The gyrocopter, otherwise known as an autogyro, or rotaplane, is a popular image in post-apocalyptic and wasteland settings, as a light machine often appearing to be made from scraps. These light aircraft usually use a single fixed propeller to lift an unarmoured vehicle above the ground. They fit into the apocalypse as an aircraft that is light enough to still be fuelled, but weak enough to offer a hazardous journey – the perfect balance of risk and reward.
The gyrocopter was popularised by its iconic appearance in Max Mad 2, flown by Bruce Spence (who was known only as the Gyro Captain, and re-appeared in the third film, as another pilot). It was a nippy but vulnerable vehicle, a spluttering little engine full of character, and inspired many imitations.
The gyrocopter has appeared in numerous other works of fiction, apocalyptic and otherwise, because of that same haphazard charm – it was Batman’s original aircraft (seen in 1939) and provided an easily shipped light aircraft for James Bond in You Only Live Twice. Skimming low across the ground, at a speed leaving it open to attack, it’s popular in model games like Warhammer, and computer games. The wasteland homage Borderlands 2 includes similar craft called Buzzards, following the same principles, albeit without the propeller – though this delightful concept art demonstrates the gyrocopter attitude behind them:
Similar vehicles can be found in fiction, such as the forward thinking flying machines in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The gyrocopter makes an appearance in my novel Wixon’s Day, where it informs the nature of the story’s central characters. The gyro captain in Wixon’s Day, the stalking scout Qait Seyron, is an individual with stealthy, agile advantages but an aversion to direct confrontation – qualities reflected in his choice of vehicle, and qualities that later give him the opportunity to massively affect the plot of the novel. The chapter in which the gyrocopter and its captain are introduced is a turning point in the story, as the crew of the protagonist’s canal boat become hounded at a frantic pace. For this brief introduction, and a chance to read an extract from the novel itself, please visit this site.