The beginning of the helicopter era

The desire of vertical flight was always present, and it grew after the first successful flight of the wright flyer, but the technical limitations for reaching this did not give the needed result. Leonardo da Vinci illustrated a sophisticated “rotary-wing” similar to a helicopter, the main sketch that remain for years without any success.

Da Vinci rotary-wing. Source:atlashelicopters.co.uk

It wasn’t until the gyroplane flights, the autogyro or gyroplane that was invented by Spanish engineer Juan de la Cierva in an attempt to create an aircraft that could fly safely at low speeds. He first flew one on 9 January 1923, at Cuatro Vientos airfield in Madrid. But as many of us know that this aircraft flies using a tractor or pusher configuration and needed horizontal airspeed in most of the cases to be able to take off, similar to an airplane. Then, the limitations of this autogyro could be eliminated through making that the aircraft takes off vertically using other type of propulsion and traction system.

C.4, firts autogyro. Source: cadenaser.com

The gyroplane was a step forward, helping to the main systems development and control configuration of a complex aircraft such as the helicopter, since the maneuverability and flight control of it, depends mostly on the rotors. Therefore, designing a dynamic stable vehicle with rotor physics was a huge problem.

Autogyro de la Cierva. Source: murciadivulga.com/

The recognized inventor of the first practical helicopter was Professor Heinrich Focke of Germany, found the Focke-Wulf aircraft company and built gyroplanes and come up with the “Model 61” helicopter or “hubschrauber” as the Germans call them. It was considered the first practical, fully-controllable helicopter to take off. It was built around the fuselage of a Focke-Wulf Fw 44, an airplane, the aircraft had an engine at the front with its propellers, but the same powered the two main rotors of the helicopter in contra-rotating configuration. The first flight was in the spring of 1936.

Model 61 helicopter. Source: helis.com

In February 1938, the helicopter attracted attention when the aircraft was piloted in berlin with 25-year-old Hanna Reitsch at the controls, an expert pilot and german superstar. Hanna flew the helicopter inside the arena every night making news all over the world. These achievements help to attract the attention of Deutsche Lufthansa for a passenger-carrying development of a helicopter, and in this way develop the Fa 223.

Modell der Fa 223 “Drache”. Source: Matthias Stäblein/Creative Commons

It took time to develop the helicopter. If an airplane is a complex aircraft, believe the helicopter has more complex systems to perform the unique flight features it does.

References:

http://www.airvectors.net/avheli_1.html

https://web.archive.org/web/20080725044845/http://www.aereamadrid.com/web_fam/fam_2002/aeromodelismo/modalidades/Juan%20de%20la%20Cierva.htm

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