IS IT A PLANE? IS IT A HELI? IT'S A GYRO!
No, I'm not talking about a chicken roll with chips and mayo. In aviation, the short word "gyro" comes either from "gyroplane" or from "gyrocopter," because this aircraft just can't make up its mind.
And that's great!
You see, helicopters are expensive. But planes can only fly forward. However, helicopters are complicated. And planes can only fly at speed. Well, helicopters are hard to fly. OK, but planes need runways.
Gyrocopters, on the other hand, are cheaper, simpler and much easier to fly than helicopters; they need very short runways, they can fly slowly and have better visibility than planes.
Like helicopters, they have rotors, but a gyrocopter's rotor isn't connected to an engine during flight. Instead, it simply serves as a rotating wing, turning by virtue of the incoming air. To move forward, gyros have a pushing propeller, and that makes them incredibly safe: in a helicopter emergency, the pilot must react swiftly to enter autorotation, whereas a gyrocopter is always in constant autorotation.
To take off, they need a very short length of runway; more complex ones can even do jumping take-offs right from your back yard. And they can land in the space of just a few metres; have a little headwind and you can land it in place.
These aircraft are not only very practical, they are also beautiful. The Cavalon in the picture above is one of the most gorgeous gyrocopters ever made. Just look at this interior:
This what Germans do, when they're not doing amazing cars. If you think that, at a cruise speed of 135 km/h, its range of just over four hours is somewhat limited, you'll be interested to know that its Rotax engine is quite happy with automobile-grade gasoline. If four hours in the air haven't been enough for you, all you need is a full canister from the nearest gas station and you can take off again.
Gyrocopters are becoming increasingly popular as replacements for both planes and helicopters. Here's one equipped with a professional film rig, and another used as a police aircraft:
The price of a new Cavalon starts around $80,000; that's about half the price of the cheapest two-seater helicopter, and if you want a sporty one, with tandem seats, you can find a gyro for even less. The MTO Sport is a great example of a popular and cheap trainer, and with its open cockpit, it can be great fun to fly.
Gyrocopters are reinventing flying in a similar way to what electric cars are doing to driving. Search online for a gyrocopter club near you, and give it a go.
You'll love it.