The B-8M, designed by Igor Bensen, became one of the most popular homebuilt aircraft of the twentieth century. This powered Gyrocopter variant of the B-8 Gyroglider first flew in 1957. Airflow created by the forward motion of the Gyrocopter causes the unpowered blades to autorotate and generate lift. Unlike a helicopter, the Gyrocopter cannot hover or take off vertically, but it can make nearly vertical descents. Construction costs typically ran between $1,000 and $3,000.
The "Spirit of Kittyhawk" was the prototype for the B-8M and earned its name by matching the speed, duration and distance of the Wright Brothers' first powered flights for a 60th anniversary celebration at Kittyhawk, North Carolina. In 1967 and 1968, Bensen set 12 gyroplane records for speed, distance, and altitude in the "Spirit of Kittyhawk." Bensen's airshow performances in this aircraft played an important role in establishing gyroplanes as a new category of sport aircraft.
In 1953 Igor Bensen, a Russian immigrant to the United States, realized a twenty-five-year-old dream—the establishment of his own aircraft company. Since fleeing to the West during the Russian Revolution, Bensen had patented thirty-six inventions, had participated in early helicopter research for the General Electric Company, had organized and directed the Research Department at Kaman Aircraft Corporation, and had been a test pilot for both the Air Force and the Navy. His new company was formed to develop light, safe rotary-wing aircraft for use by private individuals.
The Gyro-Copter. first flown on December 6. 1955 was a powered version of the Gyro-Glider. It. too. was designed to be constructed from a set of plans. costng about $30. or from a prefabricated kit, costing $995. Engines were available ranging in price from $495 to $1195. As few as forty manhours were required for kit assembly.
The airframe was a square tubular aluminum structure with a single. two-blade rotor of laminatec plywood The controls consisted of a single stick with a twist-grip throttle and toot pedals for the rudder, steering bar. and brakes. As with the Gyro Glider. spinning and stalling could not occur. for autorotation would allow the aircraft to settle gently into a normal landing with no power.
Also like the Gyro-Glider, the Gyro-Copter could be stored in any garage. since it required a space only 5 ½ 6 x 20 feet. For added convenience. the Gyro-Copter Model B-8M. put into production in 1957. was roadable. No equipment had to be changed or removed for the conversion from aircraft to automobile: the blades were smply locked in the fore-and-aft position. On the road it Could reach speeds up to 35 mph Several were Successfully driven on highways and through heavy city traffic during public demonstrations
Besides their use as a pleasure craft Gyro-Copters could be used for terrain and pipeline aerial surveillance and sport and forestry patrol. In England one was modified for crop spraying. All three branches of the military had several in their inventories, and they carried Air Force designation X-25.
The best known of the Gyro-Copters was the Spirit of Kitty Hawk, so named because on the sixtieth anniversary of the Wright brothers historic flight, this aircraft became the first to duplicate exactly the first powered flight. It took off from the same spot. flew at the same speed, and covered the same distance as the Wright aircraft.
Not only did the Spirit of Kitty Hawk make that interesting flight. but in May 1967 and June 1968 it set twelve world and national autogiro speed. distance. and altitude records. Among these were speed over a 100-kilometer closed course (82.5 km/hr.). cross-country distance over a straight line (84 miles in 1 hour. 25 minutes). and maximum altitude (7.200 feet). The aircraft held more records than any other nonmilitary rotary aircraft in the world.
On May 14. 1969. at a ceremony before the American Helicopter Society. the Spirit of Kitty Hawk was presented to the Smithsonian for the National Aeronautical Collection.