A gyroplane is a type of aircraft that uses a free-spinning rotor mounted on top of the vehicle to produce the lift necessary for flight. The rotor, using the principle of autorotation, develops vertical lift that allows the pilot to climb, descend or sustain level flight. Thrust is provided by either a forward- or rear-facing propeller powered by the aircraft's engine. The gyroplane, also known as an autogyro, resembles a modern helicopter but can be recognized by its small size, ultra lightweight design and, often, open cockpits.
Autorotation, the principle on which the gyroplane is based, occurs when air flows upward into the rotor blades. On a traditional helicopter, the engine rotates the blades, resulting in a downward flow of air. The gyroplane operates exactly the opposite. As thrust produced by the aircraft's engine-driven propeller moves the aircraft forward, the slightly tilted rotor experiences airflow from beneath. This airflow causes the blades to spin, which generates vertical lift.
Gyroplanes are controlled by the pilot through the use of three control inputs: the control stick, rudder pedals and throttle. The rotor is tilted when the pilot moves the control stick, which results in the aircraft changing its pitch or initiating a roll. Rudder pedals produce a yawing motion that rotates the aircraft around the vertical axis. Engine power is adjusted via the throttle control, which increases or decreases engine rotations per minute (RPM), allowing for changes in airspeed. Pilots must use all three controls in unison to allow the gyroplane to reach its maximum performance.
The gyroplane generates vertical lift through forward movement produced by the propellers, which means it must maintain perpetual forward motion to continue flight. For this reason, gyroplanes function more like a fixed-wing aircraft than a helicopter; they are unable to hover or make vertical takeoffs and landings. The gyroplane is able to become airborne with very little ground distance in comparison to a traditional airplane.
Gyroplanes were first developed in the early 1920s and saw use in the first and second world wars. Modern gyroplanes are used for recreational purposes, mainly as a less expensive alternative to aircraft such as airplanes and helicopters. A major advantage of the gyroplane is that, in the event of an engine failure, the rotor will spin, allowing the pilot an opportunity for a safe landing. Gyroplanes are generally slow and operate at low altitudes, which makes them great for sightseeing and traveling short distances.