The Giro Boat Was a Wildly Dangerous Flying Machine That Sadly Didn’t Catch On

I've always wished water skiing involved a greater chance of decapitation.

It’s really a miracle anybody who was alive in 1960 is still around at this point. You’d think that the asbestos, deathtrap cars and lead paint and gas would’ve gotten pretty much all of them by now, but no. And that stuff is just the tip of the iceberg. But I get it. At this point in my life, I’ve learned what my postwar ancestors knew to be true—the most fun things are incredibly dangerous. I’m just not sure I’d be willing to risk getting decapitated by the rotor of an amphibious autogyro for the sake of an afternoon on the lake.

If you’re having trouble wrapping your head around what I’m talking about, I’m referring to the Giro Boat, a sketchier predecessor to parasailing, or those inflatable dinghy gliders you can pull behind a powerboat and fly into the air. This is almost exactly like that, except it was designed in 1961 with zero safety features, and if you couldn’t land it safely back on the water, you died.

Well, it’s not just a deathtrap, actually. Like I said, this is what’s known as an autogyro, a sort of helicopter-like vehicle that doesn’t actually power its main rotor. See, the issue with rotorcraft is that pesky torque applied to the rest of the vehicle by the engine turning the rotor blades. There are various ways to solve this, like having an additional counter-rotating propeller, a tail rotor, or just not powering the rotor at all. You can’t take off vertically when the rotor is unpowered, and you need a source of power to push the craft forwards in order to take off, but these kinds of aircraft are very simple.

Where the Giro Boat differs from regular autogyros is that it doesn’t have an onboard source of power to push it along, relying on another boat with a tow rope, and the body of the craft is a solid wooden dinghy with two outriggers for stability on takeoff and landing. I asked my friend who’s into planes if having a boat as a power source for an aircraft is common, and he said yeah, that’s not really typical.

The craft’s creator, a 26-year-old American living in the UK named John Hofstetter, had apparently designed aircraft before, which makes me about zero percent more comfortable. He insisted that with just one hour of practice, you too could pilot a Giro Boat like a pro. He also had plans to create a Giro Boat pilot school where you could learn to fly, but I don’t think it ever happened. Maybe the insurance was too steep.

Anyway, there’s decidedly little information about this aircraft online, which is a shame. Hofstetter claimed it could be assembled and surfing into the sky in minutes—that would’ve been great. Just get all those bolts on the rotor finger tight, get your buddy in his speedboat to pull you up to 20 mph and glide around in the air until something inevitably goes horribly wrong. It would be fun, at least once!

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