First Helicopter Flies - History

First Helicopter Flies - History

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On November 13, 1907, Paul Cornu flew the first helicopter. It flew for only twenty seconds and got five feet up in the air. The copter had severe control and stability difficulties.

First Helicopter Flies - History

Flying has long been a dream of humankind. And surprisingly, for as long as we’ve dreamed of wings, and airplane style flight, we’ve also dreamed of rotor-based, or vertical flight. Centuries of study were poured into the subject of flight, but it wasn’t until a little over a century ago that the first helicopter lifted off from the Earth, and spun its way into history. Since that time, helicopter design has become incredibly refined, and helicopters now serve a variety of important purposes. But where did it all start? When was the first helicopter invented, and where, and by who? Well, turns out that’s kind of a tricky question.

A Brief History of Vertical Flight

The very earliest references we can find for vertical flight come from China, around 400 BC. Around that time, there are records of Chinese children playing with a bamboo helicopter-like toy. It worked by rolling a stick attached to a rotor and then releasing it. The spinning would generate lift, and when released, the toy sprung into the air. This toy, eventually introduced into Europe, became profoundly influential and early Western scientists based much of their research and attempts to design flying machines on this simple toy.

Then, in the early 1480s, Leonardo da Vinci created the design for what was described as an “aerial screw.” This is considered the next big step forward for vertical flight. Then in 1754, Russian Mikhail Lomonosov developed a model based off the Chinese toy but powered by a wound-up spring. For the next hundred years, other scientists and researchers began developing new and different models, including Frenchman Christian de Launoy and British inventor Sir George Cayley. In particular, Cayley’s experiments and models were very influential on future pioneers.

Then, in 1861, French inventor Gustave de Ponton d’Amecourt demonstrated a small steam-powered model. It failed to lift off, but was important for two reasons: Gustave coined the term “helicopter” in describing his model, and it marked the first use of aluminum, a then rather new and exciting metal. Then, in 1878, an exciting first. Italian Enrico Forlanni built an unmanned, steam powered model that was able to take off vertically, rise to a height of nearly 40 feet (12 meters) and hover for almost 20 seconds. Model, unmanned and brief, but it was the first helicopter to achieve flight.

Around the world, the different countries forged ahead, trying a variety of methods to power their craft. In 1887, Frenchman Gustave Trouve built and flew a tethered electrical model. In 1885, Thomas Edison began working on a helicopter powered by an internal combustion engine, which ultimately resulted in an explosion and failure. Slovak inventor Jan Bahyl was able to make an internal combustion engine work in his model, and in 1901, it was able to hover at a height of almost 2 feet. Four years later, a more refined version of his helicopter model reached 13 feet (4 meters) and was able to cover 4,900 feet (1,500 meters) of distance.

The First Manned Helicopter Flights

Then, French brothers Jacques and Louis Breguet entered the scene. They had developed Gyroplane No. 1, which may be the first known quadcopter. The exact date is unclear, but sometime between August 14th and September 29th of 1907, Gyroplane No. 1 lifted its pilot about 2 feet (.6 meters) into the air, hovering for roughly a minute. It was, however, an extremely unsteady aircraft, and required a man to hold it steady at each corner of the airframe. For this reason, the flights of Gyroplane No. 1 are considered to be the first manned helicopter flight, but not the first free or untethered flight.

That would happen very soon after that same year, on the 13th of November. French inventor Paul Cornu had built a helicopter that used two 20 foot (6 meters) counter rotating rotors driven by 24 hp engine. The Cornu helicopter lifted the inventor 1 foot (.3 meters) off the ground for almost 20 seconds. Though this was not as high or long as Gyroplane No. 1, it did not require assistance to remain steady, and so is considered the first truly free, manned helicopter flight.

Helicopter Designs Abound

The Wrights had achieved manned flight with the first fixed wing aircraft in December 1903, and in 1907, the Breguet brothers and Cornu had achieved the same with helicopter flight. The doors to the world of aviation were thrown wide open, and inventors, scientists, and enthusiasts poured in.

By the 1920s, Argentine Raul Pateras-Pescara de Castelluccio had successfully demonstrated cyclic pitch, or the ability to tilt the rotor hub forward a few degrees and allow the helicopter to move forward without the need for a separate propeller for pushing or pulling. He also was the first to successfully demonstrate the principle of autorotation, which was key to the safe landing of damaged helicopters.

Rare footage of a test flight of Pescara’s helicopter in 1922

In 1924, Frenchman Etienne Oehmichen set the first helicopter world record for distance recognized by the Federation Aeoronautique Internationale (FAI). He flew 1,181 feet (360 meters). This record was beaten a mere four days later by Pescara, who flew 2,415 feet (736 meters) in 4 minutes and 11 seconds, at a height of roughly 6 feet (1.8 meters).

In the US, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, and Russia, countless models were tested, flown, abandoned or improved on at an incredible rate. Then, in 1936, another first.

The Birth of the Helicopter Industry

In 1933, German Heinrich Focke was brought into the world of helicopter research. Inspired by autogyro designs, he set to work. He designed the world’s first practical, stable transverse twin rotor helicopter, and on June 26, 1936, it flew for the first time. The Focke-Wulf Fw 61 then broke all the previously established helicopter world records in 1937 and pushed the flight envelope for helicopters to new heights.

The world was paying attention. In the United States, Russian-born Igor Sikorsky competed fiercely with W. Lawrence LePage to produce the first helicopter for use in the US military. LePage was successful in acquiring the patent rights to design a helicopter in the same style of the Fw 61, so Sikorsky went with a more simple, single rotor design. LePage was also awarded a contract from the military after winning a military sponsored contest in early 1940, which also included designs by Sikorsky, and others.

The contract specified that delivery of a flying prototype must be accomplished by January 1941, and by July of 1940, the airframe for LePage’s model, the XR-1, was complete. However, they were unable to meet the prototype deadline, and due to this delay, Sikorsky was also able to receive funding for his model.

Finally, three months late, the XR-1 arrived. It resembled the Fw 61, with its two, three-bladed rotors, and was powered by a 450 hp Pratt and Whitney engine. It first flew on May 12th, 1941, though it was flown tethered in its early flights, and wasn’t flown flee until late June. Even then, it was flown within a few feet of the ground. This was because the XR-1 showed a variety of design and stability problems. Over the next four years, additional money and time were spent refining the design, and though it improved, it was never quite good enough. Finally, in April of 1945, the military canceled all their contracted with LePage and his company, after a US Air Force report concluded that the company was “inept” and employed a “hit and miss method” with their research and development.

The World’s First Helicopter to be Mass Produced

Sikorsky test flying the VS-300.

Meanwhile, Sikorsky and his team had been hard at work, and the result was the VS-300. It had a single, three bladed rotor powered by a 75 hp engine, and a single vertical tail rotor for anti-torque. It could also have floats attached to it for water use. The first tethered flight was conducted by Sikorsky on the 14th of September, 1939, followed on May 13th, 1940 by the first free flight. This made the VS-300 the first single lifting rotor helicopter in the US, the first successful helicopter to use single tail rotor configuration and the first practical amphibious helicopter. It was a monumental achievement.

The military contracted with Sikorsky, and using the VS-300 as a basis for the design, Sikorsky produced a new, refined model, the VS-316. Designated the XR-4 by the military, it made its first flight on January 13th, 1942, and was accepted into use by the military in May. The XR-4 broke all previous helicopter endurance, altitude and airspeed records, completing a 761 mile (1,225 km) cross-country flight setting a service ceiling of 12,000 feet (3,700 meters), and with an airspeed of nearly 90 mph (140km/h).

The military ordered 100 XR-4s, making it the world’s first helicopter that was mass produced on a large scale. All told, 131 XR-4s were produced before newer models replaced it.

One Final First Helicopter

While Sikorsky and LePage were working with the military on helicopters, Bell Aircraft was working on a civilian solution. They hired Arthur Young and were interested in building a helicopter based on a design by Young’s that promised simplicity and ease of use. The result was the Model 30 prototype, which was eventually refined into the Bell 47. On March 8th, 1946, it became the first helicopter certified for civilian use. For the next 30 years, it was considered the most popular helicopter model and more than 5,600 of these helicopters were produced.


So, which helicopter was first? Well, as you can see, depending on what you’re asking, there are a lot of firsts. The first helicopter model to fly, the first unmanned helicopter flight, the first manned helicopter flight, and so on. And these firsts, though they may be credited to a single person or machine, represent centuries of research, testing, and determination from scientists, inventors, and enthusiasts across the globe.

