Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Up In The Air in an Autogyro

Back in the 1960's, my dad and I would drive out Morrison Road in Gentilly east of New Orleans (on our way to Bay St. Louis, MS) and sometimes we would see several gyrocopters taking off and landing on the old highway that was parallel to the new road. The gyrocopters looked like large tricycles with propellers attached to them in the back and overhead, but when they took off, they gained altitude quickly and headed  into the sky. That was 52 years ago.

When the chance came to fly in a new streamlined autogyro, I grabbed my camera and headed for Hammond Airport. Stephen Rastanis has a couple of autogryos based over there at the Autogyro of Louisiana facility, and he teaches folks how to fly them.

Rather than describe what an autogyro looks like, here's a photo of Stephen and his two-seater flight instruction aircraft.


Click on the images to make them larger.

The basics are pretty simple. In a fixed wing aircraft, a propeller pushes the airplane forward and air rushes over the wing and lift is created. In a helicopter, a motor turns the rotors around, and lift is created and the copter can go straight up. In an autogyro, however, lift is created by the helicopter-like rotors going around, but the rotors are not powered. Instead there is a propeller that pushes the aircraft forward and lift is generated by the rotors being pushed forward through the air. There is no power applied to the rotors while the autogyro is in flight.

This creates a remarkably stable air flight. The autogyro cannot stall, and if the engine suddenly quits for some reason, the aircraft starts slowing down, and the rotors gradually lower the craft to the ground. A good autogyro pilot doesn't require much space to land in. Any amount of crosswind actually provides more lift to the rotors, so landing is even gentler. 

We took off on the runway, using less than half of it before being zoomed away far above the tree tops. The autogyro, when fully fueled, can run for four hours at speeds up to 100 mph. It is quite maneuverable, capable of sharp turns, steep dives, or, in a good wind, just sitting still in mid-air. 

Autogyro of Louisiana had a display of three or four autogyros a few months ago at the St. Tammany Regional Airport "Wings and Wheels" show east of Abita Springs. While autogyros  are very popular in Europe, they haven't caught on bigtime in the States yet, even though they have been featured in James Bond movies and (I am told) the Little Orphan Annie movie. 

Thirty minute introductory flights are available, with a lesson in the basic flying fundamentals for those who might be interested in learning how to fly one. They call them "the motorcycle of the sky" and that descriptive phrase fits well, since its an open-air cockpit and one gets to wear a helmet (with headphones and microphone.)

Once you are strapped into the seat and the engine revs up, it's not scary or breath-taking, just a unique way to get up high enough to see some distance, check out the landscape, rivers, houses, and stores, and fly in a way for which there is no comparison. 

Hammond High School and Hammond Elementary School

Reunion Lake RV Resort, I-12 at La. Hwy. 445

The Walmart Distribution Center in Robert

In the far distance is Madisonville, Lake Pontchartrain and the tip of Greene Point near Lacombe.

The Tangipahoa River at Robert

See also:

YouTube Videos of Autogyros

Video One

Video Two