Rotor system puts a safer spin on autogyros

A Bristol University aviation specialist is looking to revolutionise business travel by producing an affordable, safe and efficient gyrocopter.

Autogyros use a propeller at the front or rear, attached to an engine, to thrust the aircraft forward. As it moves, the main rotor, which is not attached to the engine, rotates in the airflow, creating lift. Normally, autogyros are easier to handle than helicopters and are safer. If the engine fails the main rotor continues to work, allowing the aircraft to glide to the ground like a sycamore seed. However, in conditions such as a steep dive, recovery can be difficult unless the pilot is experienced.

‘The rotor system is in need of refinement to avoid situations like this,’ says Bristol University rotary wing aerodynamics research fellow Peter Bunniss. ‘We have redesigned the rotor system using a carbon composite throughout to emulate very agile helicopters.’

The design allows the blade to vary its angle by up to three degrees to maintain lift and avoid loss of control. The composite’s behaviour and the layout of the joints between the rotor and hub allow the pilot to control the aircraft while flying at extreme angles and in all temperatures. The machine has no gearbox and is cheaper to buy, maintain and run than a helicopter. It can also take off almost vertically. All it cannot do is hover.

Mr Bunniss and two colleagues have set up a spin-out company, Rotary Wing Innovations, and intend to produce a model costing £70,000-£80,000 by 2007 with the help of DTI funding.

On the web