Roton The Rotary Rocket – Half Rocket – Half Helicopter

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On vacation I had a chance to visit the Rotary Rockets Roton test vehicle at Mojave Air and Space Port, so, for everyone that’s never heard of this, here’s the story of how some engineers planned to revolutionize space launched by combining a helicopter and a rocket. And the helicopter part might have been the most realistic part of their plan.

The rocket is on public display at the Mojave Air and Space Port

  1. Thirst Fast

    2:25 how was it not counter-rotating in that test flight?

  2. Daniel Wilson

    Egads but the Roton in flight looks like a Monty Python bit about (particularly severe) trouble at the mill.

  3. Deltuhvee

    Now I can get more salt than I could ever need delivered from across the world.

  4. mongo moonbladder

    If only they’d stuck it on top of one of Elon’s creations….

  5. charris939

    I was so hopeful at the time that this was going to be a thing, and I had wondered where it had gone.

  6. Brad Brown

    Jesus Christ! It looks like a flying light house!!! Run for your kerbal lives!!!

  7. Marc

    Part of me wonders if that concept started as a bar room bet.

  8. Mohamad Ghotbizadeh

    I love that when people ask why don’t they just build some ridiculous rocket like that, and then there are these real companies that already went ahead and tried the idea decades ago.

  9. Nick Cullen

    It’s not too late for SpaceX to add helicopter blades to the tip of their Spaceship to help with the decent profile

  10. Nikolas Malechikos

    Hey! You’re in my backyard! (Lancaster, CA)

  11. Gary Jeffery

    My next Kerbal Pilot is going to be called Marti because of this!

  12. Dave Herbert

    I wish I could find fault with you Scott, but this is another superb video

  13. A. D

    *It Works In Kerbal Space Program*

  14. Winchester1979

    Idea: Falcon 9 first stage, this thing as second stage. Anyone think that would actually work?

  15. Sam C 95

    I can’t not see a flying lighthouse

  16. Several Fighters

    This feels so much like something they would come up with in the 50s when they were just throwing stuff at the wall. Great to see that our pioneers haven’t lost that weird streak.

  17. rajesh koothrappali

    Can I have that shirt?
    No seriously, I reckon you’re my size. Have a great holiday Scott.

  18. Jack Hagerty

    I was there for the rollout of the Roton ATV in 1999. I had been visiting the offices of RR (which were in Redwood City up in the Bay Area) to interview the designers and marketing people for “Spaceship Handbook” so I got an invitation. The Roton was one of several completely reusable launch systems being developed at the time that I was including in the last chapter. The Roton was, in fact, the last entry of the last chapter, closing out the whole century that had opened with Tsiolkovsky.
    BTW, Scott, the propellant tanks surrounded the payload/cockpit section. The fuel (kerosene) was a flat ovide tank between the engines and the payload while the LOX tank was a narrow conical frustum starting above the cockpit, all the way up to the rotors.

  19. epincion

    Amazing, all I can say is that test pilot Brian Binney had big balls.

  20. Marc McFarland

    This is one I actually did not know about already so thanks Scott for this video, I found it interesting and unique.

  21. DavidFMayerPhD

    Single State to Orbit Rocket is a LOUSY concept, since no serious payload capacity is possible with any known propellant combination.

  22. grovermatic

    Man, I really need to try this Kerbal game…

  23. Patrick Mahoney

    I thought this was going to be a April fools joke

  24. Light Science

    I like how you say “pitch” so much in this helicopter rocket video. :)

  25. Logan Newman

    I’ve seen footage of old pulse jet helicopters.

  26. Mr V

    This KSP rocket looks like it has infinite fuel enabled :D

  27. Simon Coles

    that is one of the most bizarre things ever to fly.

  28. Michał

    Im just loughing and watching haha this thing made my day !

  29. GorillaCanon

    What a fantastically Kerbalesque concept!

