A gyroplane flies by a free-spinning rotor that turns due to the passage of air through the rotor from below. The downward component of the total aerodynamic reaction of the rotor gives lift to the vehicle and keeps the gyroplane in the air. A separate propeller provides forward thrust and is placed in a tractor configuration with the engine and propeller at the front of the fuselage, or pusher configuration with the engine and propeller at the rear of the fuselage.
A helicopter works by forcing the rotor blades through the air, drawing air from above, while the gyroplane rotor blade generates lift in the same way as a glider's wing by changing the angle of the air as the air moves upwards and backwards relative to the rotor blade. The rotor blades are angled so that they not only give lift, but the angle of the blades causes the lift to accelerate the blades rotation rate, until the rotor turns at a stable speed with the drag and thrust forces in balance. A gyroplane must be moving forward in order to force air through the overhead rotor, autogyros are generally not capable of vertical take-off or landing (unless in a strong headwind). A few types have shown short take-off or landing.
The Gyroplane was invented by Juan de la Cierva, in 1919 he participated in a design competition to develop a bomber for the Spanish military his plane crashed for flying too slowly and too close to the ground so Juan decided to built an aircraft that could fly slowly and stealy through the air without crashing. Juan invented the Gyroplane which he called the Autogiro (C.6 model). The first Autogiro flight took place in 1923, in 1925 it was demonstrated to the British Air Ministry, they liked so much they bought two immediately, Britain had become the world centre of gyroplane development. In 1929 american inventor Harold Frederick Pitcairn bought Juans patents of the Autogiro and started building his own gyros in America.
The Avro Rota gyroplane was used by the Royal Air Force to calibrate the coastal radar stations during and after the Battle of Britain. Germany pioneered a very small gyroglider rotor kite, the Focke-Achgelis Fa 330 "Bachstelze" towed by U-boats to provide aerial surveillance. The Imperial Japanese Army developed the Kayaba Ka-1 Autogyro for reconnaissance, artillery-spotting, and anti-submarine uses. The craft was originally developed for use as an observation platform and for artillery spotting duties. The Army liked the craft's short take-off span, and especially its low maintenance requirements. These carried two crewmembers: a pilot and a spotter.
When improvements in helicopters made them practical, people stopped using gyroplanes. Gyros were used in the 1930s by major newspapers, and by the United States Postal Service for the mail service between the Camden, New Jersey airport and the top of the post office building in downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Some american postal workers use it to this day.