Since the arrival of these first helicopters, the designs have continued to be refined and adapted for use in a variety of industries and for a variety of purposes. Learning to fly these incredible machines requires training, skill and dedication, but it opens up a wide world of opportunity for those who dream about flying helicopters for a living. It is an exciting time to join the world of aviation, and as many pilots and aviators have expressed before, the best work view is the one from the cockpit.

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NASA First: Flies ‘Ingenuity’ Small Helicopter on Mars

The historic first powered flight of a human-made craft on another world occurred as NASA piloted its small “Ingenuity” helicopter on Mars, successfully making an aerial exploration of the red planet on Monday.

NASA historic first: Ingenuity helicopter flies over Mars

Launching at 12:31 AM EDT, NASA’s 4-pound “Ingenuity” helicopter made history as it lifted off on the red planet becoming the first powered flight by a human-made craft on a world beyond earth, reported. In the first test of the solar-powered chopper, it rose to its maximum of 10 feet above the dirt of the red planet and made a landing after approximately forty seconds in the air. From there, the craft transmitted data to NASA’s “Perseverance Rover” which then transferred the data to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena California.

“Ingenuity has performed its first flight, the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet!” said Håvard Grip, Ingenuity’s chief pilot, confirming the telemetry.

“Wright brothers moment”

“We can now say that human beings have flown a rotorcraft on another planet,” said Ingenuity project manager MiMi Aung. “We’ve been talking for so long about our ‘Wright Brothers moment’ on Mars, and here it is.”

Wilbur and Orville Wright invented, built, and flew the first powered, controlled aircraft flight on Earth on December 17, 1903, south of Kitty Hawk North Carolina.

About the helicopter

The ingenuity helicopter stands 19-inches tall and weighs roughly 4 pounds. It has a pair of twin, 4-foot-long carbon-fiber rotors. Its mission is not that of gathering data, as it carries no scientific instruments. However, it is equipped with a 13-mega pixel color imager and a black-and-white navigation camera. Its main mission is simply to prove that remote-controlled flight operation is possible. Ingenuity is also capable of a significant amount of autonomy in flight. The helicopter gathers its bearings during a flight in real-time by doing an analysis of the photos that are snapped by its navigational camera.

Challenges in the pioneering Martian flight

The Martian atmosphere is only 1 percent dense as that of Earth at sea level, the BBC reported. Therefore, there is less air for helicopter blades to push against. Mars has a lower gravitational pull, which is only 38 percent as strong as Earth’s.

Monday’s test of the Ingenuity helicopter was the first of more scheduled flights to occur on the red planet in the days ahead.

Up to four more flights are scheduled for Ingenuity during its month-long window. The next flights will take the small chopper higher and farther, soaring to 16.5 feet off the ground and traveling a maximum of 165 feet.

Flight Stories

The Korean War broke out in June 1950. By September, Captain Robert E. Wayne was already a highly experienced combat pilot. On the conflict’s first day, he downed two enemy aircraft in a single mission while flying a F-80 Shooting Star. Yet by August the overwhelming onslaught from the north had pushed US forces back to the final toehold in Korea. Somehow, the line held at Pusan. Capt. Wayne was reassigned to ground attack with the 35th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, flying F-51 Mustangs. In the late afternoon of September 4, 1950 — today in aviation history — while flying a strafing mission, Capt. Wayne was hit by ground fire. Pulling up to 1,100 feet, he realized that he couldn’t save the burning plane. Badly injured with burns on his leg and both arms, he bailed out and landed in a rice paddy five miles behind enemy lines, just north of Pohang. Even as he landed, enemy infantry were already closing in. There was nowhere to hide. Still, there was hope — the other 13 aircraft of his attack mission were orbiting overhead.

A Sikorsky H-5 helicopter and two Grumman SA-16s of the 3rd Rescue Squadron, Pusan, Korea, 1950. Photo Credit: National Museum of the USAF

Helicopters in Korea

The Korean War was the first major conflict when helicopters played a key role. Tactics and equipment were still rudimentary, yet the crews pressed ahead most of their missions were lifesaving shuttles transporting wounded soldiers for trauma care and surgery. The 3d ARS managed aerial rescue missions. The unit was equipped with both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, including the SB-17, SA-16, SB-29 and SC-47 aircraft as well as H-5 helicopters, the USAF designation for the Sikorsky S-51. In production for four years since 1946, the H-5 was a general-utility helicopter that could carry up to four men, three if it carried much fuel. Its operating weight was just 1,250 pounds. Thus, with a crew of a pilot and paramedic and full fuel, one wounded soldier could be ferried from evacuation points near the front lines to MASH hospitals in the rear, where the H-5s were usually forward deployed. Often the pilots overloaded their helicopters by taking two wounded soldiers — it was risky but it worked. Given the intensity of the conflict, the 3d ARS was flying rotations as fast as the H-5 could fly, which wasn’t much — just 60 kts.

By the beginning of September, the Pusan Perimeter was holding, even if the ground battles were desperate. Air power was critically needed to stop the enemy from penetrating the lines. Many planes and pilots were lost to ground fire as a result. If the pilots could get offshore before bailing out, the 3d ARS amphibious planes could pick them up. However, if they parachuted into enemy territory, there were few options — they had to evade and, with luck, work their way back to UN forces. The concept of a rescue by helicopter in a contested battle area had never been tried — but that was about to change.

The team that performed the rescue standing in front of the H-5 helicopter used in the rescue — from left, Captain Ray S. White (Capt. Wayne’s wing man), 1LT Paul van Boven, Cpl. John Fuentez. Photo Credit: Truman Library

That afternoon, the call to the 3d ARS was urgent — could the unit perform a rescue mission behind enemy lines? Since this was something never before attempted, the JOC Rescue Coordinator referred the matter directly to the commanding officer of the Rescue Service, Lt. Col. Richard T. Kight, for personal approval. Precious time passed before a launch was authorized. although the commander declined to direct the mission given that there were no protocols in place. Instead, trusting in his men, he ordered that a pilot could take the mission on his own initiative. It wasn’t long before an H-5 helicopter was airborne out of Pusan, piloted by 1LT Paul W. van Boven. In the back, the assigned paramedic was Corporal John Fuentez. For 1LT van Boven, the choice of whether to go was clear — a former B-17 who had been shot down and taken prisoner during WWII, he had no intention of letting another man experience a POW camp, or worse. Clearly, the situation was desperate and everyone knew with certainty that the North Koreans had no intention of taking the downed airman alive. They were out for revenge.

Yet the H-5 was ill-suited for combat rescue — it was unarmored and unarmed. Between the two men, they had a pistol and a carbine. The brief was that the downed pilot’s squadron was still orbiting overhead, strafing any enemy ground forces if they attempted to close in — that would be enough, they hoped. To avoid enemy ground fire, 1LT van Boven flew east and went offshore before turning north to fly beyond the Pusan Perimeter. Once at a point east of the downed pilot, he descended low to the water and turned toward the shore, accelerating to 60 kts maximum speed. Meanwhile, over the radio, he could hear that one by one, the F-51s were leaving, forced to return to base with low fuel. By the time he arrived, just four were left on station — it had been two hours since Capt. Wayne had been shot down. Nightfall was approaching and, if the mission wasn’t accomplished now, there was no way to save the wounded piloted.

An F-51 Mustang, laden with rockets, taxis out to the runway through mud and standing water during the Korean War, September 1951. Photo Credit: USAF

1LT van Boven took his H-5 helicopter in at top speed. Instantly, he spotted the column smoke from the still burning, downed F-51 Mustang. In that area, he searched but did not see the pilot, but then recognized that the other four F-51s were making strafing passes against enemy forces alongside an adjacent rice paddy. At that moment, he realized that the enemy was that very close. The wounded pilot was hiding in a rice paddy, hoping to avoid enemy fire, only barely kept safe by the continuous harassment of his squadron mates, who refused to give up. 1LT van Boven flew around the paddy and then approached from the north, hoping to surprise the enemy by arriving from an unexpected direction.

Seconds later, Capt. Wayne heard the rotors of the H-5 helicopter nearby — he looked south but saw nothing, then realized the sound was coming from behind him, from the north. He stood and turned and saw the helicopter hovering a distance away. It was now or never. He ripped open his flight suit and peeled off his white undershirt. Waving the shirt frantically, he ran toward the helicopter, in excruciating pain from his burns. From all around, the enemy troops opened fire. They too realized that it was now or never — they opened fire with everything they had. Bullets were soon striking the helicopter, which flew closer and set down on the edge of the rice paddy, ignoring the incoming small arms fire.

