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Military exercises using a Sikorsky S76A Search and Rescue helicopter at Royal Australian Air Force Base Tindal, Australia A helicopter flies with a rotary wing (which spins round) instead of a fixed wing. The rotor blades are shaped like long, thin wings. They rotate very quickly. The main rotor provides lift and propels the aircraft through the air. The tail rotor stops the helicopter’s fuselage from spinning in the opposite direction to the main rotor. A helicopter can fly forwards, backwards and sideways, hover, and take-off or land vertically.

Westland Lynx, a fast, all-purpose military helicopter built in England{alt}A helicopter battles a wildfire on a mountainside{more}Click to play video


Because its ability to take-off or land vertically, a helicopter does not need the runway that aeroplanes must have for take-off or landing. Helicopters therefore have a wide range of uses. These include: flying passengers to and from city centre buildings, oil rigs or ships; providing a rescue service in floods, earthquakes, on mountains or at sea; assisting firefighting, police pursuit or traffic control; serving as troop carriers in war.

Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian artist, is credited with inventing the idea of a helicopter in the 1480s. However, his design for a screw-shaped sail that was cranked around by hand was never built—and it would never have been able to fly.

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