The gyrocopter was invented by the Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva. In 1921, he participated in a design competition to develop a bomber for the Spanish military. De la Cierva designed a three-engined aircraft, but during an early test flight, the bomber stalled and crashed. De la Cierva was troubled by the stall phenomenon and vowed to develop an aircraft that could fly safely at low airspeeds. The result was the first successful rotorcraft, which he named Autogiro in 1923.

In World War II, Germany pioneered a very small gyro glider rotor kite, the Focke-Achgelis Fa 330 "Bachstelze" (Water-wagtail), towed by U-boats to provide aerial surveillance.

The autogyro was used to calibrate the coastal radar stations during and after the Battle of Britain.

The Japanese Army developed the Kayaba Ka-1 Autogyro for reconnaissance, artillery-spotting, and anti-submarine uses. The craft was initially developed for use as an observation platform and for artillery spotting duties.

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