The Autogyros, or Gyrocopters, we fly today come from the original 'Autogiro' invented by Spanish Engineer Juan de la Cierva. They are now known as autogyros, gyros, gyrocopters and gyroplanes in english, but at Gyrocopter school we call them Gyrocopters.
A Gyrocopter generates the lift needed to fly using a rotor rather than wings just like a helicopter- though this is more or less the only thing they have in common: they are distinctly different in the way they fly. Unlike in a helicopter the rotor in a Gyrocopter is not powered - it is propelled by the flow of air over the rotor blade’s surfaces resulting from a forward movement created by a propeller, just as on an aeroplane.
Gyrocopters also share the same basic controls with a fixed wing aeroplane - Stick, Throttle, and Rudder pedals - but Gyrocopters are significantly more agile and manoeuvrable. Gyrocopter pilots routinely make steep turns and other manoeuvres that simply wouldn’t be possible with a fixed wing aeroplane. Furthermore, the small “wing” area makes Gyrocopters incredibly stable, and, compared to other aircraft, virtually insensitive to turbulence, otherwise the light aircraft pilot’s worst enemy, and unlike aeroplanes, autogyros are virtually stall-proof, no matter how slow you fly them. If you stop the engine the rotor keeps spinning, and the Gyrocopter simply floats to the ground. This is true for modern Gyrocopters, but it hasn’t always been so, and great care should always be taken in choosing what aircraft to fly, whether it’s a Gyrocopter or not.
The downside is that Gyrocopters aren’t as fast as fixed-wing aeroplanes, and they can’t fly as far. You can’t hover or manoeuvre it like a helicopter, and only a very few can take off or land vertically. These are the trade-offs you have to make in order to fly one of the most versatile, safest and most cost-efficient aircraft there are.
A Gyrocopter, unlike a fixed-wing aircraft, cannot stall. A "stall" means that a wing is travelling too slowly for the wing profile to produce lift. Since the rotor of a Gyrocopter is always spinning, it cannot stall. If forward airspeed drops to zero, the Gyrocopter will slowly drift to the ground with the rotor still spinning. A modern Gyrocopter should not be critically damaged even by a vertical landing with power off.
The Gyrocopter is a fantastic hybrid that has been flown and loved for a hundred years, but is only now, with the introduction of modern Ultralight Gyrocopters, finding it’s way to a broader audience.
Wherever you are, where you intend to fly, and regardless of your flying experience in other craft, if you want to fly a Gyrocopter you will have get proper training, as Gyrocopters do not behave or fly like fixed wing aircraft or helicopters. Without training by a professional flight instructor, you are certain to crash, and possibly fatally.
The regulations applying to light aircraft are more or less unique to every country, and the requirements for a pilots license also vary significantly.