Introduction: Gyroplanes (autogyros) are regarded as a relatively safe and stable type of general-aviation aircraft. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration categorizes them as sport pilot/light sport aircraft, and reports of gyroplane accidents are included in a publicly available database. We hypothesized that issues related to pilot experience and aircraft maintenance would affect the severity of accidents as indicated by aircraft damage and fatalities.
Methods: A search of the National Transportation Safety Board database for the period 1985-2005 yielded 223 reports of gyroplane accidents. Information from those reports was compiled and cross-referenced with pilot performance breakdowns and contextual information. The data was then analyzed using the Human Factors Analysis and Classification System.
Results: There was a strong effect of pilot experience on crash outcomes; compared to more experienced pilots, crashes involving pilots with less than 40 flight hours in the same make/model gyroplane were five times more likely to involve loss of control, twice as likely to destroy the aircraft, and four times more likely to involve fatalities. On the other hand, crashes involving pilots with more than 40 make/model hours were more likely to be related to perception-based performance breakdown. Maintenance issues were not found to play a significant role in this sample of crashes.
Conclusion: The results support the hypothesis that pilot experience is a significant predictor of accident fatality in gyroplanes. Training that is adapted to the experience level of pilots as implemented in new FAA regulations for sport pilot and light sport aircraft (2004) may help to reduce the frequency and seriousness of gyroplane accidents.