Update.In the end I decided to fly a PPC (powered parachute) instead.
Their safety record was one of the reasons for the change.
However I'm not taking what many think is the safest option.
I'm buying a WPPG (wheeled powered paraglider) instead of box chute PPC.
See Blackhawk tandem quad and ppg risk.
Overview.Again I remind you I'm not currently active in this sport. This is my impression from mainly internet research.
The statistics I mention are pretty rough and are mostly US and UK derived. It is pretty much impossible to get more than ball park figures. In part this is because not all flying time is on record. It is also because accidents are somewhat random events and there isn't a large enough number of pilots to get much confidence in the numbers. Averaging over many years doesn't work either because things are changing all the time.
Opinions tend to be polarized into "they are death traps" and "they are the safest way to fly".
It appears both camps are correct but for different periods of history.
When gyros were invented (1920s??) they were ten times safer (in terms of deaths flight hours) than FW (fixed wing) aircraft.
FW pilots were dying at the rate of one for every 3500 flying hours.
In recent times (late 90s??) general aviation (GA) FW had improved by a factor of 25 or so and gyros got 10 times worse.
Ultralights were twice as bad as GA and commercial flights somewhat better than GA.
Surprisingly to me helicopters were not much worse than GA.
Interestingly commercial helis were ten times safer the private.
So what went wrong for gyros? There are probably many factors but a significant one was gyro design.
Early gyros were built like FW except they had rotors instead of wings. They had props in front and horizontal and vertical stabilizers (HS and VS) at the back.
New designs were pushers without HS. Many also had low COG and high thrust line (HTL).
HTL caused the gyro to pitch forward when power was applied. The lack of HS made it harder to regain correct stable pitch if it was lost.
Many pilots died due to pitch instability.
The introduction of sexy enclosed gyros such as the wind-rider brought a new problem. Many enclosed gyros had tails which were too small and the aircraft could weather-cock so the aircraft traveled backwards.
There have been bar-hub and other failures and I'm sure a few gyros have broken up during hard landings and rollovers.
Engine failure do happen and can lead to accidents.
The causes of many fatalities are unknown because there are no living witnesses.
On the operational side it is noted that many deaths are early solo pilots with less the 50 hours experience. Many were licensed FW pilots as well.
What is extremely worrying is deaths on dual training flights.
The issues above have been taken seriously and the grounding of or modification dangerous aircraft, new design and maintenance rules should see safety statistics improve.
Research into bar-hub failure has resulting in realistic service life being put in place so hopefully we won't see any more failures.
So how safe or dangerous is it?I think we just don't know. Predicting the future is at best an educated guess. We would like to think things will get better but until the numbers are in we don't know if the changes are working.
Knowing that X many people died does not tell you what your personal risk is. If a few percent of pilots are careless and pay the ultimate price the numbers will say the sport is dangerous when this may not be the case for the rest of the community.
I don't see sports gyros ever achieving near perfect safety unless they have strict medical requirements along with better aircraft certification and maintenance standards. This would exclude a lot of people from the sport.
We don't want death traps but some risk is acceptable as long as people are not mislead into thinking it is safer than it is. There are other risky hobbies that people choose to pursue.
My personal feeling is that if you are careful and do the right things that gyros could be the safest sports aircraft around - do the wrong things and you could become another crash statistic - you can manage your risks up to a point.
As a possible gyro wannabe I came up with some points to improve my odds. I found some have already been discussed by ASRA members.
My points for early solo - first 50 to 100 hours - may be subject to change.
- Airfield - Long, quiet, level with a good surface - not a rough backyard strip.
- Gyro - A safe design in good order - not the cheapest gyro for sale at the time. A light single seater.
- Weather - Good - little wind and even less crosswind. Maybe non-thermal conditions but I'm not sure about that.
- Health - Good - Not sick, not tired.
- Pre-flight - Slow - be sure to be sure.
- Flight - high and over land-able areas - no terrain following just yet. Fly a little slower - fly at cruise and not maximum speed.
- Fuel - carry a reserve (20 minutes?).
- Supervision - have experienced pilots/instructors watch when possible.
- Currency - fly regularly and have a plan to cope with long gaps between flights.
I don't drink,take drugs or medication so this isn't on my list. Sleep is often an issue for me though. Getting too excited about next day's flying may make me too tired to be safe.
Most fatalities appear to be pilot error. This doesn't necessarily mean the pilot is solely to blame - there may well be problem with the training or operational procedures.
All branches of sport aviation seem to talk up the safety of their sport.
Many an interview or promo will tell you how great gyros are in the wind and how easy it is to do an engine out landing. Also frequently mentioned is the inability to stall or spin. I believe these things are true but it may lead to a false sense of security that the aircraft will save you and a high level of training and skill is not needed.
There is a you-tube clip with 100K hits showing a high profile instructor saying we "just don't care" and yawning as he simulates an engine out over an airfield.
I think that puts out the wrong message - if the noise stops you really should care.
If it stops over unfamiliar territory you should be caring quite a lot till you are safely landed.