The history of mans romance with the concept of flight goes back to the mythical Greek figure, Dedalus who fashioned wings for himself and his son Icarus. The wings were attached to the body with wax, which unfortunately melted in the heat of the sun. Trial and error through the centuries eventually culminated in the flight of the Wright brothers in 1903, over the dunes of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. At this time vertical flight existed only in the domain of toys for children. But many inventors were busy trying to design a machine that could lift off vertically and then shift to horizontal flight, thus dispensing with large airfields. The modern helicopter, despite its ungainly appearance, is a marvel. It has rotor blades that perform the function of wheels, turbine engines that assist take off. There are no wheels or brakes. Instead the machine is equipped with a pair of landing skis.
FACT 1: The earliest vision of the helicopter can be traced to a Chinese top. This top was a stick with feathers at each end. When rubbed between the hands, it rose vertically into the air. In 1754, a Russian, Mikhail Lomonosov, added a rotor and a wind up spring to power this toy. Christian de Launoy developed the concept further by using counter rotating blades to generate lift and carry the toy vertically.
FACT 2: Inspired by this toy Leonardo da Vinci conceived of a helicopter with a spiral airscrew pumped by four pilots. His drawings were ingenious but could not be executed as the machine would be too heavy for lift.
FACT 3: In June 1936, the Germans demonstrated the Focke-Wolfe FW 61. It had two three bladed rotors and was powered by an engine. It flew for a distance of 143 miles at an altitude of 11,000 feet. The Germans continued to lead in helicopter technology and the first mass produced helicopter was the German Fletner Kolibiri.
FACT 4: The world’s first female helicopter pilot was Hanna Reitsch, who flew the FW 61 in 1938.
FACT 5: Between 1939 and 1941, Igor Sigorsky, worked on developing his helicopter. The VS 300 had a single three bladed rotor and a tail rotor. It was a small light craft, powered by an engine. This made it the first modern helicopter.
FACT 6: On March 12, 1955 the world’s first jet powered helicopter, the French Alouette II made its maiden voyage. This started the trend of using jet engines in helicopters.
FACT 7: Towards the end of World War II military helicopters were being commissioned in the US and Germany. After the War, helicopters were used increasingly for commercial purposes. Helicopters were employed in fire fighting, spraying of crops, mail delivery, and mosquito control and rescue operations.
FACT 8: Military demand for helicopters continued during the Cold War. The end of the Cold War brought with it a consequent dip in military demand for helicopters. This led to manufacturers diversifying and developing helicopters for different purposes.
FACT 9: Today helicopters are specialized to suit a diverse range of needs. Helicopters range from small private 2 seaters to large passenger carrying vehicles, to load carry machines that fly to remote places.
FACT 10: Helicopters are extremely popular in action movies. Their scenes are referred to as the rotary action value of the film. The unique flying abilities of these machines, gives the director scope for all kinds of unusual action shots. A helicopter inexorably dogging a poor little car is a sequence that never fails to thrill, as does a hero leaping from a helicopter onto a car.