Gyroplane Airworthiness Certification - Philip Nell


By Philip Nell

All though most Aviators are familiar with the term Airworthiness Certification, very few seem to know what it actually means and entails. This short article will attempt to provide an executive summary on the subject.

When an Aircraft Design Organisation wants to produce/manufacture a newly designed aircraft, they have to approach their local Airworthiness Authority (SACAA in our case) for a Type Certificate, which in essence is an approval to manufacture the said aircraft exactly according to the presented design.

The Type Certificate is thus for the Design of the aircraft and therefore needs to be amended when the design is changed or modified. If for example Airbus decides to fit a new type of engine to the A380, the Type Certificate also needs to be updated.

To obtain a Type Certificate for a newly designed aircraft the Airworthiness Authority (SACAA) firstly has to approve a Certification Basis. This Basis is a set of Technical Requirements for which the design organisation must show compliance.

These Technical Requirements are standardized throughout the World and originated in the USA under the auspices of the Federal Aviation Authority (USA equivalent of our SACAA) and are categorized as follows;

FAR Part 23 (Federal Aviation Regulations) – Light fixed wing aircraft such as Cessna 172, Piper 180 etc.

FAR Part 25 – Heavy fixed wing aircraft such as Boeing and Airbus

FAR Part 27 – Light Rotary wing aircraft such as Robinson R22

FAR Part 29 – Heavy Rotary wing aircraft such as Puma/Oryx

Once there is agreement on the Certification Basis, the design organisation must compile a Compliance Matrix where all the thousands of requirements are listed and a means of

compliance for each requirement is proposed to the authority. This means of compliance could be a demonstration if for example the compliance to the maximum evacuation time must be demonstrated or an electrical load analysis if compliance to the electrical power supply must be proven. Other means of compliance are obviously flight tests, structural tests etc.

This is followed by the massive task by the design organization to perform all the tests and analysis etc. and to prove compliance to the Authority. Perhaps it is now understandable why the initial purchase prices of Type Certified aircraft are high as the cost of the certification effort needs to be recovered.

This certification process is obviously not feasible for purely recreational flying aircraft; hence the advent of NON-Type certified aircraft and associated certification where most Gyroplanes fit in.

To promote safer designed recreational Gyroplanes, the British Civil Aviation Authority introduced the BCAR (British Civil Aviation Regulations) section T technical design requirements for specifically NON-Type Certified Light Gyroplanes. This regulation is a seriously scaled down version of FAR 27 to make it more appropriate for recreational flying and seem to be the most widely accepted Certification Basis for Gyroplanes in the world (Also accepted by SACAA). It should also be noted that there are currently no TYPE Certified Gyroplanes in South Africa and in fact very few in the world.

Other Certification Basis for Non-type certified Gyroplanes do exist such as the German and Australian regulations, but are not as widely recognized as the BCAR standard.

Only a few of the imported Gyroplanes claim full BCAR Section T compliance/certification and this is referred to as Type Acceptance Certification to BCAR and NOT TYPE Certification as is occasionally assumed.

The BCAR section T regulations limit the MAUW (Maximum All Up Weight) of the Gyroplanes to 600 kg and loading the Type Accepted Gyroplane to more than that will render the certification null and void.

For larger Gyroplanes, BCAR section T cannot be used and FAR 27 is currently used as Certification Basis by the SACAA for the Certification of a locally designed Gyroplane with a MAUW of 800 kg.

This subject is vastly more complex and involved than noted here, but can hopefully provide some insight into the Certification process and help guide the potential Gyroplane buyer to decide if buying a Type Accepted Gyroplane vs a Gyroplane with no certification is the way to go or not.

About the author

Philip Nell is a professional Engineer and Gyroplane pilot working for the Military Aviation Authority as Chief Airworthiness and Certification Engineer and was personally responsible for the Military Type Certification of the Rooivalk Combat Helicopter.