Amidst the developing chaos, from high above in his F-51, the eagle sharp eyes of Capt. Stan White spotted a lone North Korean soldier who had worked his way to within 100 yards of the downed pilot. As Capt. Wayne ran toward the helicopter, the North Korean soldier also leaped up and was running now toward the wounded pilot. At 50 yards, the soldier pulled out a revolver and took aim. Capt. White pointed his F-51 Mustang down and, despite the close proximity to the downed pilot and the rescue helicopter, made a blisteringly accurate strafing pass. Firing with all eight of the F-51’s .50 caliber machine guns, he took down the soldier in a hail of bullets.

The famous photograph by Capt. Edwards from his plane overhead. A circle has been added to highlight the location of the helicopter as 1LT van Boven hovers over the pilot below. Photo Credit: Truman Library

Also covering the rescue overhead, one of the other pilots, Capt. Edwards pulled out his personal camera, rolled his plane left as he flew overhead, and took a photo of the helicopter as it was hovering over the pilot — thus capturing a unique moment in history. As he snapped the photograph from above, down on the H-5, the paramedic, Cpl. Fuentez, reached out and grabbed Capt. Wayne as he staggered up to the helicopter. As he pulled the pilot into the H-5, 1LT van Boven pushed the stick forward and headed back toward the coastline as Cpl. Fuentez quickly reported on the damage to the helicopter — there were a lot of holes, but nothing critical had been hit. The flight out was covered by the remaining F-51s which made final strafing passes. They followed the helicopter until it made the safety of the Pusan Perimeter.

For the action, 1LT van Boven was awarded the Silver Star. By the end of the war, 3d ARS personnel would pioneer the concept of the Rescue Combat Air Patrol (ResCAP), in large part based on the rescue performed by 1LT van Boven and Cpl Fuentez that day. A ResCAP involved a flight of armed, propeller-driven fighter aircraft that would orbit the downed pilot, strafe enemy forces if they approached and suppress ground fire. Above it all, a T-6 nicknamed the “Mosquito” would orbit directing the rescue mission, while the helicopter would make a run to accomplish the pick-up the paramedic in the back would take the dangerous mission of recovering the downed pilot, sometimes even leaving the helicopter to bring him in. ResCAPs were so effective that 20 years later, largely unchanged, they were still in use in the Vietnam War, where they saved numerous USAF, USN and USMC pilots.

As for the paramedics in back, Cpl. Fuentez and others like him would pioneer a new field in the USAF — the Pararescueman or Para-Jumper (PJ) — today’s PJs are among the highest trained, most elite special forces personnel in the world, yet they owe a debt of gratitude to the incredible feats of Cpl John Fuentez and the others like him who lead the way at the beginning. Lt. Col. Richard T. Kight would subsequently author the Code of the Air Rescueman, which is still used today: “It is my duty as a Pararescueman to save lives and to aid the injured. I will be prepared at all times to perform my assigned duties quickly and efficiently, placing these duties before personal desires and comforts. These things I do, that others may live.”

One More Bit of Aviation History

The tiny H-5 helicopters were underpowered and slow, with a maximum speed of just 60 kts. Their maximum range was just 150 miles. They could pick up just one man. The highest altitude they could achieve was only 4,000 feet. Yet three months after this first rescue behind enemy lines, the 3d ARS concluded in a formal study that the H-5 was “the perfect aircraft for rescue work in areas where conventional aircraft cannot land. In the rice paddy-filled flat areas of the Far East, very little open area exists for landing light aircraft and the helicopter, which can land in a rice paddy or on a narrow road, can be utilized to a maximum.” Ultimately, the H-5 would be replaced by more powerful helicopters, first the H-19 and then, with the Vietnam War, by the famous Jolly Green Giants.

Today’s Aviation Trivia Question

Who was the most successful USAF rescue PJ in history?

From the Archives

First Aero-Medical Evacuation — read about how a volunteer pilot in the midst of World War I took a wounded Lance-Corporal from a distant spot in the midst of the Sinai desert to El Arish for medical care — the world’s first aero-medical evacuation flight! Read more! =>


Your article titled “First Helicopter Rescue” is incorrect as recall a helicopter rescue in Burma in 1945. Also, wasn’t there a USCG helicopter was sent via a C-54 to Canada (Labrador or Nflnd) to make a rescue of civilian passengers of a DC-4 circa 1947?

The meaning of first in this was that the events of the day were the first helicopter rescue from behind enemy lines, such as under fire, where the ResCAP concept was born. I believe I have not made that clear enough in the article, thus warranting your comment.

Such comments are always welcome — and much appreciated!

As further background, there were several other WWII helicopter rescue missions flown as well. Likewise, during the Korean War, the H-5s were making runs to and from the front line, sometimes even landing under fire to retrieve/rescue injured soldiers to take back to MASH units. They were doing that dozens of times a day — dust-offs, in modern terminology. Those types of missions are quite different from a ResCAP, very obviously.

Sorry for the confusion — my imprecise terminology inadvertently gave the wrong impression.

My father is John Fuentez, the paramedic in the article. It is very humbling to read such an article about my own father. The article does not mention the fact that he too received a Silver Star for this action. My father is in fact very healthy and active in his children’s lives.
I can’t wait to show the article to my sons. He has these same pictures in his scrap books, some showing him pointing to bullet holes in the H-5.

Thank you so much for the article.
John M. Fuentez

I just ran across this on the net and had to reply.

Thanks for getting the history correct! My fathers’ Korea exploits were captured in a privately published book about “Capt Bob’s” missions, including a personally written account of the day he was shot down and rescued behind enemy lines. This coincidentally happened on the day I was born Sept 4 1950. We were stationed at Itazuki, Japan and my mother was with child. I was born at the Osaka army hospital at 11:50 on September 4, right about the time or just before he was shot down and then rescued.

He had flown with his squadron the first ever wartime American jet missions in the F-80. Although he does not get credit for it, I believe he in fact did have the first American jet victory on June 25, 1950, on the first or second day of the Korean conflict.

This was the beginning of a long illustrious career in the early days of jet flight. My most treasured possession from my dad is his military log book where he logged over 8,000 hours, mostly in jets, across a 30 year military career.

He now rests comfortably at the West Point Academy Cemetery. Thanks for remembering this day in history and bringing revitalizing memory of his service.

Sincerely and with great respect,
Bob Wayne Jr.

P.S. I also have the picture with your father after the rescue.

From Randy O. Bowling — [email protected]

The first helicopter medevac was done in WWII using Sikorsky helicopters by the 10th AAF, 1st Air Commando Group in the China, Burma & India theatre. My Dad, CPL Outher F. Bowling of the72nd Airdrome Squadron, was a member of the 10th AAF, 1st Air Commando Group in CBI during WWII.

I’m searching for information on the air rescue in Korea my father Bernice “Bernie” Wayne Nearn was art of it in 1952-1953 he flew with Major Thomas F. Bailey I really someone out there remembers those names and can help me. My dad was part of the 35th Fighter-Interceptor wing and with the 40th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron he was there from December 1951 through December 1953

History of Air Medical and Air Ambulance Services in the United States

In 1926, the United States Army Air Corps used a converted airplane to transport patients from Nicaragua to an Army hospital in Panama, 150 miles away. The routine interhospital military use of airplanes1 dates to World War II, as does the first air evacuation of U.S. soldiers from the site of injury, which occurred in what was then Burma.

The routine medical evacuation mission of helicopters, however, evolved unintentionally during the Korean conflict in the 1950’s. Because roadways in the fighting front of Korea were often rough and indirect, they could not be relied upon for the rapid and gentle evacuation of troops to the field surgical units. Instead, helicopters on other missions would be rerouted to pick up the critically wounded and fly them quickly and smoothly, often in time to benefit from life- or limb-saving surgical care.

The Army, seeing this advantage over ground transportation, rapidly began testing dedicated medical helicopters. During the course of the war, over 22,000 troops were evacuated by helicopter. It is felt that rapid, smooth field evacuation and the specialized skills offered by surgeons seeing hundreds of patients earlier at the field hospitals contributed to a reduced mortality rate for wounded, hospitalized soldiers, compared with previous wars.

The Viet Nam conflict brought further sophistication to the same general concept: fast and smooth air evacuation of the critically injured to field surgery for stabilization. The aircraft changed, as did medical capabilities. Field emergency care and rapid evacuation for over 800,000 troops reduced the war-long mortality even further.

