Gyrocopter: How the Chopper, Like the One That Landed at the US Capitol, Works

How a gyrocopter takes flight.

ByAlyssa Newcomb
April 15, 2015, 4:33 PM

— -- The peculiar helicopter that took flight this afternoon bound for the U.S. Capitol is known as a gyrocopter, a small aircraft that has often been compared to a flying bicycle.

The various models are light, often single-seater vehicles that can be purchased complete or in kits, making them a cost-effective way for many aviation hobbyists to take to the skies.

Gyrocopters are characterized by their ability to fly at a low altitude and slow speeds. Most models contain only three controls -- a joy stick, pedals to manage the rudder and a throttle.

While the body of a gyrocopter looks bizarre for flight, the vehicle's unpowered blade on top of the aircraft is given a spin -- often by hand in the most basic of models -- to create lift.

The propeller then begins spinning to create thrust while the engine-powered rudder in the back starts powering the aircraft down the runway.

In flight, the pilot can cruise close to the ground and at a slow speed -- often times traveling at around 60 mph or less, Brent Drake, a gyrocopter instructor who said he has four decades of experience on the aircraft, told ABC News.

"They’re one of the safest flying machines there is," Drake added.

Around the time of the Capitol landing, a senior law enforcement official told ABC News the aircraft was flying slowly and below 150-feet making the pilot under radar detection capability.

Landing the aircraft requires the pilot to let off the throttle, sending the aircraft into a smooth and controlled descent, which in today's case, landed one pilot at his intended destination: the lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

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