THE HISTORY OF GYROS

Let's take a brief journey through the history and observe the development and technical advances of the gyroplane industry. Spanish inventor Juan de Ia Cierva built the first "Autogyro" in 1923 by combining a conventional fixed wing aircraft's engine and fuselage with an overhead mast and three bladed rotor system. The Autogyro also retained a short section of wing about six feet in length, presumably to enhance the in-flight stability. This aircraft and the two that followed were less than successful because they lacked the two most important factors - stability and predictable direction control.

These problems were solved on Cierva's fourth aircraft, dubbed the "0-19 Autogyro," through the addition of a flapping hinge point near the rotor hub which would allow for the rotor blades to equalize the lift between the advancing and retreating blades. The C-19 Autogyro was first demonstrated in England in 1925 for a group of military officers who were impressed with The aircraft's performance and maneuverability.

1928 found Cierva giving demonstrations of the 0-19 and selling the manufacturing rights to representatives from around the world. The American rights were purchased by Harold Pitcairn who made a few design changes but retained the basic design principles and features found on Cierva's machine. Pitcairn used a more modern fuselage with better aerodynamic qualities for his PCA-2 gyroplane, and offered two engines for use in the aircraft. Both were radial aircraft engines mounted in the usual tractor configuration: the first produced a massive 300 horsepower, the second a awesome 420! Pitcarin also utilized a four-bladed rotor system with Civerva's flapping hinge.

Pitcairn produced and sold 24 of his PCA-2 gyroplanes over the next few years. They showed the versatility and practicality they had been designed for by carrying the mail over a federally contracted route, being used to reach the scene of the news and for aerial photography by the "Detroit News" daily newspaper, and by setting new world records. Amelia Earhart flew a PCA-2 to the record altitude of 18,415 feet over Willow Grove, Pennsylvania on April 8,1931.

Focke-Achgelis, the German aircraft company, became licensed by Cierva to manufacture his patented components. For a number of years before the outbreak of World War II, Focke-Achgelis produced the C-19 Autogyro, and they drew heavily from the knowledge and experience gained from Cierva's design to rapidly advance the development of their FA-61 helicopter. This aircraft became the first fully controlled helicopter when it flew in 1937.

Autogyros were used briefly by the Germans during the course of the second World War as aerial observation post for the U-boat attack submarines. Towed behind the submerged submarines by a long cable, the glider pilots had a broad view of shipping for miles, and could easily detect the widely scattered Allied ships and relay this information over an intercom to the crew below. Because of the difficulties experienced in retrieving the craft and pilot before engaging in battle, the system was discontinued long before the end of the war.

1953 saw the rebirth of interest in the gyroplane with the invention of Dr. Igor Bensen's patented "Gyrocopter." This two-bladed rotorcraft used a teetering hub bar and rotorhead to equalize the lift from opposing sides of the rotor disc. By using locally-available materials the home builder was able to keep the construction cost down, and he could work on the aircraft as his time and budget would permit. Factory-packed material kits were also available; assembly time on either version often ran into the 150-200 hour range. Amateur and professional builders have probably copied the Bensen Gyrocopter more than any other aircraft throughout the history of aviation.

The Umbaugh U-18 was another interesting gyroplane advancement that arose during the 1950's. Later known as the Air & Space 18A, this fully enclosed twin-place rotorcraft possessed the unique feature of "jump" takeoffs. Before takeoff the pilot depitched the rotor blades to reduce their aerodynamic drag. This would allow the prerotator drive system to speed the rotor blades beyond their normal flight rpm. A dashmounted button released the rotor blades and let them return to their normal pitch, and this generated enough lift to hop the 18A into the air. A split-second after the rotor pitch was returned to normal the pitch on the pusher-configuration propeller adjusted itself to produce maximum thrust. This enabled the craft to gain airspeed and altitude. Unfortunately, financial difficulties and another change-of-ownership forced the closing of the doors long before the lengthy backlog of orders was filled. Only 75 of these rotorcraft had been delivered.

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