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Gyrocopter: what is the little machine that landed on the Capitol Hill lawn?

Published 16/04/2015

A member of the U.S. Capitol Police Bomb Squad works to check and secure a gyrocopter that landed on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol April 15, 2015 in Washington, DC (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A member of the U.S. Capitol Police Bomb Squad works to check and secure a gyrocopter that landed on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol April 15, 2015 in Washington, DC (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: A gyrocopter was illegally landed on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol April 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old postal worker from Ruskin, Florida, landed the lightweight helicopter on the Capitol lawn to protest against government corruption and to promote campaign finance reform. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: A gyrocopter sits on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol with members of the U.S. Capitol Police nearby April 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. Doug Hughes, 61, from Ruskin, FL., landed the gyrocopter on the West Lawn and was arrested immediately. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
An Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician (EOD) and a robotic police device check a mini helicopter or gyrocopter that landed on the US Capitol South Lawn area is viewed April 15, 2015, in Washington, DC. A man flying a mini helicopter illegally landed his aircraft on the west lawn of the US Capitol Wednesday, triggering street closures around the building and prompting a police investigation."The US Capitol Police continues to investigate, with one person detained," USCP officer Shennell Antrobus told AFP. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDSPAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: A gyrocopter that illegally landed on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol is loaded onto a U.S. Capitol Police trailer April 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old postal worker from Ruskin, Florida, was quickly arrested after he landed the lightweight helicopter on the Capitol lawn to protest against government corruption and to promote campaign finance reform. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Capitol Hill police officers and other officials lift a gyrocopter that landed on the US Capitol South Lawn, on to a trailer, April 15, 2015, in Washington, DC. A man identified as Doug Hughes, 61, flying a gyrocopter, illegally landed his aircraft on the west lawn of the US Capitol Wednesday, triggering street closures around the building and prompting a police investigation. Hughes is described as a mailman, and a logo appearing to be that of the US Postal Service was visible on the tail fin of the aircraft. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDSPAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
Capitol Hill police officers lift a gyrocopter that landed on the US Capitol South Lawn, on to a trailer, April 15, 2015, in Washington, DC. A man identified as Doug Hughes, 61, flying a gyrocopter, illegally landed his aircraft on the west lawn of the US Capitol Wednesday, triggering street closures around the building and prompting a police investigation. Hughes is described as a mailman, and a logo appearing to be that of the US Postal Service was visible on the tail fin of the aircraft. AFP PHOTO/PAUL J. RICHARDSPAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: A member of the U.S. Capitol Police Bomb Squad works to check and secure a gyrocopter that landed on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol April 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. Doug Hughes, a 61-year-old postal worker from Ruskin, Florida, landed the lightweight helicopter on the Capitol lawn to protest against government corruption and to promote campaign finance reform. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 15: A gyrocopter sits on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol with a member of the U.S. Capitol Police nearby April 15, 2015 in Washington, DC. Doug Hughes, 61, from Ruskin, FL., landed the gyrocopter on the West Lawn and was arrested immediately. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Gyrocopters, autogyros, gyroplanes, rotaplanes — whatever they are, when one crashed into one of the most important places in the US, it was exciting and a little confusing. What are they? And how do they work?

What is a gyrocopter?

It looks a little like a helicopter. But it works in a completely different way — though it has spinning blades on top, they’re not powered but pushed around by the forward movement of the aircraft. It gets its forward push through a propeller on the back, like a plane.

Being built like that means that they can fly slowly but safely.

Why are they in the news?

Yesterday, Doug Hughes — a Florida postman protesting about US campaign finance — managed to fly one onto the Capitol Hill lawn.

Could someone do a similar protest here?

There are strict rules about who can fly gyrocopters in the UK. Pilots have to get a licence and then get flying experience. They have to get extra permission from the Civil Aviation Authority if they want to fly over built-up areas.

But one result of the protest is that it has shown how apparently lacking the security controls were around Capitol Hill, one of the most sensitive and important places in the US. Hughes was afraid that he would be shot down and could die as a result of the stunt; the same could happen to someone in the UK, but they might also make it all the way through.

Can I get one?

Gyrocopters sell for about £35,000-£45,000, second hand. Anyone can buy one, though to actually fly it you’ll have to get a licence.

An easier way of getting a go in one would be to take part in a Gyrocopter experience, where a pilot will give you a flight in one. That might be less exciting — and they won’t let you fly it into any important government gardens — but it’ll be more safe and a lot cheaper.

Where have I seen them before?

They’re a favourite vehicle of people in films, for some reason. In 1967, James Bond flew one in ‘You Only Live Twice’. GI Joe and Mad Max have both seen them used, as well as a range of other films and videos.

Source: Independent

Independent News Service

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