Curator’s corner: The story behind de Havilland Aircraft Museum’s unique autogyro

PUBLISHED: 15:34 29 April 2020 | UPDATED: 15:28 24 May 2020

The C.24 Autogyro in its original location in the de Havilland Aircraft Museum's temporary hangar. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

The C.24 Autogyro in its original location in the de Havilland Aircraft Museum's temporary hangar. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

de Havilland Aircraft Museum

Alistair Hodgson, curator of the de Havilland Aircraft Museum, shares some of the Hertfordshire museum’s special attractions and hidden secrets. This week we feature one of the museum’s one-of-a-kind exhibits.

The Autogyro in its new home in the de Havilland Aircraft Museum's new hangar, with restoration work under way. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft MuseumThe Autogyro in its new home in the de Havilland Aircraft Museum's new hangar, with restoration work under way. Picture: de Havilland Aircraft Museum

Is it a helicopter? Is it a plane? Well in fact it’s neither!

The subject of this week’s article is our Autogyro, a type of flying machine that found brief popularity in the 1930s, but the arrival of the helicopter in the 1940s pushed the whole concept into a backwater of aviation history.

An Autogyro has a propeller at the front like a normal aeroplane, but it also has a rotor on top like a helicopter.

The key feature is that the rotor isn’t powered all the time by the engine: when the machine is in the air, the rotor just spins due to the airflow over the rotor blades, caused by the Autogyro’s forward motion.

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The spinning rotor blades change the angle of the air moving through them to create lift and it is this, combined with the lift from the short stubby wings, that keep the whole thing airborne.

Of course, in a helicopter you can take off and land vertically, and you can hover.

You can’t do any of that in an Autogyro, as it takes off and lands just like a normal aeroplane.

But you can fly very slowly, and for a while in the 1930s and during the war, they found a few applications: some are still flown today as light-sport planes.

The Autogyro was invented by a Spanish engineer, Juan de la Cierva, and he collaborated with several aircraft manufacturers to build his designs.

READ MORE: Curator’s corner: The story of the Mosquito bomber at the de Havilland Aircraft Museum

The example at the de Havilland museum is a Cierva C.24, and is the only one of its type.

It was built by de Havilland at its factory in Stag Lane, Edgware, in 1931 and was the only rotor-craft that the company ever made.

The aircraft is on loan from the Science Museum.

Over many years the fabric covering has started to deteriorate, and the Science Museum has now kindly agreed to us carrying out some vital conservation work to repair damaged fabric sections and treat corrosion on the metal surfaces.

This is a unique aircraft and we’re very privileged to be looking after it.

The de Havilland Aircraft Museum at Salisbury Hall, London Colney, is currently closed.

The oldest aviation museum in the UK is dedicated to the preservation and display of the de Havilland aircraft and its heritage.

For more on the museum, visit www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk


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