Time to take to the air!

Meet the (not a, there was just the one) Flettner Fl-184.

Looks like the result of a brief encounter between a helicopter and a fixed wing plane, doesn’t it? It’s an autogyro and that’s pretty much what it was. Take one fixed wing plane, remove the fixed wing part of it and attach a rotor in its place and there you are. There were quite a number of these pre WW2 but they faded into obscurity once helicopters had been made practical.

The big difference between a autogyro and a helicopter is that the engine drives only the propeller while the rotor is kept spinning solely by the aircraft’s forward motion, which gives it its name - “autogyro” is something like “self turn”. This gives you a much simpler design as the rotor doesn’t need the complicated pitch control of a helicopter and because it isn’t powered you don’t need a tail rotor to prevent the machine spinning in the opposite direction.

On the other hand the need to keep moving forward rather takes away one of the advantages of a helicopter and so you’re left with a short take off and landing aircraft with no hover capability.

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Mind you the Fl-184 had to do without the short take off capability too. In order to get into the air the rotor needed sufficient rpm and the only way to get that was a fairly long run. Other models had a way around that, in the unlikely form of a length of rope. Before takeoff the ground crew would use this to spin the rotor, just like starting a lawnmower. Modern designs (you can still buy a new autogyro) use the engine to spin up the rotor before starting the takeoff run.

Sadly for Flettner, the 184 caught fire on a test flight and was abandoned. He was undeterred and moved on to the Fl-185 which operated as both a helicopter at low speeds (so hovering was possible) and an autogyro at higher speeds.

Want to know what it was like to fly the 184? Can’t help you there but try this instead.