A hundred years of helicopter history

One of the items that I like to read in the International Herald Tribune each day is the ‘In Our Pages’ column on page 2 that features three stories from the paper 100, 75 and 50 years ago.

The stories make us realise just how much the world has advanced in such a relatively short period (although some stories make me think the world might be going backwards in some respects – but that’s another issue).

The story from 100 years ago that was featured today was titled: ‘1908 – New Kind of Plane Promised’ and reminded me just how much aviation has advanced in the past 100 years. The story read:

“Mr H Savage Landon, the explorer, has just returned to Paris from his estate in Italy. He has completed construction of his newest aeroplane and in a talk with a Herald correspondent yesterday said he hoped shortly to commence experiments with it in either England or France. He believes that his flying machine will be able to travel and remain in the air for the space of an hour and a half; though larger or more powerful models could be made to fly easily a practically unlimited distance. ‘One result of the special principle of my machine is that it will rise from the ground directly the machinery is set in motion, without any preliminary run along the ground. My machine has no resemblance to a bird,’ Mr Landon said.”

I guess Landon was talking about what we now know as a helicopter.

It does seem that it was around that time there were a lot of experiments going on with the earliest versions of the helicopter. Although the first drawings of helicopters date back to the 16th century when Leonardo Da Vinci produced drawing of machines that looked like helicopters, according to the helicopter history site, helis.com, it wasn’t until 1907 that a Frenchman made a helicopter fly for the first time – but that was only for a few seconds.

The website says: “After that, several models were produced by many designs but there were no more great advances until another French pioneer, Etienne Oehmichen, became the first to fly a helicopter a kilometre in a closed circuit in 1924. It was a historic flight taking 7 minutes and 40 seconds. Advances began to come fast and furious. By 1936, many of the problems had solutions and with the introduction of the German Focke-Wulf Fw 61, the first practical helicopter was a reality. Vertical flight was not a dream anymore.”

If Mr Landon was alive today, I am sure he would be amazed that we do indeed have flying machines that remain in the air for more than an hour and a half, although I must say that I prefer to travel on those that have to make a “preliminary run along the ground” rather than those that “rise from the ground directly the machinery is set in motion” because the latter have a tendency to fall directly to the ground more often that the former.

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