Monday, October 7, 2013

Sweet Dreams and Flying Machines in Pieces on the Ground

by Rachel Dworkin, Archivist

The concept behind the helicopter is centuries old and dates at last as far back as 400 BC in China where children played with bamboo flying toys.  Basically, the spinning of the rotor blades produces a downward pressure which, in turn, provides lift.  In the 1480s, Leonardo De Vinci created designs for a flying machine, but the lack of an available working engine meant it never got off the page let alone the ground.  The first truly functional helicopter was the Focke-Wulf Fw 61 designed by Professor Henrich Focke in 1936 and the first large-scale production of helicopters was undertaken by Sikorsky Manufacturing Company beginning in 1942. 

De Vinci Helicopter or ‘Air Screw’
Between De Vinci and Focke were a number of attempts at vertical flight, including one right here in Elmira.  The device, known as the Hiliocopter was designed by Captain Bell and piloted on its maiden voyage by J. Edwin Morrow.  Morrow was the secretary of the Willys-Morrow Company, a local manufacturer of car and machine parts.  The Hilicopter was built entirely at the plant in Elmira.  The exact date of the test flight is unknown, but it was likely either in the spring or fall of 1908.  The machine was lifted a full three feet in the air by the power of the engine before the whole craft began to twist in the same direction of the blades.  The twisting proved too much and the whole thing was ruined.

Flight of the Hiliocopter

So, why didn’t it work?  It lacked some type of mechanism to control the torque.  The most common of these mechanisms is tail rotor developed by Sikorsky.   The tail rotor creates force in the opposite direction as the main blades to keep the whole thing from spinning.  It also helps with forward propulsion and flight stabilization.      

Schweizer 300CBi Helicopter

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