Police Helicopter Pilot

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Can This Cutting Edge Gyrocopter Find It's Way Into Law Enforcement Aviation?

New Law Enforcement Gyrocopter Under Development In NZ.

Whether you are a helicopter pilot or just a serious rotor wing fan you most likely already possess a basic understanding of gyroplane (or gyrocopter) technology.  If you do then you know that not only did the gyroplane precede the helicopter, but it was the gyroplane that gave birth to the helicopter.    And, if you are a helicopter pilot then you have already accepted the premise that gyroplane flight principles are sound, since it is this same state of auto-rotation that you hang your life on if and when the engine quits.  The gyrocopter or gyroplane is already in a state of auto-rotation so there is not dropping the collective and throwing in a bunch of right pedal.  You simply focus on looking for your spot where you are going to set it down.

The XTRE composite built, diesel powered, gyrocopter with Orange County Sheriff paint scheme.But, if the word gyrocopter stirs up images of seemingly dangerous flying contraptions, piloted by wild eyed- over the hill pilots from out of the way air strips, then you are not alone.  That is the perception by much of the flying community.  Even to discuss gyrocopters in the company of other helicopter pilots is likely to cause a serious chuckle if not outright laughter.  But if the gyrocopter is based on sound and relatively safe principles of flight, then why has it been relegated almost exclusively to the home built, experimental crowd? 

There is really only one reason why gyrocopters and gyroplane technology have been pushed to the back corners of aviation.  Because from the moment Igor Sikorsky perfected the vertical lift helicopter as we know it today, gyrocopters became outdated and old school.   All major research, development and investment since that time have taken place in the helicopter industry.  Gyroplanes quickly became the forgotten technology.   For that reason there are no FAA certified, production gyrocopters being sold in the United States of America today.  One could certainly make the argument that if there was a demand for these aircraft, then an aviation company somewhere would invest the money in the certification process and start producing and selling them.


Is Gyrocopter Technology Set To Make A Comeback?      

Is it possible we have reached a point where helicopters have become so expensive to purchase and operate, that the more affordable gyrocopter can make a comeback?  If there was a certified production gyrocopter, with a financially stable company standing behind it, would city or county governments and law enforcement agencies be willing to take a chance on it?     

There is a small startup aviation company in New Zealand who is gambling that they will. But before we jump into this new aircraft that is on the drawing boards, let’s take a serious look at who could potentially benefit from the significantly more affordable gyro technology.

I won’t rehash all the differences between helicopters and gyrocopters, but for the benefit of some of our younger readers let’s cover the basics.

Helicopters can hover, lift off vertically, fly forward, backward or sideward, and land without runways.  Gyrocopters do not hover, and must stay in forward flight much like an airplane.  With current jump technology many gyrocopters can lift off vertically then immediately go into forward flight, so that a standard runway is not necessary.  Helicopters have a powered main rotor that pulls the helicopter through the air, while the gyrocopter has an unpowered main rotor in a constant state of autorotation, and is thrust through the air by a pusher propeller mounted behind the aircraft.  

While helicopters enjoy many advantages such as the ability to do precision hover work, they are also very expensive to operate, and require a high level of skill to fly and stay proficient in.  They also have a tail rotor, what some have called the helicopter’s Achilles heel. 

Gyrocopters on the other hand are much cheaper to operate because they have far less moving parts and critical components.  Some would argue that they are actually safer because they do not have a tail rotor and are not susceptible to the condition known as LTE or Loss of Tail Rotor Effectiveness.  They are also a much more stable platform from which to work.

Looking at it from strictly a law enforcement perspective any agency that spends the bulk of their patrol time orbiting police calls over major population centers would be a potential customer or operator.  In contrast, any agency that regularly conducts search and rescue operations, or that routinely lands off field, would probably not be a good candidate. 

But ponder this question for a moment.  How many city police departments would consider starting up their own air unit if they could acquire a certified production gyrocopter at a fraction of the cost of a helicopter, and operate it for as little as $50 to $70 an hour?   I would venture to guess that a significant number of cities, not only in America but around the world, would be open to exploring the benefits of an air unit with these kinds of numbers. 

There’s a group of forward thinking aviation experts in New Zealand who are betting on the same thing and are moving forward on a two place diesel powered gyrocopter designed specifically for the law enforcement market. 