A theme from WWI through Viet Nam began to repeat: stabilize the critically wounded soldier in the field, provide advanced care enroute, and get the patient to a trauma-qualified surgeon in less than an hour, and the extent and impact of injury, including the likelihood of death, can be reduced.

In 1966, the landmark National Academy of Science white paper Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society underscored the profound impact of death and disability caused by injury, particularly car crashes. It also detailed a lack of coordinated response to injury, including the observation that “Helicopter ambulances have not been adapted to civilian peacetime needs.”

The National Academy of Science white paper contributed substantially to the development of the modern EMS system and its trauma care subsystem. Its impact was compounded by the influence of returning military units, and military medical helicopter pilots discharged to law enforcement and other public safety flying roles. These led to the dual-purpose adaptation of military and public safety helicopters to the evacuation of injured civilians, such as the Military Assistance to Safety & Traffic (MAST) program, established in 1970, and the Maryland State Police aviation program which in March, 1970, became “the first civilian agency to transport a critically injured trauma patient by helicopter.”

The first civilian hospital-based medical helicopter service was established in 1972 at St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver, Colorado. By 1980, some 32 helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) programs with 39 helicopters were flying more than 17,000 patients a year. By 1990, this grew to 174 services with 231 helicopters flying nearly 160,000 patients. Ten years later, 231 helicopter services with 400 aircraft were flying over 203,000 patients each year.10 By 2005, 272 services operating 753 rotor-wing (helicopter) and 150 dedicated fixed wing aircraft were in operation. There are now approximately a half-million helicopter and fixed wing transports each year.

Historically, the typical helicopter EMS service has been operated by or affiliated with a hospital with one or two aircraft. In the past decade, many of these services have become independent, community-based resources with hospital affiliations. The rapid growth of AMS, particularly in the late 1980’s and again in the last 5 years, can be attributed to changes in the overall health care system. The need to quickly bring critically injured patients to surgical care brought AMS (mainly medical helicopters) into existence. In more recent years, the closure of rural hospitals because of reimbursement and other financial pressures, or their conversion to Critical Access Hospitals (CAH’s) with reduced services and fewer specialist physicians, has created large geographical gaps in the availability of specialized surgical resources. Unfortunately, these rural areas are also the location of the most serious car crashes and are where 60% of fatal crashes in the U.S. occur, a rate nearly double that of similar accidents in suburban or urban areas.

The use of aircraft with skilled medical crews helps to close these gaps and improves access to specialist care. As more time-dependent medical treatments (e.g. “clot-busting” drugs, angioplasty, or surgery for heart attacks or strokes) have been shown to improve patient outcomes, the absence of specialty care and physicians in these same areas continues to contribute to the increased use of aircraft to get patients rapidly to these life saving treatments at specialty hospitals.

Research in the early 1970’s reinforced the notion held by wartime physicians that, for the critically injured patient, surgical intervention in the first hour after injury was crucial. The notion of this “Golden Hour” has survived, with minor variation, to the present day. With this influence, the Accidental Death and Disability…white paper, and the fresh experience of military medical helicopter success in this arena, it is understandable that civilian HEMS adopted trauma as its predominant mission in its early years.

First Helicopter Flies - History

sam 34 Silver Wings
Posts: 58 Joined: Jul 2013

First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by sam 34 » Sun Nov 27 2016, 12:17

flyboy111111 Silver Wings
Posts: 83 Joined: Oct 2012

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by flyboy111111 » Sun Nov 27 2016, 21:40

Oneplaneboy New Member
Posts: 6 Joined: Apr 2011

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by Oneplaneboy » Sun Nov 27 2016, 22:40

Yankee 2nd Dan
Posts: 338 Joined: Aug 2008

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by Yankee » Mon Nov 28 2016, 03:26

found on the RAAF website:

The RAAF purchased a Sikorsky helicopter under Order USA No. R5F S5-5127. This was the first helicopter ordered for the RAAF, although experiments had been carried out during World War II with a Cierva C30A Autogiro, VH-USR, at RAAF Base Laverton.

The Sikorsky S51, as it became known in RAAF service, was received at No 1 Aircraft Depot (1AD) on 3 October 1947

Twistgrip 4th Dan
Posts: 1130 Joined: Sep 2006

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by Twistgrip » Mon Nov 28 2016, 07:31

As Yankees said, delivered to RAAF 1947-50

sam 34 Silver Wings
Posts: 58 Joined: Jul 2013

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by sam 34 » Mon Nov 28 2016, 11:27

godfather007 1st Dan
Posts: 298 Joined: Apr 2008

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by godfather007 » Wed Nov 30 2016, 10:34

Hi Sam.
Possibly Bob Ansett? (Legend)
Bristol 171 Sycamore. (Happy to be corrected)
I had the pleasure of flying his old jetbox a few times years ago that I still believe is AW.
The 171 is far from sexy, but is still a revolutionary bit of gear.
Love the history of what we get to do.
I may have to hook the old VHS up one day and watch some old videos from the past and re-live the dream all over again.

tinman Silver Wings
Posts: 37 Joined: Jun 2012

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by tinman » Wed Nov 30 2016, 21:04

AFAIK the only Sycamore still airworthy is this one:

Twistgrip 4th Dan
Posts: 1130 Joined: Sep 2006

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by Twistgrip » Wed Nov 30 2016, 22:45

That Sycamore is just stunning. wow

sam 34 Silver Wings
Posts: 58 Joined: Jul 2013

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by sam 34 » Thu Dec 1 2016, 01:56

godfather007 wrote: Hi Sam.
Possibly Bob Ansett? (Legend)
Bristol 171 Sycamore. (Happy to be corrected)
I had the pleasure of flying his old jetbox a few times years ago that I still believe is AW.
The 171 is far from sexy, but is still a revolutionary bit of gear.
Love the history of what we get to do.
I may have to hook the old VHS up one day and watch some old videos from the past and re-live the dream all over again.

Should load thoes VHSs on to YouTube, keep the history form getting lost.

jkeegle New Member
Posts: 1 Joined: Jun 2018

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by jkeegle » Fri Jun 8 2018, 02:41

Helical Silver Wings
Posts: 44 Joined: Apr 2010

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by Helical » Sat Jun 9 2018, 14:11

The Australian Army almost got their first, from Army aviation in Australia 1970-2015

"The need for Army’s own organic aviation assets was recognised as early as 1943. Army
developed a proposal to acquire helicopters to assist with engineer reconnaissance. The proposal
progressed to an advanced stage before the Defence committee of the day decided that RAAF
should take charge. RAAF pilots were trained and six Sikorsky R-5 helicopters were ordered,
but the war ended before they were delivered and the order was cancelled. "

Eric Hunt 3rd Dan
Posts: 914 Joined: Sep 2006

Re: First helicopter to fly in Australia history

Post by Eric Hunt » Sun Jun 10 2018, 02:17

OK, I will make you happy and correct you:

It was REG Ansett, not Bob. Bob got into Budget rental cars when he came out here from the US. Lives up here on the sunny coast.

The Grey Ghost New Member
Posts: 1 Joined: Aug 2019

NASA’s Mars helicopter Ingenuity becomes the first to fly on another planet

This illustration made available by NASA depicts the Ingenuity Mars helicopter on the red planet’s surface. The small copter successfully completed its first flight on Mars on April 19, 2021. Associated Press

Early Monday morning, NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter completed its maiden voyage on Mars, rising about 10 feet into the air above the red planet’s surface. It was the first controlled flight ever performed on another planet.

Reuters reports that mission operators at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California burst into applause as they received the data from Mars confirming that the four-pound copter had completed its April 19 flight as planned.

It happened. Today our #MarsHelicopter proved that powered, controlled flight from the surface of another planet is possible. It takes a little ingenuity, perseverance, and spirit to make that opportunity a reality:

— NASA (@NASA) April 19, 2021

The event has been heralded as a “Wright brothers moment,” The Associated Press reports, a fitting description given that the small aircraft is carrying a piece of fabric from the Wright Flyer, the Wright brothers’ plane that flew for the first time over a century ago.

A piece of the Wright brothers’ first airplane is on NASA’s Mars chopper

According to a release published by NASA on April 19, the Ingenuity copter ascended to its coordinated maximum altitude of 10 feet and steadily hovered there for 30 seconds. The craft then descended back on to the planet’s surface, touching back down approximately 39 seconds after takeoff. You can watch the full flight here:

Today I witnessed history. Now you can too. You’re watching video of the #MarsHelicopter’s first flight – a true “Wright brothers” moment.