  30. Slyde InfinitySpinCasts

    The Pandoran produce must be really tasty kitch, actually deepy concernerned a bit protecting d’bowe for sure.Maybe the Resussian federation influence might might nor be a dying world in some conferance and a man of peaceful frustration in it’s similarity. Perhaps there will me more of this deal which JWT now tech can be giggly about. Be real though this exotic material is must be an engine evetually, Warum Gde coferance impossiblemseaur. critical spike insights show little though but hey it easy me to imagine what U.S.Socialist Realism and beauty so far. ALC’s of the forces in the movie really must have a clandestiny .
    Once again thanks for this excellent think, but no thing but the unmentionable astra humour and the spaceport is kinda already in hyperinflated mainframes in whatever summation is not sacred calf nerves that even old beliefs might erode the quick swister. Ypu have to be beutiful people too,moderating the vainity on perfect braid. You can make wherever the drop ship might kinda be like too emotionally expressed and ell it;s stimulus and therapeutical.Actually two large bodies astral solida is easily seen with the HST days.

  31. Gyudon Senpai

    No, I think you meant to say, “Twirl Safe”.

  32. mrCongoblast

    Love the song in the ending credits! What is it called?

  33. Panc4kes

    I deadass tried that before and failed :”(

  34. Nathan Dalton

    Doesn’t The Red Skull in Captain America escape using a rocket copter? Haha

  35. palmdaleJAWA

    What are you doing in my back yard! lol

  36. kh40yr

    Was down there when it was tested. Just miles away. Amazing that it did fly,,,AND they lived to tell about it. lol. So sketchy it’s off the charts.

  37. GeshronTyler1

    Some of the people from Roton went to found XCOR. That’s the company that built and flew the Rocket EZE, to develop their suborbital Lynx spaceplane. Alas, seems to have gone bankrupt.

  38. ThomasGrillo

    Thanks for the video. Would’ve been cool, had the Roton’s development been able to continue. Very cool.

  39. Eileen O'Byrne-Hudson

    I used to work out there at Mojave. Always cool to see the Roton getting some love. I knew an engineer or two who worked on it!

  40. Rob

    That’s a lot of Rs in the title. RRRRrrrrr!

  41. BaumeisterJac k

    Hey Scott Manley! I was watching the today’s launch of the soyuz ms-11.
    The vehicle is sheduled to dock to the ISS after just two orbits, and just until today, i thought the best they could do is 4 orbits. So how did they managed to do this? Or is this just because its unmaned, and they can be more agressive?

  42. Major Dakka

    Professor Sarigul-Klijn! He was my orbital mechanics prof and he’d tell us stories about piloting this crazy contraption.

  43. sietuuba

    The Roton is one of my favourite concepts too! Audacious and daring, with no shortage of detractors. Much like SpaceX’s sea landing concept until it became routine because they had enough time and funding to prove it…

  44. Rowdy Yates

    Holy Dalek! All of GB must have been terrified.

  45. David Urry

    This is a really interesting idea. You could feather the blades to slow down during atmospheric reentry and then feather them again as you approached the landing pad turning the rotational energy into lift. It’s awesome because it requires no fuel to do this controlled landing. Thought weight of the fuel vs weight of the blades, rotor and feathering mechanism would probably outweigh the fuel…except the system would (could) give you a very gentle landing….
    However, most people that have lost power in a helicopter and landed this way find it to be a wild ride:

  46. Cole Smith

    I love the fact that there is an aircraft registration clearly printed on the side of a ROTARY ROCKET.

  47. Kev Tan

    Hail Hydra!!!

  48. Lionheart Whitemane

    I didn’t know KSP’s graphics had gotten so awesome.

  49. Jo Veteran

    They probably thought it could lift off, on their hopes, and dreams. No fuel required.
    Honestly, I thought this was an April’s fool prank on your part, Scott.

  50. RWBHere

    Somehow I’d missed that one completely. Thought that it was only a comic book concept. Thanks Scott.

  51. zlozlozlo

    How would those rotor blades ever survive Max-Q during the launch?

  52. Onno Kok

    I forgot all about the Roton, I was followingnit back in the day.

  53. Thomas Charlton

    There’s more to the story. Gary Hudson’s original concept was to have rotor blades attached to an annular slip-ring around the base of the vehicle. The idea was to use centrifugal force as a means to pump fuel/oxidizer out to rocket engines at the rotor tips.

  54. Josh Kaufman

    Scott, Please make a video about the proposed commercial substitutions Jim Bridenstine purposed during the recent Town Hall meeting!

  55. Chris Odom

    I’ve really been hoping that you would make a video on this subject. You rock!

  56. AZZAMNO1

    wew it looks so weird while floating around.
    kinda scary.

  57. Mic_Glow

    4:50 it runs on future tech, micro fusion reactors or anti-matter.

