The Fairey Rotodyne was a full-sized military transport jet that could take off like a plane and land like a helicopter.What do you think happened when one particularly ambitious British aerospace firm decided to combine the traits of a helicopter with the latest and greatest in jet technology? If your answer was to revolutionize both civilian and military aerospace, you’d be ᴅᴇᴀᴅ wrong, obviously. Jokes aside, there was a real chance in the late 1950s of such an aircraft legitimately changing the way people traveled via air.
The Fairey Rotodyne was a bit of a hidden gem in the history of British aviation, mostly unknown to most of the world until 2019 when an internet video, now with 6.5 million, views showcased it to the world. Had the Rotodyne project survived, the results of such a partnership could have been a gamechanger in ωαяs Britain and its allies were soon to fight.
The Rotodyne: A Brief Overview
By the end of the Second World ധąɾ, one fundamental truth about the advancement of military technology was abundantly clear. This truth was that the future of areal ωαяƒαяє was to be waged primarily by a combination of jets and helicopters. To the untrained eye, the Rotodyne looks like a Frankenstein’s mashup of an airliner and a large helicopter but in reality, this isn’t the case at all.
Unlike a helicopter, the rotors of the Rotodyne weren’t connected to a motor of any kind. Simply put, each of the aircraft’s four massive rotor blades was there principally to cut through the air in level flight, creating an effect that added supplemental lift. This made it possible for such a vehicle to take off like a traditional short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft and land like a helicopter using the centrifugal force of the rotor. Such a machine is referred to as a Gyrodyne, hence the name “Rotodyne”.
What makes the Rotodyne different from most gyrodynes and what bumps its coolness factor to the next level is the addition of tip-jet engines, mounted predictably on the tip of each of the rotor blades. The Rotodyne used a mixture of jet fuel and compressed air from its traditional turboprop engines to spin the blades far faster than on their own, making for a temporary thrust boost for takeoff, landing, and advanced maneuvering. This effectively gave the Rotodyne four rudimentary rocket boosters at any of its four rotor blades.
It was said that with this technology, trips like London to Manchester, or New York to Philadelphia could be no more difficult than hopping in an uber would be today. It could cruise at 190 miles per hour (307 kph) still faster than most helicopters today, and connect nearby by urban centers in ways unimaginable even now. Sadly though, issues commonly pinned down to politics both inside and outside the Fairey aircraft company, the Rotodyne was soon lost to history.
A Military Transport That Could Have Landed Anywhere
Apart from its obvious advantages in the civilian sector, and what the now world-famous Youtube documentary failed to mention was that the Rotodyne also drew the interest of the Royal Air Force, there were even whispering that the US Army was practically salivating at the chance to purchase these aircraft for use as military transports.
Consider this, by the time the Rotodyne conducted its first flight tests fresh from the Fairey factory, the Royal airforce had already begun to rely extremely heavily on American transports like the C-130 Hercules. The very same traits that made the Rotodyne so potentially adept for passenger service made it perfect for a military cargo aircraft. While not large enough to compete with the cargo capacity of a Hercules in its current form, the concept was developed with the intent of scaling the technology to larger sizes as advancements were made. The prospects of such a large transport aircraft being able to land like a traditional helicopter could have potentially turned the tide in a ωαя Britain’s closest ally ultimately lost decisively.
According to official records, Great Britain never formally involved itself in the American ωαя in Vietnam. Closer examination reveals murky clandestine operations to provide top-secret military tech for use in American ωαяs in exchange for mutual protection. Perhaps the most famous of these mutual agreements is English Electric Canberra, which was licensed to the Martin Aviation Company in America to create the Martin B-57.
Had the Rotodyne received the same treatment, the U.S. would have had a transport vehicle capable of quickly dropping in fresh troops and extracting old ones on a fast flight back to friendly soil all while in the congested, swampy jungles of Vietnam. To say such a machine would have changed the outcome of the ωαя is frankly impossible to quantify. But had the Fairey Rorodyne seen the light of day beyond just a prototype, there’s a chance the skies of the world would have been occupied by giant Gyrodynes instead of airliners, which in itself is rather astonishing.