The XTRE Police Gyrocopter:

The ‘XTRE’ is not a converted civilian aircraft; in fact there are no immediate plans to even offer the aircraft to the civilian market. This gyrocopter is being specifically designed for the Law Enforcement- Military roles it will undertake. It will carry the necessary FAA certificates that will it make acceptable to every Law Enforcement operator in the world, placing it in a certificated class rather than the experimental class.

The developers stress the XTRE is not a replacement for the helicopter, rather an aircraft that can work alongside it as a cost effective alternative.  The XTRE will be able to perform the vast majority of the patrol-surveillance-traffic monitoring roles currently carried out by helicopters. The developers firmly believe the pilot remains core to conducting effective air operations, thus allowing the XTRE to go places and deliver missions, which a UAV simply cannot go. “In our opinion, the situational awareness of two flight crew above an event is unmatched compared to that of a person sitting behind a screen many miles away from that same event” says the developer.

The XTRE will be built using the latest in carbon fiber-Kevlar honeycomb composite technology, producing an amazingly strong, durable and lightweight airframe matching the best of any helicopter design. The XTRE is a large aircraft standing 10ft tall and 18ft long, with it’s size comparable to a Robinson R44. This size provides the two person flight crew with a big, comfortable environment in which to work. The pilot cockpit will feature IFR, ‘Glass panel’ avionics, digital engine/systems monitoring panels and Nav/radio systems to client requirements.

The rear cockpit is set up as a complete surveillance monitoring center. The TFO systems operator has large flat screen panels to monitor the information displayed from the on board cameras.  Industry standard radio systems will enable communication with ground units, relaying of live video imaging to ground stations, data transfer and storage within onboard computers will also be provided. The modern UAV market makes it possible for the XTRE to utilize the sophisticated surveillance equipment carried onboard such aircraft which are extremely efficient, very compact and lightweight.

But the benefits don’t stop there.  The XTRE will be powered by a lightweight Turbocharged Diesel engine making it extremely fuel efficient and able to use Bio-fuels, producing a minimal carbon footprint. One of the main features of this aircraft is the efforts being made to keep it quiet, so that when airborne it will have an extremely low noise signature.

A special engine exhausts muffler system, reduction gearbox, and a unique New Zealand designed propeller all help to cut noise significantly. The three (3) high inertia composite blades are attached to an adjustable pitch rotor head allowing near vertical takeoff and landing and very smooth in-flight characteristics. Also in keeping with its role, the landing gear is no nonsense- high impact absorbing, allowing for landing on rough un-prepared surfaces or hard landings without damage.

The XTRE will offer a viable, purpose built alternative to the use of both helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for those agencies whose mission profile matches that of the XTRE.

And just in case you are wondering what the Kiwi’s know about building aircraft, you might want to take a glance at the growing and cutting edge aviation industry in New Zealand.  Here are just a few facts:


New Zealand Aviation Industry Facts:

  • Over 1,000 aircraft have been manufactured in New Zealand.
  • New Zealand's aviation industry generated $9.7 billion in revenue in 2009, with $5.6 billion from domestic activities and $3.8 billion from exports, and has more than 1,000 aviation-related organizations employing 23,525 staff who are paid wages and salaries estimated at $1.3 billion.
  • The industry is conservatively forecast to grow to $12.6 billion by 2015.
  • New Zealand Aluminium Smelters supplies very high grade aluminium for use in the aerospace industry including on the wings of Airbus’s new 380 super jumbo wings.
  • Strengths in the use of advanced composite materials that first evolved in New Zealand’s world-leading marine industry are reaching new levels of sophistication in the aviation industry. Falcomposite has developed a fully aerobatic sports aircraft kit made up of about 20 structural components that are fast and easy to assemble.
  • Based at Ardmore in Auckland, Airwork NZ is one of only three companies worldwide approved to overhaul Eurocopter gearboxes and is an approved Honeywell maintenance centre for small turbine engines. The fixed wing division provides maintenance for Fairchild Metros, Fokker F27s and Boeing 737s.
  • New Zealand is home to both the P-750 XSTOL Turbine powered, FAA certified, 10 seat utility aircraft, as well as the revolutionary composite built KC518 Turbine powered helicopter recently unveiled at Osh Kosh.

Don’t bother looking for an XTRE Gyrocopter website just yet, because you won’t find one.  At this point the developers are focused on keeping the project moving forward.  I must say that I am very excited about this aircraft and the potential it offers to Law Enforcement around the world.  Perhaps one day I will be able to file a first-hand report on its flight characteristics.

Inquiries related to the XTRE can be directed to xtre@xtra.co.nz