The Enduring Misfire Of Gyrocopters

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Anyone who attends Aero in Friedrichshafen for the first time would quite naturally believe Europe is awash in gyrocopters. The expo floor is just cheek-by-rotor jammed with them and somebody must be buying them or there wouldn’t be so many companies selling them.

And that’s also why most of the gyrocopters you see at the U.S. shows are also of European origin, including the Rotovox C2A described in this video. Whether U.S. buyers would develop a taste for gyros is, at the moment, an academic question because the approvals to sell them as modern certified aircraft or even light sport aircraft don’t exist in the U.S. It wouldn’t necessarily be obvious that the C2A is being imported into the U.S. not as a completed aircraft but as an experimental amateur built with a fast build program. It’s priced at around $165,000-ish.

As dollars-to-capability goes, that much money doesn’t compare favorably to a well-equipped EAB  or a light sport airplane, say the Flight Design CTLS or some of the other imports from Eastern Europe. While it’s an apples-to-lug-wrenches comparison, the airplanes just fly faster and farther than any of the gyros. Gyroplanes are pure fun flyers that have their own niche, but it’s not a broad one, at least in the U.S.

But who am I to judge what people want? Still, before the want can be satisfied, the FAA has to get out of the way and provide an approved definition so gyroplanes can be certified under the light sport rule. Just to make things confusing as hell, you can fly them under the sport pilot rule because they meet the weight limit, but you can’t buy the equivalent of a S-LSA that’s a gyroplane. I’m told that a proposal to change this is percolating through the ASTM committees, but no one seems to know when that will emerge or if it ever will.  

And here, I’ma flip into autorant repeating my screech about the LSA weight limit. I was out at Vashon Aircraft in Seattle last week flying the Ranger. Nice airplane, brilliant production plan and maybe timed right to become the next Cessna 150. Maybe. But because it’s an LSA with an increasingly arbitrary 1320-pound weight limit, it’s artificially limited in adding more structure, a different engine or maybe even a ballistic parachute.

People want that kind of stuff, so here’s yet another example of the bureaucratic inertia of ASTM rules and FAA agreements both stunting the market and working against safety. Again, the raising or eliminating the weight limit is on the table, but it’s unclear if it’s going anywhere.

Comments (9)

Raising or eliminating the weight restriction on aircraft piloted by LS rated pilots is long overdue. Keep the other day VFR type restrictions, and possibly have a requirement for only 2 occupants regardless of seating when operated by a LS pilot, but get rid of the ridiculous weight limit which prevents LS pilots from flying 150s or even PA-28s or 172s. If the smaller airports' FBOs want to see more Avgas and ancillary business from GA, they should be pushing this too.

Posted by: Leonard Lowe | April 11, 2018 4:54 PM    Report this comment

I view raising of the MGTOW of LSA airplanes as one of two of the remaining changes neede before GA can start prospering again. MY position is that LSA should include any airplane up to 2,000 lbs.

The other change needed is to include the tenets of Appendix G.4 of the ARC recommendations on establishment of a new category of airworthiness -- Primary -- for Class I airplanes. This would allow A&P's to sign off a condition inspection in much the same way they do now for E-AB airplanes. This is a personal heartburn point for me.

With regard to gyro's ... absolutely no interest UNLESS I buy a small piece of property where one would work for me.

Have arrived in the SnF area ... will be there for the next two days. Are you operating 'incognito' and hiding behind bushes and airplanes or ... :-)

Posted by: Larry Stencel | April 11, 2018 7:34 PM    Report this comment

Weight limit up will be like opening the floodgates. We need just that. I know, talking about the fun and not the technology is frowned upon but our way forward isn't by the means of riveted metal and PRE-WWII engine technology.

As far as gyrocopters go, I think they unite almost prehistoric ugliness, lots of ratatatata and way to many rotating parts which (like in Helicopters) have this urge to divorce each other into a flying object that seems to require forward speed to even take off. But hey, if it makes people want to fly, Go for it!

Larry, according to unconfirmed reports, Paul IS in fact reporting live from the specially built and top secret SNF Bertorelli Bunker. Supposedly people crawl in there and show him pictures of things, which he then approves for coverage by blinking his right eye once, or disapproves by the sound of a grunting noise.

If you do make it to the FAA booth, look around for one of the ADS-B 2020 Bertorelli plastic figures with the wobbling head. They also have a lifesize cardboard cutout of Paul holding up a "I am sorry!" sign and a speaker behind that keeps on repeating: "I was just kidding folks!"

Posted by: Jason Baker | April 12, 2018 6:27 AM    Report this comment

Interestingly, there was a web comic about gyrocopters not long ago: xkcd.com/1972/

"...way to many rotating parts which (like in Helicopters) have this urge to divorce each other into a flying object..."

Gyrocopters really only have one additional rotating part compared to an aircraft: the rotor system in place of wings. There's no tail rotor, and once the blades are turning, there isn't even a powered rotor shaft. To me they're neat aircraft, though not particularly useful. But then, the same is true for aircraft like the Icon A5 and Searey. Lots of fun, but not very useful (unless your goal *is* just to have fun, in which case they are useful in that sense).

Posted by: Gary Baluha | April 12, 2018 7:53 AM    Report this comment

If I remember correctly, the 600 KG weight restriction on LSA was BECAUSE European manufacturers pushed it so they did not have to compete with the C150. They simultaneously hindered the competition while already having an edge in building very fuel efficient small airframes.

So now Friedrichshafen is awash with light gyro-copters that they want to sell in the USA? Well I couldn't care less.

Posted by: Mark Fraser | April 12, 2018 9:28 AM    Report this comment

Paul -- You hit on one of my main objections to gyrocopters -- you can't go anywhere. There are others, also. Before I built my RANS S-7 some years ago I serious considered an RAF gyro. As you say, it's easy to fly and lots of fun. But no traveling machine. And, I was based at a nice turf strip in upstate NY. The operative word is "turf," meaning not always smooth as asphalt. Meaning a significant possibility of inducing rotor flap and its overstressing. (There was also a question, never answered, about floats.) So I stuck with fixed wing. Loved my RANS, on and off floats: possibly the best Adirondack photo plane that exists. Another problem, not confined to gyros: how many people can/would/should blow upwards of $100K for a pure toy?

Posted by: John Sullivan | April 12, 2018 9:56 AM    Report this comment

The FAA is stunting GA by plan. The LSA weight restriction is as ridiculous as the 103 weight limits are. LSA should be 180 HP or less, two seats, day only 2,000 pounds empty max.

Posted by: bruce postlethwait | April 12, 2018 2:22 PM    Report this comment

Paul, good essay. Thanks.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | April 13, 2018 1:31 PM    Report this comment

I really want to love the gyrocopters. Short take off/landing, maneuverable, excellent visibility with the tandems, no "stall". They say they handle choppy air better than fixed wing. Sounds great to me.

But, I once saw a video about balancing the blades with what looked to be weights the size of BBs; I can only imagine what a few bug guts on the rotor would do to add to the already vibrating machine. And not that I'd want to do acro in one, but absolutely positively no negative Gs in the things would get my palms sweaty every time I got a little light in the seat.

Posted by: Robert Ore | April 13, 2018 7:52 PM    Report this comment

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