The fascination with achieving vertical flight has been documented as far back in history as ancient China and a kite with a rotary wing to lift it into the air. Leonardo da Vinci left sketches of a device that flew using an aerial screw to create vertical lift. Although he did not build and test an actual device, many modern engineers credit the da Vinci concept in the 15th century as being the forerunner for what would become the helicopter of the 20th century.
A Helicopter takes a brief flight and history is made
Winning a design contest is reported as the motivation behind what many helicopter historians believe was the first helicopter to take flight. Paul Cornu, a French engineer, designed a flying bicycle in 1907 that achieved an altitude of 12 inches. The flight only lasted for 20 seconds.
Sikorsky brings the helicopter into the modern era
The work of Igor Sikorsky in developing the modern helicopter spanned a good part of the 20th century and included development of the VS-300, the prototype for single-rotor designs, introduced before World War II. He is also credited with the XR-4, the first helicopter designed and built specifically for military use.
Other designers and engineers, including Stanley Hiller Jr. and Arthur Young, followed the lead of Sikorsky in developing helicopters with full-bubble canopies and with metal blades that increased the speeds at which the aircraft could travel. Hiller piloted his Hiller 360 across the U.S. in 1949 in what is considered to be the first such flight in history.
Designers are busy working on helicopters of the future
New engines, including a hybrid system, artificial intelligence and rotor blades that can change shape to accommodate different conditions are some of the concepts being developed for commercial and military helicopters of the future. The U.S. Army decision to replace the venerable Black Hawk helicopter should result in an aircraft that is faster and capable of greater range and stability than its predecessor.