The helicopter in the ground support/surveillance role is not without it's flaws either.
While theoretically it can be operated from forward areas, its mechanical complexity requires considerable support and its low speed makes it vulnerable to ground fire.
Regrettably crashes due to mechanical failure seem to be common feature of helicopter operations during active service.
Armed STOL light aircraft would avoid some of the problems described above.
The USAF is not interested in such low-speed, low-tech aircraft and due to an agreement with the Air Force, the current US Army won't operate them, no matter how great the current need.
This returns us to the topic of autogyros:
Compared to the helicopter, the autogyro is faster, mechanically less complicated, lighter, inherently more reliable and more fuel efficient.
The main advantage that the helicopter has over the autogyro is its ability to hover, but this capability is unnecessary for many military roles. The few missions that do need such capabilities can be met by conventional helicopters
Many of the missions currently being met by helicopters and not being met by fast jets could be taken over by suitable designs of autogyros.
Since autogyros are simpler and easier to fly and maintain both purchase and operating cost will be lower, allowing larger numbers to be fielded
To provide useful air-support to ground forces, an aircraft must have as rapid a response time as practical.
An autogyro has a potentially longer loiter time than helicopters and fast jets and this would allow it to maintain a continuous overhead presence over ground units
A suitable autogyro could also more readily be operated from small unprepared areas just a short distance behind the ground forces
A potential capability that has not been often been exploited is that of operating air-support from units travelling just behind the lead elements.
One way to do this is to operate helicopters, autogryos or small UAVs directly from the back of vehicles or trailers.
Another option is to tow light aircraft behind vehicles and operate them from straight stretches of road.
The practical value of current forms of UAVs in the surveillance role is questionable since their lack of situational awareness often means they are easily shot down.
The ideal close support aircraft would be one that had the capability to travel on the ground with ground elements and then take to the air when needed.
During WW2 experiments were made with autogyro-based flying jeeps and tanks but the perceived application was for air-delivered ground vehicles rather ground-mobile aircraft.
A military autogyro would need the capability to land on rough ground so would have sturdy landing gear, possibly even tracks.
It is quite feasible that such an aircraft could be constructed that is capable of being towed by ground combat elements without the need for trailers or that are even self-mobile.
Helicopters that can run on diesel have been flying since the 1970s, so this is another potential capability for other aircraft such as autogyros
Although autogyros are one of aviation's less travelled side-paths, it should by now be apparent that it is one that should not be neglected in the 21st century.
While enthusiasts build and fly microlights, and visionaries plan airliners, there is an obvious more immediate military need for a more modest sized aircraft.
Many of the earliest of autogyros were the same size as contemporary conventional aircraft and much larger than current designs, so there is no reason why larger aircraft are not possible.
A well-armed, long-endurance two-seater autogyro is just a short step from current designs.
Many existing light/ultra-light designs only need such additions as a machine gun, laser designator and provision for 2.75" rocket packs to become very useful platforms.
Even more useful would be an autogyro equivalent of an AH-6 Little Bird with a two-man crew and useful passenger/cargo capacity. Such an autogyro would have sufficient capacity to mount stabilized optical/thermal vision systems and both passive and active defensive systems.
Veteran Tanker and respected military writer Ralph Zumbro observes:
“Modern missiles such as an air-launched Stinger eliminate the problem of defense against enemy aircraft. The dogfight capability is IN THE MISSILE. We have got something going here. A two man ship with an observer/gunner in the forward cockpit would be ideal for close ground support.”
Properly designed, such an autogyro might easily fulfil the role proposed for the Buzzard aircraft.
By the Author of the Scrapboard :
Attack, Avoid, Survive: Essential Principles of Self Defence
Available in Handy A5 and US Trade Formats.
Crash Combat Second Edition with additional content.
Epub edition Second Edition with additional content.
Crash Combat Third Edition
Epub edition Third Edition.