Designed as a large passenger carrying compound helicopter by the Fairey Aviation Company in the UK, the Rotodyne was an attempt to combine the speed and comfort of a turboprop airliner with the vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) ability of a helicopter. It was intended for use in city centre heliports or for airport to city transfer flights. Following many years of development with the smaller Gyrodyne, the prototype Rotodyne carrying the military serial XE521, flew in November 1957 and completed its first transition from vertical to forward flight in April 1958. Power was provided by a pair of Napier Eland turboshaft engines and tip jets powered the rotor blades. The tip jet design used the Doblhoff patent developed by Friedrich von Doblhoff in Vienna during World War II and his assistant August Stepan later worked for Fairey. The combination of turboprops and tip jets produced painfully high noise levels which would have severely restricted use in urban areas. This machine set a world speed record for its class of 190.9 miles per hour (307.22 km/h) in 1959. Military and airline customers proved elusive, costs soared, major customer British European Airways (BEA) cancelled its order and the project was wound up in February 1962 by Westland Aircraft which had taken over development. Total project cost was about 21 million Pounds.

In Australia, a Melbourne company called Grants Helicopters was formed in 1960 and proposed to operate inter-city services from NSW using Rotodynes when they became available. In the US, Kaman Corporation became the official agent for the type with some initial interest shown by New York Airways and the US Army. The concept of a STOL/VTOL machine combining the features of a helicopter and conventional aircraft have been explored more recently with the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor which has entered service with the USAF and Marine Corps.

Model History

This original manufacturer's 1:24 scale display model of a Rotodyne was donated to the Museum by Westland Aircraft Ltd, Yeovil, UK in 1962. It had previously been used for promotional purposes and was last displayed at a trade show in Zurich, Switzerland before it was shipped to the Museum following cancellation of the project.

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