Igor Sikorsky is credited with invented the world’s first helicopter as we would recognise it. But the first record of a rotary winged craft dates back to the 4th Century in a book called “Pao Phu Tau” which describes a flying car kept in the air by spinning blades.
Sikorsky at the controls of VS-300
In 1480, Leonardo da Vinci drew his famous “airscrew” machine which could never have flown.
In November 1907, a Frenchman, Paul Cornu, became the first person to vertically ascend in a powered man-carrying rotary-wing aircraft. He went up 1.8 meters and he stayed aloft for 20 seconds. While it was in the air it had to be kept stabilised by men on the ground using sticks to stop it from going in whatever direction it wanted to !! The machine crash landed and was destroyed.
In 1923, Juan de la Cierva invented a machine that gave the pilot control over forward and vertical movement – this was a major advance in the development of helicopters.
The first practical helicopter was designed by Professor Heinriche Focke. It made its first free flight in June 1936. The machine consisted of the fuselage of a small biplane with two outriggers supporting to engines. The finished machine had impressive handling abilities which were filmed at the Deutschlandhalle Stadium in Berlin when the machine – FA15 – was flown by Hanna Reitsch. She claimed that she had had only three hours practice before making her historic flight. Reitsch became the toast of Nazi Germany.
In 1939, Igor Sikorsky built and flew his VS-300 in America. His machine had the familiar single main lifting engine and an engine mounted at the rear which gave the pilot directional control. The VS-300 had an open-plan cockpit.
However, the 1939 flights were with VS-300 tethered to the ground. In May 1940, Sikorsky made his first free flight and in 1941 he created a world record by keeping VS-300 in the air for 1 hour 32 minutes. One year later the Sikorsky R4 flew. It was the world’s first production helicopter and it went into service with the US Navy in 1943.