You’ve all seen Little Nellie, the autogyro featured in the 1967 Bond movie You Only Live Twice. Q shipped it in a suitcase and assembled before use. German company AutoGyro is building the modern gyroplanes and they’re better than what Bond had.
I met Ute Hoja, who is a member of the management board at AutoGyro, in Hannover Messe and she gladly agreed to tell us more about those not-so-common flying machines. Ute has been with AutoGyro since 1999 when the company was founded so she knows the machines and everything to do with gyroplanes intimately.
Lauri: How and why did the company start producing gyroplanes?
Ute Hoja: Otmar Birkner, the founder and CEO of AutoGyro, started his own business building airtrikes and laminating propeller blades, when the gyroplane with its unique technique caught his attention. Together with his friend Thomas Kiggen, who today runs the flight school for gyroplanes at the airfield in Hildesheim, Otmar started to develop his first gyroplane and realized the possibilities of this aircraft.
In the first year, he built just a handful, whereas today more than 300 Autogyros are produced in Hildesheim per year to fly all around the globe.
Lauri: What were the main technical challenges designing the first model?
Ute Hoja: The main challenge in developing any new model is the balancing act between meeting the manufacturing specifications regulated by the laws on the one hand and reaching the highest stability with the lowest possible weight on the other hand. And in the end of course its ability to fly. Today, we also want to combine all these aspects with the different international specifications and the customer’s needs. Therefore, the challenges of building the first gyroplane have not changed but rather increased.
Lauri: What CAD software used for the design work?
Ute Hoja: You may not believe it, but what was used for working out the very first model was their hands and pencils. Today we create our designs and techniques with the help of the software SolidWorks.
Lauri: Who and where are your customers?
Ute Hoja: Our customers are as various as our individually equipped gyroplanes. From young to old, men as well as women are our customers. But there is one thing that unites all of them: the joy of flying one of the most secure aircraft ever, giving its pilots and passengers the greatest freedom and fun.
Geographically our gyroplanes fly all around the globe from America to Asia, from Scandinavia to South Africa. We have distribution partners in more than 30 countries worldwide, introducing the applicability to both, private customers as well as commercial projects.
In addition to the recreational flying, our Autogyros are appointed to surveying projects of traffic, high voltage or wind parks or even border, coast and shark patrols.
Lauri: How many engineering hours do you spend on one particular model?
Ute Hoja: Approximately 6000-7000 hours.
Lauri: How much time does it take to manufacture one model?
Ute Hoja: If we produced a gyroplane step by step, it would take approximately 4 weeks. Thanks to our serial production, the aircraft is manufactured in only one week.
Lauri: What does the future hold for your product?
Ute Hoja: Our mission is to show, how various the applicability of gyroplanes really is. Gyroplanes can easily complement helicopters and realize missions for less than a tenth of the helicopter’s operation costs.
Secondly, substituting heavy materials on the gyroplane such as steel by plastic fibers and therefore always reducing the gyroplane’s weight, will always be one of our goals – as our wish is to always build the world’s best gyroplane.
You can find a lot more info about the gyroplanes on AutoGyro’s website. All images courtesy of AutoGyro.