Watch it all unfold:
✅ Spin-up
✅ Takeoff
✅ Hover
✅ Turn
✅ Landing

CNN reports that Ingenuity was previously scheduled to take its maiden flight on April 11, but those plans changed when a sequencing issue was discovered as the aircraft was undergoing its preflight checks. After a few tweaks, the operations team at JPL received data on April 16 showing the aircraft successfully completed its rapid spin test and was ready to fly.

“We don’t know exactly where Ingenuity will lead us, but today’s results indicate the sky — at least on Mars — may not be the limit,” NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said (via NASA).

The small aircraft has up to four more test flights scheduled over the next several days that will push it to higher altitudes and more far-ranging distances, CBS News reports.

The site adds that after those flights conclude, the Perseverance rover — the craft that transported the Ingenuity helicopter and is recording its flights — will abandon the copter to begin its primary mission, looking for signs of ancient microbial life in dried lakebed deposits of Mars’ Jezero Crater.

The Early History of Flight

The Chinese’s discovery of a kite that could fly in the air started humans thinking about flying. Kites were used by the Chinese in religious ceremonies. They built many colorful kites for fun, also. More sophisticated kites were used to test weather conditions. Kites have been important to the invention of flight as they were the forerunner to balloons and gliders.

Humans Try to Fly like Birds

For many centuries, humans have tried to fly just like the birds and have studied the flight of winged creatures. Wings made of feathers or light weight wood have been attached to arms to test their ability to fly. The results were often disastrous as the muscles of the human arms are not like a birds and cannot move with the strength of a bird.

Hero and the Aeolipile

The ancient Greek engineer, Hero of Alexandria, worked with air pressure and steam to create sources of power. One experiment that he developed was the aeolipile, which used jets of steam to create rotary motion.

To do this, Hero mounted a sphere on top of a water kettle. A fire below the kettle turned the water into steam, and the gas traveled through pipes to the sphere. Two L-shaped tubes on opposite sides of the sphere allowed the gas to escape, which gave a thrust to the sphere that caused it to rotate. The importance of the aeolipile is that it marks the start of engine created movement will later prove essential in the history of flight.

1485 Leonardo da Vinci’s Ornithopter and the Study of Flight.

Leonardo da Vinci made the first real studies of flight in the 1480's. He had over 100 drawings that illustrated his theories on bird and mechanical flight. The drawings illustrated the wings and tails of birds, ideas for man carrying machines and devices for the testing of wings.

His Ornithopter flying machine was never actually created. It was a design that Leonardo da Vinci created to show how man could fly. The modern day helicopter is based on this concept. Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks on flight were re-examined in the 19th century by aviation pioneers.

1783 - Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier and The Flight of the First Hot Air Balloon

Two brothers, Joseph Michel and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier, were inventors of the first hot air balloon. They used the smoke from a fire to blow hot air into a silk bag. The silk bag was attached to a basket. The hot air then rose and allowed the balloon to be lighter than air.

In 1783, the first passengers in the colorful balloon were a sheep, rooster and duck. It climbed to a height of about 6,000 feet and traveled more than one mile. After this initial success, the brothers began to send men up in hot air balloons. The first manned hot air balloon flight was carried out on November 21, 1783 and the passengers were Jean-Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent.

1799-1850's - George Cayley’s Gliders

Sir George Cayley is considered the father of aerodynamics. Cayley experimented with wing design, distinguished between lift and drag and formulated the concepts of vertical tail surfaces, steering rudders, rear elevators and air screws. He also designed many different versions of gliders that used the movements of the body for control. A young boy, whose name is not known, was the first to fly one of Cayley's gliders. It was the first glider capable of carrying a human.

For over 50 years, George Cayley made improvements to his gliders. Cayley changed the shape of the wings so that the air would flow over the wings correctly. He also designed a tail for the gliders to help with the stability. He then tried a biplane design to add strength to the glider. Additionally, Cayley recognized that there would be a need for machine power if the flight was to be in the air for a long time.


Since around 400 BC, the Chinese had a flying top that was used as a children's toy. The flying top was made from bamboo and used the same method of spinning wings to fly up in the air. Later flying tops were made of feathers tied to a stick. Leonardo da Vinci first thought of a helicopter flown by a man in 1490, and drew pictures of his ideas. It was hundreds of years later (in the early 20th century) before anyone built one that could really fly. The first practical helicopters were built by Frenchman Louis Breguet in 1935 and by German Henrich Focke in 1936. A Russian immigrant, Igor Sikorsky, built and perfected the first practical helicopter in America in 1939.

Helicopters are especially useful when there are disasters when infrastructure is damaged. Food packets, water, medicines and clothes are dropped from the air to people on the ground who cannot be reached by road. When people are injured, helicopters can carry them to hospitals faster than an ambulance on the road.

Helicopters are also used by the military, because they can move troops and equipment to places an airplane cannot take them. Attack helicopters act as attack aircraft carrying and shooting guns and missiles.

The Helicopter: A Hundred Years of Hovering

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories.

To revist this article, visit My Profile, then View saved stories.

credit Image: Tomomarusan

One hundred years ago Frenchman Paul Cornu piloted a twin-rotor helicopter of his own design, and rose about one foot (0.3 meter) off the ground. He hovered for about 20 seconds. Or he didn’t. A century after that maiden flight, some engineers and historians question whether Cornu’s craft could have taken wing as he described it.But despite the skepticism, most helicopter historians – especially in France – still mark the first helicopter flight on Nov. 13, 1907. That makes this centennial the perfect time to take a look back at the long history of stationary flight, from its roots in ancient China, to concept vehicles being touted as the flying cars of the future.Left: Circa 400 B.C., Chinese Bamboo Helicopters For many Westerners, the myth of Icarus, the boy who flew too close to the sun on manmade wings, represents the dreams and the dangers of flight. But a century before the earliest mentions of Icarus in ancient Greece, Chinese children were already playing with kites and spinning bamboo propellers. While the kites had religious significance, and rockets became favored by the military, the flying propellers remained mainly toys. Children sent them aloft by spinning the central stick between their palms.

credit Image: Manuscript B, folio 83 v., Courtesy of Biblioteca Ambrosiana

1483 to 1486, Leonardo da Vinci’s Vite Aerea — the Aerial Screw Trade from the Far East resulted in the Chinese toys reaching Europe in the early Renaissance, likely inspiring Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) to create a drawing called the Aerial Screw. "I believe that if this screw device is well-manufactured, that is, if it is made of linen cloth, the pores of which have been closed with starch, and if the device is promptly reversed, the screw will engage its gear when in the air and it will rise up on high," da Vinci wrote in a note next to the drawing, according to the National Museum of Science and Technology in Milan, Italy.

credit Image: IBM Corporate Archives
1483 to 1486, Aerial Screw is Flightless =
description Leonardo da Vinci drew a number of designs for flying machines, including ornithopters, which mimic bird flight, and the Aerial Screw. The designs assumed, incorrectly, that one or more human pilots could generate enough power to lift the machine into the sky. While the design indicates that four men could turn the screw using a pumping action, the machines would never have been able to generate enough lift to get off the ground, according to experts.
credit Image: Aircraft Development Lab

July 1754, Mikhail Lomonosov’s Aerodynamic Three centuries passed before another major milestone in vertical flight appeared. Looking for a way to loft meteorological instruments into the air, noted Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov designed a model that used two propellers rotating in opposite directions on the same axis. The coaxial design offsets the torque created by a single propeller – a situation that would have caused the device to spin in the opposite direction of the propeller blade. Lomonosov demonstrated a model powered by a clock spring to the Russian Academy of Sciences in July 1754. Questions remain whether the device managed to lift itself during the demonstration or whether it was supported by a string.

