An Examination of Gyroplane Design & Marketing 1956 - 2007

When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail

It would be difficult to say that a company who built over seven hundred airframes and shipped them world wide had failed. How much effort does it take to get something like that off the ground? If the product was an Edsel, then I could see it.
The Bensen Aircraft Company invented the gyrocopter in 1955. It closed up shop only a year after the RAF1000 appeared in 1987. One can't help wonder if Mr. Bensen hadn't pushed out an enclosed cabin design, if the Bensen Aircraft Company wouldn't still be in business. Bensen had filled a market, for over thirty years, that begged for a reasonable priced flying machine. But then the market changed, people needed to have a CFI beside them as they learned to fly a gyroplane. The RAF2000 fit the marketplace and the rest was history.
RAF1000 above, RAF2000 below, 1995        

                  RAF1000, France

                  rotor bensen gyro
Twin rotor Bensen innovation


That "thing" that happened to the Bensen Aircraft Company, seemed to be knocking at the doors of Rotary Air Force Marketing in 2002, namely: "the innovator's dilemma".*1

The innovator's dilemma first came to haunt the computer storage industries. Creating the best data storage system and then let marketing pump out the same product for the next ten years, just wasn't going to work. Innovators were continually pushing the envelope of data storage and anyone who had created good storage discs were in for a shock. What was a good solution would be surpassed within the same year by better, leaner, faster systems.

It was a sure thing for Bensen Aircraft. Production of gyrocopters continued for many more years than they were entitled to. What a fantastic run. But innovators were always lurking just up the runway with ideas.

RAFM came into the arena with a fully enclosed gyroplane and a great design, that took gyroplane buyers and CFI's to the next level. Had the JT-5 from Finland, designed by one of Mr. Bensens' previous employees, Mr. Tervamaki, been faster with their marketing, then RAFM wouldn't have had a clear run of some fifteen years from 1988. The JT-5 design was sold to Sr. Magni of Italy way back in 1974. A very swift enclosed gyroplane design. Sr. Magni never really pursued it in North America till after the turn of the century.

But what was it that RAFM was unable to do to continue production? It's this writers opinion that RAFM did not rise to the challenge and present the marketplace with the RAF3000 gyroplane. This would not have been a three seat version of the RAF2000, but a completely new model. They certainly had the opportunity and lots of good input. But they were caught in the "innovators dilemma". They had a great product for the 90's but rested on a single design. They should have seized the turning of the millennia to introduce an newer airframe. They did everything right except take a lesson from the auto industry. You have to be designing new vehicles for five years down the road and you better get it right.

Having a third party lawsuit in another country, which you can't afford to defend, doesn't help either. see ->

Great Companies can fail because they do everything right. Good management, knowing they had a great product failed to recognise the challenge: their customer base was ready to move on. Steam cars and electric cars were great products in their day. Just as good or better than gasoline powered cars. But gasoline powered manufactures had learned the rules of innovation quicker and got so far ahead that the steam and electric car producers could never catch up. Even if they did, the marketplace was already accustomed to gasoline powered vehicles.

Regalpony logo image  

It should be noted, that Bensen didn't sit on his success with the "open frame" gyrocopter. It is well documented that he was always working on new designs for gyrocopters. But though he tried, few of them made it to market.

1987 - RAFM introduces RAF1000, single seat, enclosed cabin, gyroplane, in USA.
There are seven RAF1000's registered in Canada, under the name of Haseloh. One is registered under Haseloh as the manufacturer in 1989. RAFM began in Ponoka Alberta, over twenty years earlier, in Bernard Haseloh's machine shop. He was a gyroplane engineer from the early 1950's. Mr. Haseloh's daughter married Mr. Don Lafleur who became general manager of Rotary Air Force Marketing.

    Is the RAF2000 finished as a good gyroplane? The RAF2000 will continue on flying as long as people want it to. They will continue fly safely as long as their owners can get good flight training and understanding of the "Little Bird".    
Revisions: *1 Reference to: book by Clayton M. Christensen, Harvard Business School Press.