  58. Jeffrey Van Dyke

    Reminds me of the Monarch’s ship from The Venture Brothers show. :-)

  59. Chris Brown

    I remember this rocket?  I could not believe at the time that they got any money at all.  The single stage to orbit was a non starter and still is.

  60. RC-1290

    3:56 I think we finally found out what Tommy Wiseau did before he became an actor/director. Dyed his hair to stay anonymous

  61. Максим Золотухин

    2:14 Американцы никогда не узнают тайну гравицапы и не смогут построить настоящий ПЕПЕЛАЦ
    In 1986, the Soviet Union was the sci-fi film Kin-dza-dza! And Roton is very similar to the main vehicle of the main characters: Pepelats in this film.
    After the film was released, the American colleague called to the director (Georgiy Daneliya) with a proposal to make special effects for his film. The American said that he was impressed with how Pepelats was flying. Danelia joked to him: “There are no special effects there. The military gave us “gravitsapa”. We put it on the scenery, and spaceship had flown. You should call to the Russian military. This is their design. What if I suddenly will tell you a secret information. I will be considered as a spy!”. And American director for real did it! Then the author of the film was called from the Ministry of Defense of the USSR and was shouted: “Are you fooling around?”

  62. Randy Campbell

    I was initially doubtful of the ROTON when I first heard of it, and had some discussions about and with the developers and supporters over on NSF. (Somewhere on there after this was all said and done I’ve got ‘permission’ to try and make it work if I get the chance :) ) Essentially the initial idea required that the vehicle break Mach 1 using the rotors on lift-off which in essence depended on rotors being able to go supersonic… Which itself was based on the Republic XF-84H “Thunderscreech” ( research program which you will note are NOT going to be very effective as ‘helicopter’ blades. So while the initial concept had merit, (and the math worked) the concept would have had issues with fulfilling the two very different requirements needed to complete the mission on ‘blade’ power alone. (Possible mind you but it requires vastly more complex blades)
    So a rocket engine was needed anyway so the rotors defaulted to a recovery role. Nothing against Gary et-al but at this point it was pretty obvious that requiring the design retain SSTO capability was a bit counter-intuitive and not a little bit disingenuous to the overall concept. Understandable though because SSTO has that draw and base assumptions around it. From that point on making it a Two-Stage or 1.5 stage to orbit vehicle makes a lot more sense both in concept and in utility.
    And that’s what I hope to see one day done with a highly reusable booster and a rocket-rotor recovery upper stage because much like the promise of the SpaceX Falcon/Dragon combination a rocket rotor ALSO has the capability of landing on just about any planet in the Solar System :)
    Thanks for the review

  63. William Tracy

    I honestly thought that the rocket nozzles were going to be angled to spin the whole thing, and that the propeller blades would provide additional lift during launch. I was very concerned when the video mentioned this thing being manned.

  64. Nick Danzinger

    Can you do a video just on solid rocket motors? I know the shuttle used them but I’m curious as to what other ones have been used historically.

  65. glen davidson

    Hmmm. I’m not getting notifications for your uploads???

  66. D R

    Tip jets would be unnecessary if well-programmed (timing!) auto rotation were used

  67. Thefirst Decade

    Rocket powered heli?
    Sounds german to me, I cannot remember it’s name tho!

  68. nobodynemoq

    That’s a real gem, thanks for showing it to us :) You’re the best!

  69. Paul Bowman

    Brian is a cool cat.. He also worked on the development of the F-18 Super Hornet. BTW, Great video, Thanks for showing the RR.

  70. Paul Rosebrock

    Gotta give credit for effort but really, can you imagine anything dopier?

  71. Hayden Thring

    What stopped the test heli rocket body rotating without a tail rotor?

  72. Yu Tiub

    But the real question ist..
    Was it NASAssery? :D

  73. Dave H

    “Patrolling the Mojave almost makes you wish for a nuclear winter.”
    Sorry, wrong game I know, but I just couldn’t resist.

  74. Rocketplumber

    I worked on the kerosene engines for the Roton, figured out how to control the wheel speed, and showed the ground crew how to move it around in the hangar. Those were some good times.

  75. rotolactor

    Kind of reminiscent of all the oddball prototypes in the 1950s(xf-85 Goblin, x-13 Vertijet, etc.)