1784, Launoy and Bienvenu Recreate Helicopter Toy =
description Naturalist Christian de Launoy and his mechanic Bienvenu, about whom very little is known, presented a coaxial model of a simple helicopter powered by the tension in a bow. "When the bow has been bent by winding the cord, and the axle placed in the desired direction of height – say vertically, for instance – the machine is released," the pair told the French Academy of Sciences in 1784."The unbending bow rotates rapidly, the upper wings one way and the lower wings the other way, these wings being arranged so that the horizontal percussions of the air neutralize each other, and the vertical percussions combine to raise the machine. It therefore rises and falls back afterward from its own weight." Image: O. Chanute, Progress in Flying Machines
credit Image: Wikipedia
1799, Sir George Cayley, Father of Aviation, designs glider =
description While reports of gliders appeared in China (fifth century B.C.) and Moorish Spain (A.D. 875 A.D.), Cayley is widely recognized for discovering the four principle forces of flight – weight, lift, drag and thrust – and their relationship. The baronet also designed a familiar-looking airplane – consisting of a single wing, rear stabilizers and a vertical fin. He used the design to create the first glider to have a well-documented manned flight. A full-scale model of the glider – or "governable parachute," as it was called – carried one of Cayley’s employees aloft in 1853.

credit Image: All the World’s Rotorcraft
1843, Cayley’s "Aerial Carriage" Sir George Cayley searched for a way to propel his heavier-than-air vehicles. He tried to create a rudimentary engine fueled with gunpowder, but the invention did not work reliably. He decided to design around his lack of success with engine power by revisiting da Vinci’s ideas of a human-powered machines. He came up with the concept of the "Aerial Carriage" in 1843, consisting of four umbrella-like propellers that would rotate for lift, but it never successfully hovered or flew.

credit Image: Famille d’Amécourt
1863, Call them "Helicopteres" One vertical-flight enthusiast, Gustave Vicomte de Ponton d’Amécourt, designed a model flying machine using coaxial propellers and a coiled spring for propulsion. While that model could fly, another version using a steam engine had failed. Ponton d’Amecourt called his machines "helicopteres," a word derived from the Greek adjective for "spiral" and the noun "pteron," meaning "wing." Ponton d’Amecourt and his group of enthusiasts inspired Jules Verne to add helicopters to his stories.

credit Image: Stephen Pitcairn, Pitcairn Aircraft Company
1880, Thomas Alva Edison Fails With Helicopters =
description Inventors who focused on helicopters during the latter half of the 19th century were stymied by the lack of powerful, but lightweight, engines to turn their helicopters’ rotors. Among the early engineers, Thomas Edison was the first American to attempt to further the study of helicopters by focusing on the engines. The inventor – known for successfully creating the long-lasting light bulb and the phonograph – tried to power his models with an early internal-combustion engine that used guncotton for fuel, but an explosion in his lab convinced him to switch to an electric engine. He concluded, however, that the design required higher-performing rotors. Here, Edison (left) stands with test pilot James G. Ray in 1930, in front of an autogyro created by Pitcairn Aircraft.
credit Image: Courtesy of Andrew Nash
1886, Jules Verne Depicts the Albatross Flying Ship =
description The push to create heavier-than-air vehicles caught the imagination of many 19th-century citizens, among them the famous writer Jules Verne. In his book, Robur-le-Conquérant (or Robur, the Conqueror), published in 1886, Verne envisioned a flying ship named the Albatross that could fly through the air by using 37 helicopter-like propellers. Robur uses the ship to launch attacks against his enemies.
1903, Wright Brothers Fly at Kitty Hawk =
description Wilbur and Orville Wright designed and built the first airplane to attain powered flight, four years before the first helicopter inventors could claim such a feat for vertical flight. The self-trained engineers steadily improved the design, from a kite in 1899 to three gliders and then three powered airplanes in 1903, 1904 and 1905. By their final flight, they had improved the design to the point that extended flights, fully controlled by the pilot, were possible.
credit Image: FlyingBike

August 1907, The Bréguet-Richet Gyroplane No. 1 Brothers Louis and Jacques Bréguet began work on their version of a helicopter in 1905 under the tutelage of Professor Charles Richet. In late summer 1907 – sources vary on whether it was Aug. 24 or Sept. 29 – the machine achieved its first vertical ascent, hovering off the ground for two minutes. However, the craft – christened Gyroplane No. 1 – needed four men to steady it, as the primitive helicopter lacked any way to control its flight. The craft had a 45-horsepower engine, just powerful enough to hover.

1907, Paul Cornu, inventor and engineer =
description Like the Wright Brothers, Paul Cornu was a bicycle maker and engineer. Born in 1881 in Glos-la-Ferrière, France, to a family of 13 children, Cornu had an interest in inventing and drawing early in life. He worked with his father in the family transport company, but because of Cornu’s interests, the business eventually transitioned to bicycle design and repair. In the early 1900s, Cornu had his eye on winning the Deutsch-Archdeacon award – the X Prize of its day – a purse of 50,000 francs funded by two Parisians for the first heavier-than-air vehicle to complete a 1-kilometer circuit. While other inventors looked to win the prize with a primitive airplane, Cornu decided to focus on creating a helicopter capable of the flight. Yet he failed to develop a workable craft in time – the award was won on Jan. 13, 1908, by Henri Farman using one of the earliest airplanes. Cornu died on June 6, 1944, when his house was inadvertently bombed by Allied forces on D-Day.Photo: Getty Images
credit Photo: Getty Images
1907, Paul Cornu: First to Hover? =
description Using 100 francs borrowed from friends, Cornu built a life-sized version of a 25-pound helicopter model that he successfully flew in 1906. On Nov. 13, 1907, Cornu’s twin-rotor craft flew for about 20 seconds, rising about one foot (0.3 meter) off the ground. The vehicle’s rotors were mounted outrigger-style on either side of the steel-frame-and-wire contraption. A 24-horsepower engine powered the propellers. Cornu’s helicopter had no effective way to control its flight, a fact that led engineers to abandon the design after a few flights. Whether Cornu’s helicopter flew as described is now doubted by many helicopter historians. An

leishman/Aero/Cornu.pdf engineering analysis (.pdf) of Cornu’s helicopter has concluded that the machine could never have flown, even taking into account so-called ground effects, which give low-hovering craft an extra boost. "There is a discrepancy between what he claimed to have done and what was technically possible," says Roger Connor, curator of the vertical-flight collection at the Smithsonian Institution and the chair of the American Helicopter Society’s history committee.
1908, First manned flight in the United States =
description Emile Berliner, who created the gramophone (disc-record player) and founded the Victor Talking Machine Co., was also an avid helicopter inventor. Berliner created a 36-horsepower engine and used two of them on a platform designed by John Newton Williams. The craft reportedly lifted both men about 3 feet off the ground, but likely had to be steadied. Berliner, went on to build several other helicopters, and also suggested the use of an auxiliary tail rotor – a standard feature of helicopters today – to stabilize flight. Image:

ekatz/scientists/electrochemists.htm Evgeny Katz’s History of Science
1920s, Juan de la Cierva =
description Born in 1895, Juan de la Cierva is credited with pioneering many of the necessary systems for controllable helicopter flight. In 1920, the 25-year-old Spanish engineer started work on a strange mechanical manticore: an airplane with the wings replaced by a non-powered propeller. By 1923, his latest aircraft – called Autogiro No. 4 – flew a 4-kilometer circuit around Madrid. Ironically, the Spanish engineer questioned whether helicopters could ever be successful, as he believed they were too complicated to fly reliably. De la Cierva died on Dec. 9, 1936, when his plane crashed on takeoff from London. Photo: Bruce H. Charnov, From Autogiro to Gyroplane: The Amazing Survival of an Aviation Technology

1923, de la Cierva’s flight As helicopter historians begin to question the veracity of Paul Cornu’s achievement in 1907, de la Cierva’s flights in 1923 are increasingly considered to be the start of the helicopter era. Despite the strange configuration of the autogiro, de la Cierva pioneered the use of hinged rotor blades to stop the vehicle from tilting, as well as creating workable controls for lateral motion and pitch and yaw. On Jan. 17, 1923, de la Cierva took his first flight in Autogiro No. 4, considered to be the first controlled helicopter flight. Photo: Bruce H. Charnov, From Autogiro to Gyroplane: The Amazing Survival of an Aviation Technology

