A helicopter is a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by one or more engine-driven rotors. In contrast with fixed-wing aircraft,About Helicopters Articles this allows the helicopter to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forwards, backward, and laterally. These attributes allow helicopters to be used in congested or isolated areas where fixed-wing aircraft would not be able to take off or land. The capability to efficiently hover for extended periods of time allows a helicopter to accomplish tasks that fixed-wing aircraft and other forms of vertical takeoff and landing aircraft cannot perform.
The word ‘helicopter’ is adapted from the French hélicoptère, coined by Gustave de Ponton d’Amecourt in 1861, which originates from the Greek helix/helik = “twisted, curved” and pteron = “wing”.
Helicopters were developed and built during the first half-century of flight, with the Focke-Wulf Fw 61 being the first operational helicopter in 1936. Some helicopters reached limited production, but it was not until 1942 that a helicopter designed by Igor Sikorsky reached full-scale production, with 131 aircraft built. Though most earlier designs used more than one main rotor, it was the single main rotor with antitorque tail rotor configuration of this design that would come to be recognized worldwide as the helicopter (Petrescu and Petrescu, 2009, 2011, 2012 a-b, 2013 a-c).
The earliest references for vertical flight have come from China. Since around 400 BC, Chinese children have played with bamboo flying toys, and the 4th-century AD Daoist book Baopuzi (“Master who Embraces Simplicity”) reportedly describes some of the ideas inherent to rotary wing aircraft:
Someone asked the master about the principles of mounting to dangerous heights and traveling into the vast inane. The Master said, “Some have made flying cars with wood from the inner part of the jujube tree, using ox-leather fastened to returning blades so as to set the machine in motion.”
It was not until the early 1480s when Leonardo da Vinci created a design for a machine that could be described as an “aerial screw”, that any recorded advancement was made towards vertical flight. His notes suggested that he built small flying models, but there were no indications for any provision to stop the rotor from making the whole craft rotate. As scientific knowledge increased and became more accepted, men continued to pursue the idea of vertical flight. Many of these later models and machines would more closely resemble the ancient bamboo flying top with spinning wings, rather than Da Vinci’s screw.
In July 1754, Mikhail Lomonosov demonstrated a small tandem rotor to the Russian Academy of Sciences. It was powered by a spring and suggested as a method to lift meteorological instruments. In 1783, Christian de Launoy, and his mechanic, Bienvenu, made a model with a pair of counter-rotating rotors, using turkey flight feathers as rotor blades, and in 1784, demonstrated it to the French Academy of Sciences. Sir George Cayley, influenced by a childhood fascination with the Chinese flying top, grew up to develop a model of feathers, similar to Launoy and Bienvenu but powered by rubber bands. By the end of the century, he had progressed to using sheets of tin for rotor blades and springs for power. His writings on his experiments and models would become influential on future aviation pioneers. Alphonse Pénaud would later develop coaxial rotor model helicopter toys in 1870, also powered by rubber bands. One of these toys, given as a gift by their father, would inspire the Wright brothers to pursue the dream of flight.
In 1861, the word “helicopter” was coined by Gustave de Ponton d’Amécourt, a French inventor who demonstrated a small, steam-powered model. While celebrated as an innovative use of a new metal, aluminum, the model never lifted off the ground. D’Amecourt’s linguistic contribution would survive to eventually describe the vertical flight he had envisioned. Steam power was popular with other inventors as well. In 1878 Enrico Forlanini’s unmanned helicopter was also powered by a steam engine. It was the first of its type that rose to a height of 12 meters (40 ft), where it hovered for some 20 seconds after a vertical take-off. Emmanuel Dieuaide’s steam-powered design featured counter-rotating rotors powered through a hose from a boiler on the ground.
In 1885, Thomas Edison was given US$1,000 by James Gordon Bennett, Jr., to conduct experiments towards developing flight. Edison built a helicopter and used the paper for a stock ticker to create guncotton, with which he attempted to power an internal combustion engine. The helicopter was damaged by explosions and one of his workers was badly burned. Edison reported that it would take a motor with a ratio of three to four pounds per horsepower produced to be successful, based on his experiments. Ján Bahý>, a Slovak inventor, adapted the internal combustion engine to power his helicopter model that reached a height of 0.5 meters (1.6 ft) in 1901. On 5 May 1905, his helicopter reached four meters (13 ft) in altitude and flew for over 1,500 meters (4,900 ft). In 1908, Edison patented his own design for a helicopter powered by a gasoline engine with box kites attached to a mast by cables for a rotor, but it never flew.
In 1906, two French brothers, Jacques and Louis Breguet, began experimenting with airfoils for helicopters and in 1907, those experiments resulted in the Gyroplane No.1. Although there is some uncertainty about the dates, sometime between 14 August and 29 September 1907, the Gyroplane No. 1 lifted its pilot up into the air about two feet (0.6 m) for a minute. However, the Gyroplane No. 1 proved to be extremely unsteady and required a man at each corner of the airframe to hold it steady. For this reason, the flights of the Gyroplane No. 1 are considered to be the first manned flight of a helicopter, but not a free or untethered flight.
That same year, fellow French inventor Paul Cornu (Romanian-born French) designed and built a Cornu helicopter that used two 20-foot (6 m) counter-rotating rotors driven by a 24-hp (18-kW) Antoinette engine. On 13 November 1907, it lifted its inventor to 1 foot (0.3 m) and remained aloft for 20 seconds. Even though this flight did not surpass the flight of the Gyroplane No. 1, it was reported to be the first truly free flight with a pilot. Cornu’s helicopter would complete a few more flights and achieve a height of nearly 6.5 feet (2 m), but it proved to be unstable and was abandoned.