The FAA describes a gyrodyne as a “rotorwing” aircraft that powers its rotor for takeoff and landing, but which functions in flight like a gyroplane. This gives the aircraft the ability to hover as well as take off and land vertically, but it is in every other respect a gyroplane, with forward thrust being provided by engine driven propellers, and lift provided by a free-spinning rotor that is not powered in forward flight. A gyrodyne therefore retains all the advantages and simplicity of a gyroplane, but adds important functionality.
Because traditional rotary-wing designs use the rotor for both lift and thrust, physics-imposed design restrictions and trade-offs limit their size, speed and lift capabilities. In contrast, a gyrodyne uses its engine and propeller only for thrust, while the free-spinning rotor provides lift. Separating these functions in this manner makes possible a new type of rotorcraft that is safe, fast, economical and easy to maintain. Gyrodynes are fully scalable, so they can be used in countless applications, and they are capable of carrying payloads far greater than anything previously possible with other rotary wing aircraft.
Like the gyroplane, the gyrodyne is not new. Some fifty years ago, a British aircraft manufacturer, Fairey Aviation Company, Ltd., developed a revolutionary new aircraft that they called the Rotodyne. The Fairey Rotodyne was a 44 passenger gyrodyne, which used rotorblade “tip jets” to power its rotor, giving it VTOL capabilities, and allowing it to hover. This 200 mph VTOL airliner was, in its day, the fastest way to get from downtown London to downtown Paris. If it existed today, even without modern improvements, it would still be the fastest, safest method of travel between those two city centers.
While British development of the gyrodyne was discontinued in a 1960s recession, in the U.S. it took a significant step forward in November, 2005, when the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) awarded a $40 million four phase contract to a GBA led team to design a proof-of-concept high speed, long range, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft for use in Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) roles.
This modern rotorcraft will exploit GBA’s gyrodyne technology, and will be able to take off and land vertically, reach a top speed of 400 mph, and carry a 1,000 lb payload over a 1,000 mi range without refueling. Named the “Heliplane” by DARPA, it will be the first rotary-wing aircraft with performance comparable to a fixed-wing in speed and efficiency. “If this program is successful, it will change the nature of VTOL,” asserted DARPA’s Heliplane Program Manager. “It could be the birth of a new age of rotary-wing aviation.”
Future Applications of GBA Gyrodyne Technology
The GBA GyroLiner
Recognizing the modern applicability of the Rotodyne concept, GBA is incorporating modern materials and applying state-of-the-art structural and aerodynamic analysis. GBA’s adaption of this technology is being used to develop a range of gyrodyne designs for a variety of commercial and military applications. Most critically, the rapid growth today from the economic
and environmental costs of airport and airspace congestion demands the revolution in civil aviation that a modern gyroplane can bring. The replacement of conventional regional airplanes by safe, quiet runway independent commuter GyroLiners would free up valuable runway and airway space. It can significantly increase airport capacity at little or no infrastructure investment cost or environmental hazard. This could dramatically ease the current predicament of many airports worldwide that are overcrowded and landlocked. GBA GyroLiners could also make smaller local airports viable and make possible ‘down-town to down-town’ flights into new Vertiports established in city centers, permitting air travel to be more convenient and cost-effective than it has ever been.
The GBA Monsoon Water Tanker
GBA gyrodynes could also serve effectively in a wildfire suppression role. Experience in the growing occurrences of the fast moving fires in the U.S. west, in Europe, and in Australia has underscored the importance of a timely “initial attack” to preclude heavy losses of life and property. Because of its versatility and heavy load carrying capacity, the GBA Monsoon GyroLifter™ would give firefighters the “on site” quick turnaround capabilities and low speed water/retardant drop accuracy of a helicopter; and the reliability, load carrying capacity, high speed deployment, and low operating cost of a fixed-wing fire bomber.
Military applications include various options for fast VTOL “Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR)” aircraft as envisaged by DARPA.
However, gyrodyne technology enables much larger aircraft that take advantage not only of the scalability of the gyrodyne concept, but also its disproportionate gains in payload efficiency with size compared to conventional rotorcraft. To meet the U.S. Army’s need for a fast VTOL heavy lift transport, the GBA GyroLifter would be able to carry large loads of troops and equipment long distances without the need for runways. This aircraft would be far superior in speed, range, economy, reliability, mission readiness, and cargo/troop hauling capacity, compared to any other VTOL aircraft now available. Other military variants of this gyrodyne technology include critical multi-role aircraft necessary for an effective seabasing strategy, and VTOL Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
Small gyrodynes with the ability to hover could also serve a variety of roles that are currently served by conventional helicopters and do so at faster speeds, larger payloads and greater economy, such as corporate travel, oil rig servicing, and medical evacuation. The introduction of the GBA GyroLifter heavy lift gyrodyne to military service would permit the subsequent emergence of commercial VTOL freighters able to deliver heavy loads to areas lacking runways capable of handling conventional airplanes.