Get to the Choppa! (Helicopters)
A brief history of vertical flight, plus, lots of accent thingys

Dan Van Oss Complete Columns, History, Inventions 0 Comments

Helicopters are aviation devices that utilize rotating blades for lift, used primarily for transport and for dumping Bond villains into tall smokestacks. They are also used for military purposes, law enforcement, medical use, and for providing something for Arnold Schwarzenegger to point to while yelling “Get to the choppa!”.

Here come those accent thingys again

Although helicopters are one of the more recent methods of powered flight, references for vertical flight come from as far back as ancient China, where Chinese boys would tie small animals to rockets, as well play with bamboo flying toys that were spun by rotating a stick attached to a rotor. It would take six centuries for the Chinese to realize that rocketed-powered rats could only get you so far in the vertical flight race, as they didn’t develop their own helicopter design until the 1950’s, with help from their buddies the Soviet Union. However, the Chinese bamboo toys would served as a model for later helicopter experiments by European inventors with names containing lots of those accent thingys over the letters, such as “Alphonse Pénaud” and Gustave de Ponton d’Amécourt. They developed a variety of tethered helicopter devices, useful for advertising used car sales and high school pranks, but not yet practical. It was French inventor d’Amécourt himself who coined the word “helicopter” in 1861, by graciously taking all of the accent thingys out of the French word hélicoptère, which itself was derived from the Greek words “helix” and “pteron”, which themselves were derived from some even older words, all the way back to some noises a caveman grunted when he saw a dead bird cartwheeling out of the sky.

Watch out, short people

Ján “Ha! I’ve Got One More Accent Thingy Than You, Gustave de Ponton d’Amécourt” Bahýľ developed a helicopter model in 1901 that was powered by an internal combustion engine. It reached a height of 1.6 ft; useful for trimming some of the taller grass in his back yard, but fairly dangerous around children and short people. Finally, two French brothers, Jacques and Louis Breguet, were able to achieve the first manned flight with their Gyroplane No. 1; with the pilot achieving a brief, one minute trip about 2 feet off the ground before realizing he forgot his cell phone in the house. Another Frenchman, Paul “Ain’t Got No Accent Thingys” Cornu was able to pilot his double-bladed machine up to 6.5 feet into the air, but had to abandon his design because of instability (the helicopter’s, not his).

Cyclic Pitch and the fast-sounding “turbs”

A major advancement occurred in the 1920’s when another accented inventor, an Argentine named Raúl Pateras-Pescara de Will This Name Ever End Castelluccio, was able to successfully apply the concept of “cyclic pitch”, where coaxial, contra-rotating, biplane rotors could be warped to cyclically increase the blah blah blah and then the helicopter flew! Other inventors throughout the 20s and 30s perfected helicopter design, even though some of their names were woefully lacking in accent thingys, culminating with the concept of a transverse rotor mounted on the tail, which allowed for stability and a cool way to cut off the villain’s head at the end of action movies. Russian-born engineer Igor Sikorsky was the main instigator of practical, mass-produced helicopters, developing helicopters for the military for use in picking up injured soldiers who had been shot by other helicopters. The famous (to helicopter enthusiasts, I suppose) Bell 47 was the first machine certified for civilian use in the US, and was also the type of helicopter flown in the TV show M*A*S*H, although it is still involved in a protracted lawsuit involving rerun residuals. With the addition of turbines, turboshafts and other mechanical things that contain the fast-sounding word “turb”, helicopter design advanced rapidly, reaching it’s nadir with the production of Airwolf in 1984, which, if the producers had been thinking, should have talked like the car in Nightrider.

So, next time you’re being airlifted to the hospital because you tried to say a word with too many accent thingys, or you’re just contemplating if there really are any other aviational words containing the word “turb”, be thankful for helicopters, science’s excuse for being able to say “get to the choppa!”

Photo Credit: Defence Images cc
Campaign Hats, Opposable Thumbs and Evil Space Loggers (Smokey Bear)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on RedditShare on StumbleUponDigg thisEmail this to someone