer, rotor brake, volt meter, hour meter, oil temp, oil pressure, fuel pressure, altimeter, airspeed, and compass.

Options at extra charge: aux fuel tank, other engines, navigation lights, radio, intercom, navigation equipment.


Main Rotor: 28 ft

Length of Airframe without Rotor installed: 18.5 ft

Wheel Base: 13.5 ft

Landing Gear: Conventional with tail wheel

Cabin Width: 28″

Baggage: Small shelf behind rear seat 10 lbs. max.

Control Method: Rudder, fully-tilting head

Empty Weight: 579 lbs.

Gross Weight: 1200 lbs.

Fuel Capacity: 16 US gal.

Cruise Speed: 65-85 mph

Minimum Speed: 15-20 mph

Landing Speed: 10-15 mph

Takeoff distance: 100-750 ft., depending on type of pre-rotator and wind.

Landing Roll: 0-25 ft.

Seating: Tandem, with dual controls.

Construction: Welded SAE 4130N steel tubing, aircraft grade hardware, covering, and paint.

rotary-aircraft engine auto gyrocopter

Lift Without Wings?
Article Name
Lift Without Wings?
Ron Herron wanted something different, something with roots of the early days but with all the modern technology in a small size. Welcome to the Little Wing Gyroplane tail dragger.

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