  76. TheNasaDude

    The 21st century Don Quixote goes to space

  77. Andy Law

    Love the “Babylon 5” era CGI. Go Video Toasters! Yours, G’Kar & Londo

  78. Forlorn79

    Maybe if we make a wild looking helicopter landing system, nobody will notice our plan to build a never before achieved tech of an aerospike SSTO rocket! Kappa

  79. Evan Hyde

    “Two astronauts and a ham sandwich” the ham sandwich is very important

  80. Buck Starchaser

    It’s been there for a while without the nose falling off. That’s a promising design right there.
    Other than that, it looks purpose-built for bilking “investors”.

  81. Elias Bouhout

    *Double rotary Chinook Rocketcopter*
    Inb4 quadcopter rockets become the main way to travel to Mars and the moon

  82. Kenneth Ferland

    I wonder when the first company will pitch it’s rocket via a demo done with KSP?

  83. Russ Schnapp

    Actually, Classic Rotors (Ramona, CA) was supposed to have taken the Roton to its museum. As I heard the story, they raised money and paid expenses for a US Army helicopter to transport it from Mojave to Ramona. Unfortunately, the Army crew miscalculated the required length of the lift cable (Classic Rotors’ guys said they told them they’d need something like 200′, but the Army guys decided to use less than half that). When they tried to do the transport, things did not go well soon after lifting off. Payload and helicopter fought each other for control. As Classic Rotors tells the story, the Army pilot sweated bullets just getting the thing back on the ground in one piece at Mojave. They then told Classic Rotors that they were done trying to transport the Roton. If you visit the CR museum in Ramona (and I strongly recommend it), you will however find the actual rotor mechanism from the Roton, and I think they also have the blades stored away.

  84. JLS

    Half rocket, half helicopter.
    The real reason behind this combination was to launch the vehicle using the rocket engine and land it using the blades.

  85. JackSpeed 439

    Yep… screwed over the investors who invested the 30 million. Also in the promo video you had 2 astronauts boarding and they did what exactly? It’s just a satellite launch and these 2 guys just went for the ride or is the Roton so hard to fly that only 2 pilots can do it and not a 1990’s computer?
    SSTO is just a dead end with chemical rockets, now if we can develop new lift engine tech then maybe SSTO will be a REAL thing.

  86. Erik Bakker

    This reminds of the flying machine from Alfred. J Kwak. The one the professor flies :)

  87. Mulberryman

    I know this is kind of out of left field but i’m hoping that you’ll play Surviving Mars again when you get back home since it was over a year ago when you played it last and there have been a few major changes since then

  88. yexela

    Ну конечно как они без гравицапы-то пепелац собрались запускать в космос!?

  89. Valenorious

    Seems like this could work as the upper stage/return vehicle. Not lift off on it’s own to orbit. That should be obvious.
    Back in the end of the last century I was doing aeronautical engineering in college in the Netherlands, and had a friend in Redwood City. They had their head office there on the bay. I did contemplate if I could do my graduation project there. But life turned onto a different road then for me. And soon there after also for the company I guess.

  90. Abbreviated Reviews

    That think looks kind of terrifying while flying. Very ominous.

  91. Stephen Haenn

    I use to work for Piasecki Aircraft (helicopters) and this looks like something he would have tried. 🤣

  92. djAnakin

    I’m 45 minutes from Mojave and have to pass it every time we go to Lancaster or LA. I had no idea they had the Rotary Rocket there. Now we’re gonna stop next time!

  93. Temp Name

    Oooooohhhhh…. So this is where pepelats’ design came from in Kin-dza-dza!

  94. mongoose404

    Hello Scott! I think you should see a movie from Soviet Union called “Kin dza dza”. Aliens from another planet have vehicles looking almost the same as Roton. You may find a version with English subtitles in the net.
    Promise me to not fall asleep while watching this move ;-)

  95. Coobk165[GER]

    Half copter half rocket
    Full kerbal!

  96. Macky ASDF


  97. Jerry Rupprecht

    It’s not a helicopter, but it’s a hell-of-a-rocket, at least in concept

  98. monimoni0147

    You should’ve uploaded this yesterday on April first.

  99. Hexum064

    I helped (in some small part) build the Roton. Good times and a fun little company. Not great with money management. But the test take-offs were amazing to watch and really inspiring.
    P.S. I think Scott did a great job representing it here. No real out-of-context facts or misleading comments. Thanks Scott!

  100. injustice fellow

    This rocket is more KSP than KSP itself is…

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