A gyroplane is a rotorcraft similar to a helicopter that maintains lift by a free spinning rotor. Unlike the helicopter which has a powered rotor the rotor system of a gyroplane windmills like- a pinwheel. Thrust is normally provided by a tractor or, more commonly, a pusher propeller configuration. A gyroplane is capable of vertical takeoffs and landings but cannot sustain a hover. A gyroplane is capable of limited hover at altitude and if the wind conditions are correct for the maneuver to be performed.
I can already hear all the helicopter pilots moaning over flying a gyroplane, maybe you are just not well enough informed of what a gyroplane is and what it can do. There also used to be a time when a pilot was proud to say- yeah I can fly that thing, nowadays egos seem to get in the way.
Let’s start on a level playing field, there are many agencies and smaller municipalities that operate on a very limited budget in their aviation department, or have no aviation department and are evaluating the bang per buck scenario of the added expense of introducing an aviation unit. We can also find smaller communities with a large land area that simply cannot afford a helicopter or its’ maintenance despite the usefulness of such a resource. The typical gyroplane has approximately a 50% reduction in initial capitol outlay and a 50% reduction in direct operating costs when compared to a comparable size helicopter.
So from a fiscal standpoint the gyroplane is a very attractive substitute for a helicopter.
Can it do the mission? Given that a majority of mission time is either on patrol or orbiting over a specific site at low speed, the gyroplane can certainly fill 80 to 90 % of a unit’s mission role. If the unit is solely operating fixed wing aircraft, the gyroplane can provide rotary wing flexibility and greater diversity than a Cessna 182. Think for a minute of the added benefit a small town in Kansas would have in a missing person case by employing a modern gyroplane. If you are looking at rappelling a SWAT team or a water rescue mission the gyroplane is out of its element, you will need a helicopter for these types of missions. While I have never personally seen a gyroplane perform water drops in fire fighting, there is no reason why the gyroplane, with proper equipment, could not perform this mission. In fact there are some rather aggressive, read large, designs being tossed about to do that very thing, aircraft the size of C-130’s. A small community or even medium sized town would greatly benefit from the assets of an aviation unit and the employment of gyroplanes.
Form a historical standpoint many agencies started their rotary wing flying in Bell 47’s or Hughes 300’s or 269’s. The Groen Brothers Aviation Hawk 5 aircraft is powered by a turbine engine, so you have a much more reliable engine than that little piston popper. It has a good payload and size and with some careful selection of equipment can be outfitted as any helicopter. This gyroplane is also going through the process of certification. It may not be one of the big boys’ toys but if we think of what it can provide to the citizens of our community and the cost savings it should be looked at with as a viable solution. It is after all better than having no air service at all or having to close the hanger doors.