Go Back Home Archimedes the Man Archimedes the Museum Be a Member/Supporter Historical Timeline Autogiros Helicopters
V/STOL Machines Photo Archive Questions & Answers Fomulas & Documents Calendar Gift Shop Friends of the Museum Contact Us
Archimedes Rotorcraft & V/STOL Museum


As far back as we know, man has hed the desire to fly like the birds. Initially it was with wings, as in Greek mythology when Icarus and Daedalus attempted to escape from Crete by means of wings that Daedalus constructed from feathers and wax.

Icarus and Daedalus

In 1489 Leonardo Da Vinci drew his man powered helicopter utilizing Archimedes' Helical Screw. This of course would not work, but the principle of using a rotor for lift was sound.

Da Vinci's Helicopter

Let's walk through history.


We have no idea who invented it, or exactly when - circa 250-200BC, but the "Chinese Top" is the first real example of a flying machine. This toy was a true helicopter! When spun betweeen the hands and released it would soar through the air. Many inventors through the centuries played with these and dreamed of devices that would lift man into the sky.

Chinese Top

1784 -- Launoy & Bienvenu Helicopter Toy.

It had two rotors consisting of feathers stuck in corks and was driven by a string from a bow. The rotors rotated in opposite directions solving the problem of torque.

Launoy & Bienvenu Helicopter Toy

In 1799, Sir George Cayley set forth the concept of the modern aeroplane - a fixed-wing flying machine with separate systems for lift, propulsion, and control. He was a pioneer of aeronautical engineering and is sometimes referred to as "the father of aviation. He discovered and identified the four forces which act on a heavier-than-air flying vehicle - weight, lift, drag and thrust. Modern aeroplane design is based on these discoveries and on the importance of cambered wings, also identified by Cayley. In respect to helicopters, in 1843 Cayley proposed his "Aerial Carriage" which could achieve vertical flight using twin, counter-rotating rotors and propellers for forward motion. Many have built models of this but we do not know if he actually did.

Cayley's Aerial Carriage

1863 French pioneer, Viscomte Gustave de Ponton d'Amecourt, who was responsible for the creation of the word "helicopter" based on the Greek words "helikos" (helix) and "pteron" (wing). D'Amecourt was instrumental in further rotating-wing research, heading a small band of enthusiasts who were passionately involved with the dream of the helicopter. D'Amecourt built a small steam-driven model of his design (still in the French Air Museum) in 1863 and took out French and British patents on it. It was too heavy to fly, but the counter-rotating blades solved the issue of torque.

D'Amecort steam powered helicopter

1877 - Enrico Forlanini

developed an early model helicopter powered by a steam engine. It was equipped with two coaxial propellers with a diameter of 5.9 feet, had a total weight of about 7.7 lbs and reached an altitude of 42 feet, where it remained for some 20 seconds. This was demonstrated several times the Public Gardens of Milan.

Enrico Forlanini steam powered model

1907 -- Breguet-Richet Gyroplane No.1

On September 29, 1907, the Gyroplane No.1 was flown for the first time, but to an elevation of only 2 ft. It was not a free flight, as four men were used to steady the structure. It was quite unstable, but it was the first time that a rotary-wing device had lifted itself and a pilot into the air.

Breguet-Richet Gyroplane No1

Breguet-Richet Gyroplane No1

1907 -- Cornu Helicopter

Cornu's helicopter is widely credited with the first free flight of a rotary-wing aircraft when it took to the air on November 13, 1907. The machine had a rotor at either end, and the engine and pilot in the middle. Power was transmitted to the rotors by a drive belt that linked both rotors and spun them in opposite directions to cancel torque. Control was to be provided by cables that could alter the pitch of the rotor blades, and by moveable vanes at either end of the machine intended to direct the downwash of the rotors.

Cornu Helicopter

1918 -- Petrosky-Karman PKZ-2

Powered by three 90kW airplane engines, this captive observation helicopter was the creation of Stefan Petroczy, a lieutenant in the Austrian Army during World War I. At first the machine failed to perform, but young professor Theodore von Karman — who later emigrated and became a leading American aerodynamicist — joined the effort, and eventually the aircraft flew to a height of over 45m. Supported by two massive wooden propellers turning in opposite directions, the Petroczy-Von Karman marvel was intended to lift a pilot, observer, and fuel for an hour's flight. During flight the machine was anchored to the ground by outrigger cables. There is no record that it was developed beyond the experimental stage.
The PKZ-2 began flight trials on 2 April 1918. Initially fitted with three Gnome rotary engines of 75 kW (100 hp), these were found insufficient to maintain safety at any altitude and were replaced by le Rhone rotary engines of 89 kW (120 hp). In this form the PKZ-2 could rise to a height of over 50 m and hover for up to half an hour, although it was unstable and remained tethered on long cables.

Petroski-Karman observation platform

1922 -- Emile Berliner

an inventor famous for his invention of the flat gramaphone record, had experimented with intermeshing helicopters as early as 1907.In 1919, Emile Berliner's son, Henry Berliner, left the Army Air Service as an aerial photographer to work with his father on helicopter designs.
By 1922, Henry Berliner founded the Berliner Aircraft Company, with a focus on conventional aircraft. The Berliner Helicopter was successfully demonstrated throughout the 1920s, but interest was lost due to its limited controllability and engine-out abilities compared to the autogyro and conventional aircraft.
Berliner helicopterAlso in 1922, Henry Berliner developed a helicopter based on a surplus Nieuport 23 fuselage with a 220 hp radial engine driving two wing mounted counter-rotating rotors. The rotorshafts could tilt slightly forward and backward relative to each other to control yaw. The pitch of the aircraft was controlled by a small tail-mounted propeller with a variable pitch mechanism. Roll control was from a small set of adjustable wing-mounted louvers in the rotor slipstream. High-speed forward flight was also stabilized by a conventional rudder and elevator control at the rear of the aircraft. In 1923, the Helicopter incorporated tri-plane wings to allow for gliding in case of an engine failure. The last example built in 1924 featured a biplane configuration with 20 ft rotors and a 1,850 lb gross weight.

Berliner helicopter 1919

The Berliners made further refinements to their hybrid design. The Model No. 5 craft was demonstrated in front of Navy officials and the press on Feb. 24, 1924. It could move at about 40 mph, rise to an altitude of 15 feet and turn with a radius of 150 feet.

Berliner No.5