Tensor 600X STOL gyroplane offers a taste of bigger gyros to come
Germany's Fraundorfer Aeronautics has unveiled its Tensor 600X gyroplane at the European Rotors show. It's a two-seat design mainly targeted at personal use, but the company claims it'll soon scale up to a certified six-seater for air taxi purposes.
Gyroplanes offer an interesting middle ground between airplane and helicopter designs. Much of their lift is provided by a large top rotor, similar to that on top of a helicopter, but during flight, the rotor's not powered by the engine or motor. Instead, forward airspeed keeps them rotating enough to provide lift, and the free-spinning top rotor can do this well enough to autorotate gently to the ground in many power-out situations.
In zero-wind conditions, it takes very little forward speed to generate enough lift for a gyroplane to take off; and given enough of a headwind, they can just about lift off vertically. Forward propulsion, often provided by a pusher prop, is enough to keep them in the air in an efficient and agile fashion.
Fraundorfer has been working for many years now, to try to scale gyroplane technology up beyond the hobby market. The company believes its "R01 high performance" top rotor will be capable of lifting significantly heavier loads than the current competition – enough to handle a six-seat version that Fraundorfer wants to get commercially certified and into service carrying cargo and doing air taxi duties by somewhere around 2025.
So the Tensor 600X is both a hobbyist product and a tech demonstrator for this future aircraft. As such, its capabilities don't particularly stand out; running a Rotax 915iS engine, it can take off from 90 m (300 ft) of runway at its maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 600 kg (1,323 lb), and land in just 20 m (70 ft).
Minimum flight speed is 50 km/h (31 mph), and it'll cruise at speeds up to 200 km/h (124 mph) up to a maximum altitude of 3,000 m (10,000 ft). It'll offer a range around 600 km (373 miles) at 185 km/h (115 mph), running on premium pump gas or avgas.
We don't know how much fuel it carries to get this kind of range, but these specs all track reasonably closely against those of the US$136,000 AutoGyro Cavalon, an equally German aircraft that's been around since 2011 and has sold hundreds of units. This despite the fact that the Tensor 600X has a decent-sized pair of wings, which contribute up to 30 percent of the aircraft's lift at speed, and the Cavalon doesn't. So we'd hope the 600X achieves its range on less than the 25.9 gal (98 L) of fuel that the Cavalon uses.
Fraundorfer says the Tensor design can easily be adapted to battery-electric or hydrogen fuel cell powertrains – and we'd certainly see clean energy as a vital part of any long-term plans to use these things for cross-town or inter-city air taxi applications. Still, according to the company, this design is already about twice as efficient as a helicopter and significantly quieter to boot.
There don't appear to be any plans for full gyrodyne-style VTOL capabilities here, so the Tensor will still need runways at either end of any trip. That will severely limit the design's utility as the air taxi market gets up and running within a few years, as it'll be competing against a barrage of electric VTOL aircraft that can use helipads on top of buildings.
You can see the Tensor 600X's fun-looking maiden flight from February last year in the video below.