The Common Types of Rotorcraft and Their Configurations

Posted on June 29, 2021 Josh Parker Aircraft Component

A rotary-wing aircraft, or rotorcraft, is a type of heavier-than-air aircraft that features rotary wings or blades. Unlike typical fixed-wing aircraft, rotary-wing aircraft produce lift through the means of rotating their wings or blades around a vertical mast. Depending on one’s particular needs or application, there are a few common types of rotorcraft one may use, including those such as helicopters, autogyros, and gyrodynes. In this blog, we will provide an overview of the primary rotorcraft types, discussing the configurations and capabilities of each so that you may best understand them.


The helicopter may be considered the most widely used rotorcraft type, coming in the form of an aircraft that utilizes horizontally-spinning rotors to create lift and thrust. Unlike fixed-wing aircraft, the helicopter is well capable of conducting vertical take off and landing procedures in addition to their ability to fly forward, backward, and laterally. For their configuration, helicopters may come in the form of either single rotor or dual rotor types.

Single rotor helicopters are types of rotorcraft in which a single horizontal main rotor is sufficient for generating lift and managing the direction of travel. Single rotor helicopters are often faced with rotational torque from the main rotor, meaning that the fuselage will yaw from the spinning blades. To counteract such forces, a secondary rotor is vertically mounted on the tail-end of the vehicle to provide a push or pull that acts against the main rotor torque. Single rotor helicopters are the most commonly used rotorcraft, often coming in a variety of sizes and shapes to support applications and endeavors related to transportation, defense, search & rescue, science, environmentalism, and much more.

Dual rotor helicopters are the other common type, differing from the single rotor helicopter with the presence of two horizontal rotors. Dual rotor helicopters may be known as a tandem helicopter, and such aircraft are capable of maintaining a balance of aerodynamic torque without the need of a tail rotor system or configuration. While the design of dual rotor helicopters may vary, it is common to have a front rotor and a slightly elevated rear rotor which are specifically situated to avoid any blade collision. In order for a pilot to maintain control over the vertical axis of the helicopter during hover flight, the rotor discs of the assembly are tilted into each other.

While the dual rotor helicopter configuration is not extremely common, it is typically used for larger helicopters for the means of supporting an increased payload or weight. While the smaller rotor disc area is used for shorter blades, the presence of two main rotors compensates for the disc size. Dual rotor helicopters also do not require a tail rotor due to the fact that the rotor assemblies cancel one another’s torque so that all thrust generation may be used for lift. Marine corps rotary wing aircraft and army rotary wing aircraft in particular typically come in the form of either single or dual rotor helicopters, both of which can provide the power, speed, maneuverability, and control required by such operations.


The autogyro is a type of unpowered rotorcraft that relies on free autorotation in order to generate the lift needed for flight. Also known as gyroplanes or gyrocopters, such rotorcraft generate forward thrust with an engine-driven propeller that is independent in its operations. Autogyro rotorcraft require airflow across their rotor disc in order to achieve sufficient rotation, and air will generally move up into the rotor disc, unlike helicopters where airflow moves down.

The principle of operations for the autogyro are somewhat similar to a fixed-wing glider, due to the fact that they are capable of changing the angle of air. As the free-spinning blades quickly revolve due to autorotation, the angle of the assembly ensures the acceleration of the blade rotation so that a stable and balanced speed can be reached. Such rotorcraft are extremely dependent on forward movement for lift generation, thus cannot achieve vertical take off unless there is a significant headwind present.

When flying such types of rotorcraft, pilots rely on a control stick, throttle, and rudder pedals. With the control stick, the pilot can manage the rotor tilt of the aircraft, ensuring that they can adjust the pitch and roll. With the rudder pedals, yaw control is established for stable flight. Lastly, the throttle is used to manage engine power. There are also a number of secondary flight controls, those of which include the rotor transmission clutch and collective pitch which both enhance flight characteristics and management.


Gyrodynes are the final common rotorcraft type, coming in the form of VTOL aircraft that have a rotor system similar to a helicopter. VTOL aircraft, or vertical-take off and landing aircraft, are those that can hover, take off, and land vertically. With the use of their rotor, gyrodynes can have engine driven operation for take off and landing. Meanwhile, one or more propeller or jet engines are then used to achieve forward movement when cruising.

Gyrodynes have a similar forward flight rotor operation to autogyros, featuring unpowered and free-spinning assemblies. Meanwhile, fixed-wings may extend from the sides of the fuselage and work together with the rotor in order to generate lift. With these various characteristics, the gyrodyne could be considered a combination of various rotorcraft and fixed-wing aircraft elements in their design. Although gyrodynes are not as commonly used as other types of rotorcraft, a number of models and developments have been produced over the years.


With the flight characteristics and designs of varying rotorcraft, the choice between each will often depend upon the individual and their needs. Whether you require parts for marine corps rotary wing aircraft, army rotary wing aircraft, or other types of rotorcraft, Just NSN Parts has you covered. Just NSN Parts is a leading distributor of aviation, NSN, and electronic components that have been sourced from thousands of top global manufacturers that we trust. Take the time to peruse our various rotorcraft part catalogs at your leisure, and our team of industry experts are readily available 24/7x365 to assist you through the purchasing process as needed. Give us a call or email today and experience how Just NSN Parts is revolutionizing the procurement process for our customers.

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