AIRLINE PILOT'S PERSPECTIVE ON THE SAFETY OF GYRO'S

 

The following is an article I published a few years ago,

and it deals with my perspective of the safety of gyro's,

as I see it, as someone flying the "heavy metal" as well.

Hope that anyone considering gyro's will find it interesting.

 

I have been flying for about 17 years now. Started off doing my PPL & Commercial Licence in 1991 and then started flying light twins shortly thereafter. Then I did my Airline Pilot's Licence. Got my first airline job at +-1 200hrs total time on Boeing 707's. Since then I flew Boeing 727's for three years and now I'm a Senior First Officer on Boeing 737-800's at SAA. I have about 11 000hrs total time at the moment. Got into the microlight scene about two years ago on trikes and then bought a gyroplane. I feel I have a fairly broad flying background in order to offer sound advice on the safety of gyroplanes

First of all, there seems to be an unbelievable amount of gross, gross ignorance as to how gyrocopters fly. They are often seen as James Bond gimmicks. Few people know that the first gyro flew back in the 1920's. A guy called Cierva invented the "Autogyro" as it was then known. The main reason he invented the gyro was that he wanted a flying machine that couldn't stall. (His best friend was killed in a fixed wing when it stalled.) It is thus possible to fly a gyro right down to an airspeed of 0 mph! The gyro will just be descending completely vertically in this state, perfectly in control. So successful was the "Autogyro" that the critics said,"Right...now make it hover." This it couldn't do so the engineers then redesigned it and came up with the helicopter concept of powering the rotor using an engine. The standard question people normally ask me is, " What if you have an engine failure...Does the rotor stop turning?" Another question..."When you land do you go into autorotation?" The beauty of a gyro is that you are continually in autorotation i.e. the rotor is automatically rotating very much like a windmill or a sycamore leaf, no matter what your airspeed is. Thus if you lose an engine, you just lower the nose, just like a conventional fixed wing aircraft, to maintain your airspeed. This is different to a helicopter - if you lose an engine and do nothing you rotor will run out of RPM and you will literally fall out the sky! People think gyro's are like helicopters. They are actually very different.

Other major advantages of gyro's are that they are minimally affected by turbulence and wind. One hardly feels turbulence during a hot, turbulent summer's day. They can also handle between 30-40kts of wind! This is because the tip of the rotor is doing about 600 Km/h so a 60 Km/h wind is only 10% of the rotor's flying speed. Not too significant. The same wind with a microlight constitutes about 75% of it's flying speed! The gyro also acts as a massive gyroscope (i.e. like a spinning top) so it has rigidity in space. You won't get a wing drop like in a fixed wing during gusty conditions. In gusty conditions the gyro is extremely stable and doesn't get thrown around. Another reason why it handles the wind and the turbulence is that they have a very high wing loading i.e. their tiny wings (the rotor blades) support the whole mass of the gyroplane in flight. (Wing loading=Mass/Wing Area). Similar mass to a microlight, but a small wing area = high wing loading. Their wing loading is comparable somewhere between a high performance single (like a Cessna 210) and a Learjet!

Although they use similar take-off distances to a microlight, their landing roll is between 0 - 30m!!! This is obviously another very good advantage in case one has engine failure. They also cruise a bit quicker at about 80mph-90mph. (Dependent upon type).

In conclusion, from my experience of microlights, piston fixed wing and jet airliners, every flying machine has an "Achilles Heel". All flying machines have a flying envelope developed by the designers and the test pilots that fly their machines. No aircraft is perfect. The gyro has a couple of golden rules too. Obey them and you will have no problems. Get instruction through a recognised gyro instructor will then ensure these are taken into account. 99% of gyro accidents are pilot error mainly due to little, if any instruction. In the USA one can climb into a single seat, unregistered gyro and fly without instruction or a licence! No wonder they have the accident rate they have! There are naturally good and bad gyro's around. A couple of the bad unstable gyro's have been involved in fatalities in South Africa. The gyro's that I would recommend are the Magni Gyro, the MT-03 and the ELA. These are all two seaters and are very stable machines, and between them have an excellent safety record.

A gyroplane rating is a licence in it's own right. I had to complete a full licence even though I have an ATP licence. i.e. it's not just a conversion. It's not a big deal. You are looking at 25 hours as the basic requirement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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