This model helicopter, demonstrated in France in 1784, was an improvement on the flying top principle. It had not one, but two...Read More >>This model helicopter, demonstrated in France in 1784, was an improvement on the flying top principle. It had not one, but two propellers, one at each end, which were caused to spin in opposite directions by pulling on wound strings. The designer, Bienvenu, had found a clever method of preventing the craft from twisting in the opposite direction to the blades—one not to be re-discovered for another 150 years. The way in which a helicopter flies has been understood for many centuries. A flying top, invented by the Chinese around 500 BC, was a small propeller that flew upwards when the stick on which it was balanced was spun rapidly. The propeller "bit" into the air, producing uplift. This method of flight worked well for small toys but how could a full-sized machine capable of carrying people through the air be built? Only when light petrol engines became available in the early 1900s would the helicopter at last take to the skies.
The Italian painter, scientist and inventor, Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519), designed a simple helicopter in about 1500, but he did not have an engine to power it. He was fascinated by the idea of helicopter flight. His design had a corkscrew-shaped rotor which, he thought, would soar upwards through the air as it spun. To power the machine, the pilot simply pulled sharply on a rope wound around the central column. Not surprisingly, his machine never flew.
Leonardo da Vinci is credited with inventing the idea of a helicopter in about 1500. 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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