AIRLINE PILOT’S PERSPECTIVE ON THE SAFETY OF GYRO’S
|I have been flying commercially for about 25 years now. Started off doing my PPL & Commercial Licence in 1986 and then started flying ATR 42&72. Have about 10500hrs total time at the moment. 7500 airliner and 3000 microlight – Trikes and since 5 years Gyrocopter as well commercially at the „Flying Crocodile in Costa Rica – in a touristic and instruction orientated company. 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 ignorance as to how gyroplanes 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 “Autogiro” as it was then known. The main reason he invented the gyro was that he wanted a flying machine that couldn’t stall. (A colleague of his was killed in a fixed wing when it stalled.) It is possible to fly a gyro right down to an airspeed of 0 mph! The gyro just descends completely vertically in this state, perfectly in control. So successful was the “Autogiro” that the critics said,”Right…now make it hover.” This it couldn’t do, so the gyro was then redesigned and inventors 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 trike 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 gyros are that they are minimally affected by turbulence and wind. One hardly feels turbulence during a hot Gauteng 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 trike 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 trike 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 trike, 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 75mph-95mph. (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 Auto Gyro,Magni,ELA Gyro´s are in my opinion fine machines. They have plenty of power up on the Highveld, are reliable, has no vices and is a pleasure to fly.
A gyroplane rating is a licence in it’s own right. I had to do a complete 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 a minimum of 25 hours.
In the past month the gyro comunity encountered a significant amount of fatal crashes. Investigation of a fatal accident in Germany has determined the Gyro crashed on approach in a ‘strong slip’ with 25 kt crosswinds. The maximum crosswind component was exceeded and a rapid descent at high speed forced the rotor below relative wind resulting in a negative flight profile. The pilot and passenger were killed.
I WOULD LIKE TO REMIND ALL PILOTS, even though we have an incredible flying machine, we have physical limits we have to respect.
To mark the occasion, I ask all pilots to adjust flight maneuvers accordingly and read the current manual/POH AGAIN. Please remember the green arc in the Gyro means ‘max turbulent air speed’ and NOT max maneuver speed!!!
Parts off this article are coppied from my unknow pilet colleague