credit Photo: College Park Aviation Museum
1924, Berliner Helicopter, Model No. 5 =
description Following Emile Berliner’s nervous breakdown in 1914, son Henry Berliner continued to work on helicopters. The Berliners created a coaxial helicopter in 1920 that managed to move forward several yards, representing the first manned, controlled helicopter flight in the United States. In 1924, the pair’s research culminated in a hybrid helicopter that used the fuselage of a Neuport 23 biplane and wing-mounted rotors to create a vehicle that could move at about 40 mph, rise to an altitude of 15 feet and turn with a radius of 150 feet. The craft was demonstrated in front of Navy officials and the press on Feb. 24, 1924.
credit Photo: Stahlkocher
1937, Heinrich Focke and the Fa-61 =
description Born in Bremen, Germany, in 1890, Heinrich Focke in 1923 founded the Focke-Wulf airplane company, which manufactured most of Germany’s aircraft during World War II. He also began working on helicopters in the 1930s. After being ousted from his previous company by the shareholders, Focke, along with German engineer Gerd Achgelis, set up another company, Focke-Achgelis, which focused on helicopters. Together, they created an aircraft – the Fa-61, also known as the Focke-Wulf 61 – that looked superficially like Cierva’s autogiro, but had powered rotors rather than a propeller that rotated with the relative wind created by forward motion. The Nazi propaganda machine heralded the Fa-61 as proof of German air superiority, and footage of the helicopter flying around a sports stadium proved to the world that the Germans did have a lead in the technology. Focke died in 1979.
credit Photo: Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum
Igor Sikorsky, Father of Helicopters =
description Born in Kiev, Russia (now Ukraine) on May 25, 1889, Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky became interested in flight at an early age. Both parents were physicians, giving Sikorsky the scientific grounding that he needed to develop aircraft ideas inspired by Leonardo da Vinci and Jules Verne. At age 12, he built his first flying model of a helicopter. After studying at technical institutions in Russia and France, Sikorksy worked on early helicopter designs but gave up on vertical flight in 1909. He returned to Russia to work on airplanes, creating several models. His first, the S-5, flew in 1911. After being ousted from Russia following the Bolshevik Revolution, Sikorsky eventually immigrated to America in 1919. It took him four years to raise enough money to start his own aircraft company, which created several successful airplane models. In 1931, he again started working on helicopter designs, pioneering many improvements to rotorcraft, including the single rotor present on almost all of today’s helicopters. He often referred to the helicopter as the "automobile of the future." He died Oct. 26, 1972.
credit Image: Hiller Aviation Museum
September 1939, Sikorsky’s VS-300 =
description In 1938, United Aircraft – which had bought Sikorsky’s company – granted him permission to create an experimental helicopter design. Eschewing the coaxial rotors that had been used up to that point, Sikorsky used a single three-bladed main rotor and a two-bladed vertical rotor on the tail to offset torque. On Sept. 14, 1939, Sikorsky himself took the prototype on its first flight. The helicopter, known as the VS-300, hovered several times, but was tethered to the ground. Originally dubbed "Igor’s Nightmare" by Sikorsky’s mechanics because of the problems trying to reduce the helicopter’s vibrations, the aircraft made its first free flight in May 1940. A year later, it went on to break the world helicopter endurance record – previously held by the Focke-Achgelis Fa-61 – by staying airborne for 1 hour, 32 minutes, 26.1 seconds.
credit Photo: Jay Hendrickson of the Platt-LePage Aircraft Archives
June 1941, Platt-LePage XR-1 =
description The design of the Focke-Achgelis Fa-61 inspired two American engineers, W. Laurence LePage and Haviland H. Platt, to design a helicopter with a rotor on either side, designated the XR-1. Driven by the German’s lead in helicopter technology, Congress passed a bill assigning $2 million to jump-start helicopter research in America. LePage, who had previously worked on a number of autogiro designs at Pitcairn Autogiro Company and Kellett Aircraft Corp., formed a company with Platt and in July 1940 won a $200,000 contract (though the amount would eventually reach $500,000) with the Army Air Corps to build the XR-1. The helicopter was piloted around a test circuit on June 9, 1941, reaching speeds nearing 100 mph. A number of problems plagued the XR-1: The helicopter was hard to control and suffered from severe vibrations (a problem that plagued other contemporary aircraft), and the design had poor visibility of what lay beneath the aircraft. The latter was resolved by covering the nose in Plexiglas, a feature still used today in many helicopters.
credit Photo: Mark Pellegrini
1942, Focke-Achgelis Fa 330A =
description When the Battle for the Atlantic turned against the Nazis in World War II, the German Navy asked Focke to create a surveillance craft that could be deployed quickly from submarines, so that German U-boats, which had to patrol areas of the ocean far from coastlines, could detect possible convoy targets and Allied patrols. Focke came up with the Fa 330, a gyro kite that didn’t have an engine but would be towed by German U-boats. The aircraft flew high enough to boost the scouting range, had excellent stability and could quickly separate from the submarine in the case of an emergency or an attack on the U-boat. Unfortunately for the Germans, the craft also had a large radar signature, which made it impractical for use in the Atlantic, where Allied patrols had upgraded radar capabilities. In the end, the Reich only manufactured the gyro kite in limited quantities and only for use in the Indian Ocean.
credit Photo: Dane Penland, Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum
1942, Igor Sikorsky’s XR-4 =
description Based on his success with the VS-300, the U.S. Army Air Corps gave Sikorsky a $50,000 contract in December 1940 to build an easily manufactured version of the aircraft. Sikorsky demonstrated his new aircraft, designated the XR-4, in January 1942. Eventually, the XR-4 would be used in amphibious and shipboard operations as well as rescue missions. The U.S. and British military bought dozens of the XR-4 series. With the helicopter, Sikorsky established himself as a leading innovator in helicopter design by the end of World War II. The XR-4 is considered America’s first production helicopter.
credit Photo: Piasecki Aircraft Co.
1943, Frank N. Piasecki and the PV-2 =
description Born in Philadelphia in 1919, Frank Piasecki earned degrees in both mechanical and aeronautical engineering by age 20. In 1940, Piasecki cut his teeth in the helicopter-design world when he worked on the Army Air Corps’ first contracted helicopter, the Platt-LePage XR-1. In 1943, to solve problems he witnessed in the XR-1, Piasecki developed and flew the PV-2. While on a much smaller budget than Sikorsky, Piasecki was able to create a helicopter that had a more stable flying experience. The same year, with only 15 hours of flight time, Piasecki received the first helicopter license given out by the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Despite his early focus on personal aircraft, Piasecki went on to create the workhorses of the cargo helicopter fleet, innovating the fore and aft rotor.
credit Artist’s Conception: Mario Merino,
1944, Heinkel Wespe "Wasp" Early VTOL design =
description With the air superiority of the German Luftwaffe being eroded in 1943, the Nazi military commanders looked for ways to solve two problems: improving defenses to restore its command of the air, and design aircraft which would not be hobbled by the bombing of its airfield. A proposed solution included a vertical rocket plane, the Bachem Ba 349, but also a design for an aircraft, the Henkel Wespe, that could take off vertically using a large central rotor, a design known as a coleopter ("sheath-winged"). Originally conceived in 1944, the Wespe – and its sister design, the Lerche II ("Lark II") – were never built.
credit Photo: U.S. Army Aviation History website
1947, Larry Bell and the UH-47 =
description Larry Bell founded Bell Aircraft in 1935, but his company was struggling by the beginning of World War II, and Bell decided to start investing in helicopter design. The Bell Model 30 first flew in December 1942, but both the 30 and its successor, the Model 42, failed to sell well. Bell rethought the design, adding seating for two and a more powerful engine, and christened the result – finished in 1947 – the Model 47. The helicopter sold very well in the commercial market, and military interest soon followed. During the Korean War, the H-13 – as it was designated by the military – evacuated more than 15,000 wounded.
credit Image: Piasecki Aircraft Co.
Piasecki’s "Flying Banana" (1947) =
description Driven by the need to increase the carrying capacity of the helicopter, and criticism that it hadn’t made good use of the innovative machine, the U.S. Navy funded a number of designers who had not signed contracts with the Army Air Corps. , Piasecki’s company received a contract from the Navy in 1944 to build what at the time was the world’s largest helicopter. Piasecki used his experience with the XR-1, which he noticed flew better sideways than forward, and his success in developing the dynamically balanced rotor on the PV-2, to develop a design with tandem fore and aft rotors. The result was the XHRP-X "Dogship," which was also called the "Flying Banana" because of its shape. It first flew in 1945 and had over three times the payload of any other helicopter flying, satisfying the Navy’s requirement for a minimum 1,800-pound useful payload. The XHRP-X went into production in 1947. Photo: Hiller Aviation Museum
Stanley Hiller, Aviation Entrepreneur Born in November 1924, Stanley Hiller had the entrepreneurial gene. By the time he was 16, he’d established Hiller Industries to build model-car kits. But less than a year later, he switched to airplane parts as World War II heated up, and earned his first million. Hiller became a top defense contractor, supplying the military with several versions of his aircraft and developing some less-conventional designs, including the Hornet, Rotorcycle and the Flying Platform. With his popular UH-12, which the U.S. military used in Korea and Vietnam, he also became the first American manufacturer to figure out how to produce helicopters without reliance on government funds. Civilian versions of the craft were used by ranchers, police departments and the media. Hiller died in 2006.

