Igor Bensen was a Russian born visionary. His family moved to Prague to escape the Russian revolution. He eventually immigrated to the United States in 1937 getting a mechanical engineering degree in 1940 from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ.
Bensen began his career with General Electric in 1940. He was assigned a project with the Kellet XR-3. The XR-3 was a gyroplane that was being used to test rotor blade designs and other components to be used in Kellet’s XR-8 helicopter that was still being designed. It is here where Bensen learned to fly gyroplanes.
Bensen learned the Army Air Force has a Hafner Rotochute in its inventory. Bensen petitioned to acquire this device for research from the Army which was ultimately granted. The Hafner Rotochute was an innovative concept that would replace a parachute with a gyro-glider so a soldier could precision land on the battlefield. Bensen then began designing his own gyro gliders.
Bensen left GE and worked for a brief period with Kaman. In 1953, he started his own company, The Bensen Aircraft Corporation.
His first commercial creation was a plans built towed gyro-glider, the B-6, in 1954. This led to the B-7 in 1955 that would be released to free fly. It was not long till a small engine was added to become the B-7M. The idea was builders could learn to fly in the B-7 and then when proficient they could simply add a motor turning the gyro-glider into a bona fide gyroplane or as Bensen called them a gyrocopter.
Because builders were having construction issues with the round tubing of the B-7 design, Bensen developed the B-8 that used square tubing. The B-8M shortly followed in late 1955 becoming the most prolific gyroplane in history. The B-8M was available in plans.
Bensen Aircraft Company was also the first gyroplane company to offer a gyroplane, the B-8M, in kit built form as well.
The Bensen kit actually came with instructions on how to teach yourself how to fly. Thus you can understand why the early gyroplanes garnered such a poor reputation as people attempted to teach themselves how to fly them with disastrous results. For those that did not kill themselves or destroy their aircraft they quickly became disillusioned with their gyroplanes due to their inability to fly them and thus they ended up on the market for small amounts of money. The result was gyroplanes were readily and cheaply available, especially to those that did not have the skill or time to build their own, and so even more people would futilely attempt to learn to fly them on their own.
Bensen even developed a B-8B which was a gyro-glider with a boat hull that could be towed behind another boat. As an interesting side note, today’s gyroplanes can be outfitted as “sea-gyros.” Unlike the fixed wing seaplane rating, there is no separate rating or even endorsement to fly a “sea-gyro” once you have your Sport gyroplane certificate. However, you are strongly urged to get an appropriate checkout before attempting takeoffs and landings in a “sea-gyro.”
Because of the simplistic and open frame design of Bensen gyroplanes they were easily modified. Another name synonymous with gyroplanes is Ken Brock. He modified a Bensen B-8M so extensively that Bensen informed Brock it could no longer be considered a Bensen design and it became the KB-2.
Bensen founded the Popular Rotorcraft Association (PRA) in 1962 and was its first President and served in that role for many years. This organization became a catalyst for the growth of interest in gyroplanes.
By 1977, Bensen had produced over 4,000 gyrocopters of which around 2,000 were actually flying.
In 1988, Bensen Aircraft Corporation closed its doors. Interest in a simplistic, open frame, single seat gyroplane was waning. Especially, as new entrants to the gyroplane marketplace were offering enclosed, two seat gyroplanes with enhanced performance. Still his legacy lives on.
Wings of Tomorrow by Juan de la Cierva
Legacy of Wings by Frank Kingston Smith
Cierva Autogiros by Peter W. Brooks aviation