Posted by: Helicop Aviation | June 2, 2011

Landmarks in the History of Helicopters (Part 1 of 2)

Leonardo da Vinci and his ‘Ornithopter’ (aerial screw)

Humans have always looked at birds with envy and wished that they could fly up in the sky with them. Throughout the history of man there have been a lot of attempts at defying gravity. The very first attempt to create a ‘machine’ that was capable of flying was actually a form of helicopter. This was invented in China, and it was actually a simple toy rather than anything that could carry a man. The child would twirl the toy around in his/her palms until enough lift was created and would release it, for it to take a small flight.

The famous Italian inventor Leonardo Da Vinci in the mid 1500’s made the drawings of an ‘ornithopter’ flying machine that some experts say inspired the modern day helicopter and was the first realistic design attempt at flying. Many extraordinary models were developed by great thinkers, but all the pioneers were missing two very essentials aspects; a true understanding of the nature of lift and an adequate engine.


Oehmichen N°2 1922

In 1784, the French inventors Launoy and Bienvenue devised an ingenious toy consisting of two propellers made of birds’ feathers fixed to the tips of a shaft, around which two strings were twisted, tensioning a spring in a crossbow arrangement. As it straightened out, the spring caused the propellers to rotate for a few seconds, sufficient enough to send the toy spinning a few meters. Thus proved the principle of helicopter flight could exist.

With the advent of steam engines, it was made possible for the pioneers to develop full-sized models with an adequate power source. It was then that they found the first of many problems like torque, the effect produced by the rotor to force the fuselage to rotate in the opposite direction as the engine and their weight to power ratio was prohibitive. However, with the efforts of a few “aeronautical” pioneers, some designs really did fly, such as the spring-operated models by Bright (1861) and Castel (1878), and the steam-driven ones by the Frenchman Ponton d’Amcourt (1863) and the German Achenbach (1874), while Alphonse Pdnaud (1870) tested a series of models of various shapes and with various propulsion systems.

(to be continued…)


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