credit Photo: Museum of Flight
1950, Hiller’s Hornet, a helicopter with ramjet In 1948, following French innovations in the use of ramjets on aircraft, Stanley Hiller began to experiment with mounting the simple jets on the tips of a helicopter’s main rotor blade. Hiller aimed to manufacture the helicopters for $5,000, making personal ramjet-powered helicopters practical and affordable. The first prototype, designated the HJ-1, flew in 1950. Hiller’s plans to ramp-up production were scuttled when the Korean War caused military demand for the company’s utility helicopters to skyrocket. Hiller convinced the U.S. Navy to purchase three of the ramjet-powered helicopters, which the military dubbed the HOE-1. During operation, the small helicopter proved to have some significant problems, however, including the rotor hitting ground personnel and the ramjets creating a bright ring of fire that could be seen easily during night operations.

credit Photo: Sun ’n Fun Fly-In
May 1951, Lockheed and Convair get contracts to build VTOL Using designs captured from the Germans, the U.S. Air Force and Navy crafted two design studies in 1947 for creating a fixed-wing vertical-takeoff-and-landing, or VTOL, aircraft. The goal of the project was to build a fighter that could protect convoys but not require a large landing area. In May 1951, both Lockheed and Convair won contracts to build prototypes of the aircraft, which resembled squat fighter planes standing on their tails. The Navy, however, gave Convair the only engine rated for vertical takeoffs and landings, allowing its aircraft – the XFY-1 Pogo – to make several vertical ascents and multiple transitions to horizontal flight. The Lockheed XFV-1 used a less-powerful engine and never made a vertical takeoff, but was fitted with landing gear and made 32 horizontal flights.

credit Photo: U.S. Coast Guard
March 1953, Kaman K-225 Performs Loop Engineer Charles Kaman improved on another German design, Anton Flettner’s Al-232, a helicopter that used two coaxial blades to fly. Dubbed a "synchropter," the aircraft saw limited used by the Germans during World War II. Kaman took the design and modified it in many ways, but most significantly, he added a jet-turbine engine, replacing the old reciprocating piston engines used by previous helicopters. The addition of the turbine engine made the Kaman K-225, and future helicopters, safer, more reliable and easier to maintain. Turbine engines also increased performance, allowing the Kaman K-225 to successfully fly through an intentional loop in March 1953. The design, however, had a significant flaw: It moved at only three-quarters of the speed of contemporary rotorcraft.

credit Photo: Hiller Aviation Museum
1955, The Segway of Helicopters In addition to vertical takeoff and landing, a number of other innovative helicopter designs appeared during the 1950s. Among the most radical was a flying platform that used the pilot’s natural balancing reflexes to control direction, a technology known as kinesthetic control and made popular most recently by the Segway Personal Transporter. The idea was first suggested by engineer Charles Zimmerman, who called it the "flying shoes." Hiller’s company signed a contract with the U.S. Army in September 1953 to build a variant of the concept, dubbed the "flying platform." On Jan. 23, 1955, the Zimmerman-Hiller Flying Platform took its first free flight. Of the six flying platforms built, the whereabouts of four are currently unknown.

credit Photo: U.S. Army Aviation History website
October 1956, Bell UH-1H (The "Huey") Flies Made a legend by such shows as M.A.S.H., the UH-1H – commonly known as the "Huey" – became the workhorse of the Vietnam War. Following experiences in the Korean War, the U.S. Army sought a medical evacuation helicopter for battlefield use. Bell Helicopter won the contract, and the Bell Model 204 had its first test flight Oct. 23, 1956. Designated by the Army as the HU-1H – thus the nickname "Huey" – and later designated the UH-1H, the helicopter became a veritable Swiss Army knife: ferrying the wounded, troops and cargo around Vietnam for all branches of the military. The helicopter also changed the way that troops were mobilized for quick assaults on military targets. Nearly 900,000 wounded were transported by helicopter in the Vietnam War, 50 times more than the Korean War. (M.A.S.H. – a dark comedy set during the Korean War – used the Huey in the title credits, even though the helicopter had not been built at the time of the conflict.)

credit Photo: Piasecki Aircraft Co.
1958, Piasecki’s Flying Jeep The U.S. Army awarded Piasecki Aircraft a contract in 1957 to develop a fast, low-flying aircraft that could act as a "flying jeep." Piasecki’s design, which first flew in October 1958, used a fore and aft rotor to create a vehicle that could travel at over 60 mph and at an altitude of about 2,500 feet. The second version of the flying jeep, or AirGeep as Piasecki called it, could fly at over 80 mph and carry five people. Both versions of the AirGeep were true flying cars, not hovercraft, as they did not rely on so-called positive ground-effect forces to keep them aloft. They did, however, each have powered wheels for maneuvering on the ground. They were also very stable and could be used as weapons platforms. Yet, the Army eventually scuttled the project in favor of more-conventional battlefield helicopter designs.

credit Photo: U.S. Army Aviation History website
1976, Sikorsky "Black Hawk" Helicopter The U.S. Army requested a new design for a utility transport helicopter in 1972. It granted the contract to Sikorsky for its S-70 family of helicopters in December 1976. Designated by the Army as the UH-60 "Black Hawk," the helicopter has a unique flattened appearance because of the requirement that it fit in the transport hold of a C-130 Hercules cargo plane without removing the rotors. The helicopter has a number of interesting safety features, including a crash-resistant cabin, landing gear that can cushion a hard landing, and two engines, either of which can keep the aircraft aloft on its own. Today, the Black Hawk is the most popular helicopter in the U.S. military, with more than 2,400 in use, according to the Smithsonian Institution.

credit Photo: U.S. Army Aviation History website
1982, Hughes "Apache" Helicopter The U.S. Army requested proposals in 1972 for a helicopter gunship whose form was dictated less by the Vietnam War and more by the perceived need to destroy Soviet tanks. Nearly a decade later, the Pentagon granted the contract to aircraft-maker Hughes to build the AH-64 "Apache" helicopter. The development of the Apache was controversial, because it cost far more than previous contracts. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the helicopter performed well as both a tank killer and fast-assault vehicle.

credit Photo: Jamie Darcy, Naval Air Systems Command
1989, Bell-Boeing V-22 "Osprey" Tiltrotor Craft The joint U.S. military services began development in 1981 of a hybrid helicopter and airplane that could carry more and move faster than a typical helicopter. The V-22 Osprey used tilting rotors to vertically take off and then move to horizontal flight, where it would use its airplane-like aerodynamics to move faster and lift more. Full-scale development began in 1986 with Bell Helicopter and Boeing working on different parts of the hybrid helicopter, known as a tiltrotor aircraft. Although the Osprey completed its first successful test in March 1989, the Pentagon only signed off on production for the aircraft in 2005. Like the Apache program, the project’s high costs and long development time has opened it to criticism.

credit Image: Philip Carter
2006, Hummingbird Hovers Using concepts pioneered by early VTOL aircraft, aeronautical engineer Philip Carter is designing a plane intended to excel at acrobatics. The inventor says on his website that that the plane, dubbed the Hummingbird, will be able to perform maneuvers impossible for other aircraft – including the ability to hover like a hummingbird. A radio-controlled model of the plane flew in 2006.

credit Photo: Moller International
Hover Car, Moller International Dreams of a personal sky car continue to lure inventors. One engineer, Paul Moller, has designed three vehicles that he claims could fit the bill. Moller plans to sell the M400 Skycar, a tricked-out cherry-red VTOL vehicle, for $500,000 – about the price of a high-performance helicopter. The saucer-like M200 hovercraft sells for $90,000 to $450,000, but is based on older technology. Moller’s claims of popular personal aircraft for the future, however, have gotten his company into trouble. In 2003, Moller International settled with the Securities and Exchange Commission for false and misleading statements. "(I)n reality, the Skycar was and still is a very early developmental-stage prototype that has no meaningful flight testing, proof of aeronautical feasibility, or proven commercial viability," the SEC wrote in a settlement with the company.

credit Image: Sky WindPower
Flying Windmill for Energy Production The concepts embodied by Cierva’s autogiro continue to appear today. One startup, Sky WindPower, believes that a four-rotor tethered windmill could be lofted 15,000 feet into the air and both keep itself airborne and generate power using the more predictable winds in the high atmosphere. Bryan Roberts, the inventor of the airborne windmill and a professor at the University of Technology in Sydney, has designed a wind-powered generator that weighs 1,100 pounds and uses four 35-foot rotors. Roberts believes that a flock of 200 such windmills could provide as much electricity as the United States’ most productive nuclear reactor.

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