“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward. For there you have been, and there you will always long to return.“Leonardo Da Vinci
As a travel writer, I get to visit new places, try new experiences, and taste new foods. One of the exceptional experiences I recently enjoyed during our trip to Gulf Shores, Alabama, was flying in a gyroplane.
I was scheduled for a press trip to Gulf Shores to experience the area and then write about the experience. When the destination management organization (Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism) asked if there was anything I especially wanted to try or see while visiting, I replied a segway tour or a gyroplane ride. (The gyroplane idea was sort of a pipe dream, a bucket list activity that I didn’t think would be possible.) Luckily, I got to do both the segway tour and the gyroplane ride.
I was excited to try this; I love to fly and thought this would be an exhilarating experience. But I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. For other outdoor experiences in Gulf Shores, Alabama, visit this article.
What Is A Gyroplane?
A gyroplane — often known as a gyrocopter, autogyro, or rotoplane — is sort of a cross between an airplane and a helicopter. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) refers to them as gyroplanes, and I will be using that term.
Gyroplanes look similar to small helicopters. They have a propeller similar to a ‘copter but glides smoothly like a plane. But unlike a plane, it does not have wings.
The way it operates is different from a helicopter in that an engine does not power the gyroplane’s rotor blades. The engine powers a back propeller, which pushes the gyroplane forward, and as it moves, the air passing naturally through the rotor blades on top of the plane creates lift. The free-spinning rotor blades are angled in a way to not only provide the lift needed but also to increase the speed of the blades’ rotation.
Think of it like a pinwheel or windmill. All it takes is a little bit of air to rotate. The faster the blades spin, the more lift it creates.
Unlike a helicopter, gyroplanes usually do not lift straight up. They need a short runway to move forward and take off. Gyroplanes cut and glide through the air smoothly, and you feel very few bumps. Once in the air, the engine keeps the gyroplane moving forward. They can land in relatively small spaces.
Most gyroplanes hold only one or two people. Some are open-air, and others have a strong polycarbonate thermoplastic (Lexan) enclosure that is more durable than glass.
Several people asked me about safety, and gyroplanes are relatively safe. If the engine failed to rotate the back propeller, the top blades would already be auto-rotating, so the aircraft would slowly descend. Gyroplanes can fly in conditions that would ground regular planes and helicopters.
My Experience On A Gyroplane
My flight was scheduled for 11:00 a.m., and I met my pilot, Mark Spriggs of MagniFlight, LLC and BeachFlight Aviation at the Jack Edwards National Airport. We talked for a bit, and he told me where we were planning to fly, how long we would be in the air, and a bit about the gyroplane.
He asked me if I was nervous, and I remember saying “No, just excited for this experience.”
We then left the airport and boarded the Magni Orion M24 gyroplane. It was bright yellow with a black interior. Magni gyroplanes are built in Besnate, Italy.
Gyroplane pilots are required to obtain a license from the FAA. Mark was a fantastic pilot.
We first flew over the land area from the airport to the shoreline at Orange Beach. Then we followed the shoreline past Gulf Shores for 28 miles to Fort Morgan. The gyroplane cruises at 95–100 miles per hour with a top speed of 120 miles per hour. It can fly for approximately 3 hours on one tank of gas.
On our way to Fort Morgan, we flew at a higher altitude. We flew around the fort and then back to pass along the ocean for our return. We hovered close to the sea when we returned to view more fish and other creatures in the water. We were able to fly by the condominium where I was staying. It was fun to see the kids on the beach waving at us.
Then we returned to the airport. My flight lasted about an hour.
The entire experience was fantastic — the very best experience I have had as a travel writer thus far. The weather was perfect, it was a clear day, and you could see everything in detail.
What Surprised Me
I was surprised in a good way by how close we could get to things and how smooth the ride was.
Another fun surprise happened as we flew along the beach during our return. Mark asked if I wanted to try flying the gyroplane. He gave me great instructions, and I was able to steer the gyroplane and move it up and down to different altitudes. The controls are smooth and require minimal movement. It was exhilarating to be in control of the aircraft (and comforting to know he was there if something went wrong).
I was surprised by the opportunity and how easy the gyroplane was to steer. Having the opportunity to fly the plane myself was priceless.
It was so much fun. I think I smiled the whole day! The only negative thing about the entire experience was just that the ride had to end.
What I Would Do Differently
If I were to experience this again, I would wear a GoPro instead of trying to hold my phone and take photos and videos. This would allow me to focus on enjoying the ride and the sites, and not fiddle with my phone.
That said, view the results of my photography and videography below!
Tips For A Fantastic Gyroplane Ride
- Make sure you have a licensed pilot.
- Wear comfortable clothes.
- Bring sunglasses.
- Know whether the gyroplane is enclosed or open-air.
- If it’s open-air and you have long hair, you will want to pull it into a ponytail.
- Know that most of the photos will have a glare if the gyroplane is enclosed. So you might want to limit your photos.
- Relax and enjoy.
I feel similar to Leonardo Da Vinci; once you’ve flown in a gyroplane, you long to return. I can’t wait to fly in a gyroplane again.
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