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
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.