Jan 092016


An autogyro was first flown on this date in 1923, at Cuatro Vientos Airfield in Madrid. An autogyro (from Greek α’υτός + γύρος, self-turning), also known as gyroplane, gyrocopter, or rotaplane, is a type of rotorcraft which uses an unpowered rotor in autorotation to develop lift, and an engine-powered propeller, similar to that of a fixed-wing aircraft, to provide thrust. While similar to a helicopter rotor in appearance, the autogyro’s rotor must have air flowing through the rotor disc to generate rotation. The autogyro was invented by the Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva to create an aircraft that could fly safely at slow speeds. De la Cierva’s aircraft resembled the fixed-wing aircraft of the day, with a front-mounted engine and propeller in a tractor configuration to pull the aircraft through the air.

An autogyro is characterized by a free-spinning rotor that turns because of passage of air through the rotor from below. The vertical (downward) component of the total aerodynamic reaction of the rotor gives lift for the vehicle, and sustains the autogyro in the air. A separate propeller provides forward thrust, and can be placed in a tractor configuration with the engine and propeller at the front of the fuselage, or pusher configuration with the engine and propeller at the rear of the fuselage.


Whereas a helicopter works by forcing the rotor blades through the air, drawing air from above, the autogyro rotor blade generates lift in the same way as a glider’s wing by changing the angle of the air as the air moves upwards and backwards relative to the rotor blade. The free-spinning blades turn by autorotation; the rotor blades are angled so that they not only give lift, but the angle of the blades causes the lift to accelerate the blades’ rotation rate, until the rotor turns at a stable speed with the drag and thrust forces in balance.

Because the craft must be moving forward (with respect to the surrounding air) in order to force air through the overhead rotor, autogyros are generally not capable of vertical takeoff or landing (unless in a strong headwind). A few types can perform very short takeoff and landing.

Pitch control of the autogyro is provided by tilting the rotor fore and aft; roll control by tilting the rotor laterally (side to side). A rudder provides yaw control. On pusher configuration autogyros, the rudder is typically placed in the propeller slipstream to maximize yaw control at low airspeed. If you are still confused here is a wonderful newsclip from 1931 explaining the dynamics, as well as showing an autogyro’s various tricks (including “parachuting” safely to the ground should the engine fail).

Autogyros have some commercial uses nowadays, but are more common among hobbyists as an alternative to ultralight aircraft.


My favorite use of an autogyro is in the 1981 post-apocalyptic thriller, Mad Max 2, also known as Road Warrior. The autogyro is a perfect vehicle for a world where fuel is in short supply, and mechanical ingenuity is at a premium. The autogyro’s pilot, Gyro Captain, and his contraption play a pivotal role in the movie’s plot, and, to my mind, are the chief stars of the movie – much more than the inherently violent and soulless Max himself.

Since the autogyro is a Spanish invention, first flown in Madrid, it’s appropriate to showcase a classic Madrid recipe. Madrid is not a bad foodie city, although it is a bit limited. Meals of tapas, small dishes to be shared, are very common. But there are also hearty main dishes. I’ll spare you callos a la madrileña, tripe with blood sausage and pig’s trotters in a rich sauce, even though it is a favorite. Here’s a picture anyway.


Instead here is cocido Madrileño, or simply cocido, a version of the pan-European dish of various boiled meats (simmered with chick peas). As with all such dishes, you don’t need a precise recipe, just a general idea. The main ingredient of cocido is the chickpea or garbanzo. Vegetables are added: potatoes mainly, but also cabbage, carrots, and turnips. In some cases, green bean, mangold and cardoon are also added. The main meats used are fresh pork belly, fresh (unsmoked) chorizo, morcilla (blood sausage), and dried and cured jamón serrano. Beef shank and a whole chicken are also quite common additions, especially for festive occasions, as well as some marrow bones to enrich the stock. For some extravagant recipes, the final touch is the bola, a meatball-like mix of ground beef, bread crumbs, parsley and other spices.


Tradition rules that the ingredients of cocido must be served separately. Each serving is known as a vuelco (tipping or emptying out), as at each time the pot must be emptied out to separate the ingredients. The first vuelco is the stock of the cocido either plain or with small noodles cooked in it. The second vuelco consists of the chickpeas and the vegetables. The third vuelco is the meat. Here is how I do it.

Cocido Madrileño

Place your chosen meats, at minimum pork belly, ham, and marrow bones, in a large stock pot. If you are using a chicken, place it on top. Add dried chick peas that have been soaked overnight. Cover with stock and bring slowly to a gentle simmer. Add a couple of bay leaves, a whole bulb of garlic, peeled, and an onion studded with cloves. Simmer for 2 hours or more until the meat is very tender.

In a separate pot place savoy cabbage wedges, quartered potatoes, carrot chunks, chopped leeks, and whatever sausages you like, preferably unsmoked Spanish chorizo and morcilla (blood sausage). Cover with stock and simmer until the potatoes are tender. At one time the vegetables and meats were all cooked in one pot, and you can still do this as long as you let the meats cook by themselves first, to avoid overcooking the vegetables.

To serve, strain off the broth and serve it as a first course. For the second course place the chickpeas in a large serving bowl with the sausages, sliced, on top, and place the other vegetables in another serving dish. Last, debone all the meats and serve them sliced.