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The History of Helicopters

a diagram
Helicoptering Isn’t Necessarily a Modern Concept

Leonard DaVinci first sketched his “Aerial Screw”, considered to be the first conception of a vertical flying machine, in the 15th century.

What comes to mind when you think about helicopters?  While it may be a “hovering” parent, the slang uses of the word, like “chopper” & ”whirlybird”, or even the “helicopter dance” (yep, that’s a real thing), helicopters have been around since the first one took flight in 1939. Well before that, they were a long sought-after dream of many inventors. Consider Leonardo da Vinci, when he wrote “Once you have tasted flight, you will walk the earth with your eyes skyward.  For there you have been and there you long to return.”

His rudimentary 1483 drawing, titled “Aerial Screw”, was just the beginning, and was the predecessor to the modern-day flying machine. He actually based his belief that this idea could truly take flight on a toy made in China. This popular toy would rise into the air when children spun the central bamboo stick between their palms. And, now, look how far we’ve come!

The French believe the initial 20 seconds spent 1 foot off the ground in bicycle-maker/engineer Paul Cornu’s twin-rotor helicopter in 1907 marked the maiden flight of this remarkable machine. Several others after him continued to work on solving the many issues surrounding keeping the craft off the ground, with many failed attempts. But the first “recognized” practical helicopter, named the VS-300, took flight in Stratford, CT on September 14, 1939 and was designed by Igor Sikorsky. He had first begun constructing his model in Russia in 1912. His was the first concept to incorporate a single main rotor and tail rotor design. It became the standard for helicopter manufacturing across the world. One reason for its success was the use of all-metal rotor blades. Their stiffness allowed the helicopter to fly at speeds much faster than before.

The first flight across the United States was made in the Hiller 360 by Stanley Hiller, and occurred in 1949. And it all began with a dream, a drawing, and a little spinning toy from China!

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