A helicopter (informally called “chopper” or “helo“) is a type of rotorcraft in which lift and thrust are supplied by engine-driven rotors. This allows the helicopter to take off and land vertically, to hover, and to fly forwards, backwards, and laterally. These attributes allow helicopters to be used in congested or isolated areas where fixes-wing aircraft would usually 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- (ἕλιξ) = “twisted, curved” and pteron (πτερόν) = “wing”.
Helicopters were developed and built during the first half-century of flight, with the Focke-Wulf Fw61 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 is the single main rotor with anti-torque tail rotor configuration that has become the most common helicopter configuration. Tandem rotor helicopters are also in widespread use, due to their better payload capacity. Quadrotor helicopters and other types of multicopter have been developed for specialized applications.
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 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 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 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.
The Danish inventor Jacob Ellehammer built the Ellehammer in 1912. It consisted of a frame equipped with two counter-rotating discs, each of which was fitted with six vanes around its circumference. After a number of indoor tests, the aircraft was demonstrated outdoors and made a number of free take-offs. Experiments with the helicopter continued until September 1916, when it tipped over during take-off, destroying its rotors.
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