Solo-flight vehicles are not just the territory of fearless and fanciful cult movies like Mad Max (1981)
and James Bond (1967).
The forgotten gyrocopter might be making a comeback and this time the classic design won’t be an onset prop but a full-on flying car. Wired.com recently covered the fascinating story of flying taxis.
Once touted as a toy helicopter, the gyrocopter is, in fact, a solid design for solo flight, invented before the helicopter in the 1920s and used in real life to deliver mail to American city rooftops in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s so solid, in fact, that it has stood the test of time, and with a few modern tweaks, might be lifting bodies as well as the spirits of electric flight advocates.
The helicopter’s predecessor does not work the same way as the hovering military machine. It is lifted by the rear propeller, which is why it takes off along the ground like a plane. It’s also why the American military favoured the helicopter and forgot the gyro: it cannot hover the way a helicopter does.
Electric power is changing all this. The advent of greater power is encouraging manufacturers to move this solo flyer from hobby-grade to aero-space standard.
In the United States, updates to laws around flight itself is also encouraging more gyrocopter flight as the airspace opens up.
They’re gaining popularity particularly because it’s a practical design. “They can glide and retain full control, even in a power loss, so they don’t require things like ballistic parachutes,” Skyworks’ CTO, Don Woodbury, told Wired in the recent article. Skyworks has designed and sold little gyrocopters, including home-built kits, since the 1980s and he thinks this safety aspect is a big sell.
Other companies do, too. Jaunt uses a similar design to Skyworks, but theirs can hover due to electric motors. Hello, my little helicopter.
But when will you and I be able to take an air taxi? Not before the industry solves two key problems. One, it needs to figure out how to scale the manufacture of these lil’ ones as “a gyrocopter sized to carry four passengers could possibly be built for less than R152 million” at present, Woodbury recently told Flight Global. And, two, it must make sure the batteries can deliver the kind of power a commercial service needs.
But now that 007 is a lady,
it’s probably only a matter of time…😉