History of Helicopters

Today I’m teaching a short class on the History of the Helicopter: 400 BC to Modern Era at a Youth Aviation Club meeting. The group meets about twice a month and encourages young folks to learn about flying and how to make their dreams of soaring and zooming a reality.

Sikosky Helicopter, 1940s

Sikosky Helicopter, 1940s

I love aviation history! It’s kind of my history hobby to enjoy reading about and seeing old aircraft. (Check my June field trip for some fun airplane photos). So I enjoyed doing the research to put together a presentation for the club and even found some topics that would be great “long” research projects sometime in the future.

Anyway, here’s a few of the facts that I’ll be presenting:

  • The Chinese used a very basic form of a helicopter  in 400 BC as children’s toys.
  • Leonardo da Vinci actually drew plans for a “helicopter” type flying machine.  The problem: since his design was based around the principle of a screw, the entire aircraft was going to spin…like an amusement park ride. Yikes!
  • During the Age of the Enlightenment (1700’s) Christian de Launoy  built a basic model using turkey feathers as rotor blades and demonstrated it in the French Academy of Sciences
  • 1861: the word “helicopter” is used for the first time and steam powered models try to fly (unsuccessfully)
  • 1870: coaxial helicopter toys are built for children (Wilbur and Orville Wright played with one)
  • Thomas Edison tries to invent a vertical flying machine with an internal combustion engine (unsuccessfully)
  • 1907: man flies in a helicopter about two feet off the ground!
  • Not used in WWI
  • In the 1920’s and 1930 the principles of vertical flight begin to be understood and flying models improve
  • Not practical for use during WWII, but a few models were used for medical evacuations in remote areas
  • Igor Sikosky builds successful helicopters in the United States.  The aircraft is adopted for the military and civilian usages
  • 1951: the first turbine powered helicopter is developed
  • Helicopters were used extensively in the Korean and Vietnam War
  • Helicopters are still used today in varied jobs; with continued improvements they will probably remain part of the aviation world for a long time.

There you have it – a very brief synopsis of the presentation and some new aviation/historical facts to educate (or annoy) your friends.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. See you on Friday for the last post on the American War for Independence! And here’s the Nathanael Green and Benjamin Lincoln biographies, in case you missed the last couple weeks.


Victor Hugo’s Historian

In his classic book Les Miserables, Victor Hugo often gets side-tracked from the story and enlightens us all with some deep (sometimes confusing) philosophy.  While I haven’t always appreciated his digressions from the story plot, his thoughts are insightful.

Here is a quotes about what historians study (or should study) in his humble opinion:

“No man is a good historian of the open, visible, signal, and public life of the nations, if he is not, at the same time to a certain extent the historian of their deeper and hidden life; and no man is a good historian of the interior if he does not know how to be, whenever there is need, the historian of the exterior.  The history of morals and ideas penetrates the history of the events, and vice versa…  Since true history deals with everything, the true historian deals with everything.”  (Hugo, Les Miserables, page 984, emphasis by yours truly).

In other words, historians can’t just look at the easy stuff like “oh there was a Civil War in America in 1861-1865.”  They need to honestly consider why.  And the answers are not always easy…they are vast and varied…and changing.  (Just as a reminder the changing views of how historians look at and teach history is called “historiography” – how’s that for a big word?)

Miss Sarah and President Davis (re-enactor) at the Moorpark Civil War Re-enactment, 2012

Miss Sarah and President Davis (re-enactor) at the Moorpark Civil War Re-enactment, 2012

If we are going to be honest with ourselves and with others, we must always tell the truth.  And there is no exception for historians.  We must “deal with everything” – the ideas, the religion, the society, the government, the individuals.  That is history.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Huntington Beach Civil War Re-enactment is next weekend. Can’t wait to spend some time with my living history friends! (Don’t worry, I’ll post the last article on WWI before “time traveling”…)

Ooh, Fireworks…?

Happy 4th of July!

What are you celebrating today?  You’d really make my day if you’d leave a comment – one or two word answer to the question would be perfect!

There’s a historical movie that I occasionally like to watch and in one scene a British  supply ship is blown up by the Patriot guy.  On shore a clueless lady standing next to the British officer says “Ooh, Fireworks!” clapping her hands and imaging that this serious event is actually a display for her amusement.  (Can you name the movie?  Leave a comment…)

You know, there are a lot of clueless people today – especially in the younger generations – who are going to say “ooh, fireworks” and not give a single thought about what we’re actually commemorating.  They’re going to celebrate 4th of July with BBQs, surfing, and fireworks!  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – I love a good hamburger and pretty fireworks…  But there’s a problem if you think that 4th of July is nothing more.

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress voted that the American Colonies should be free and independent states!  America was born – Huzzah!  And it’s been 238 years of defending and advancing that freedom through sacrifice and legislation. 

4th of July Gazette665 2014

Take a minute or two and remind your kids and/or friends why we celebrate 4th of July – the day of independence.

So, Happy 4th!  I hope you’ll enjoy your BBQ and the fireworks and remember why we’re celebrating.  Let’s defend our legacy of God-honoring freedom.  Don’t be naïve and think that today is only about fireworks, okay?

God Bless America!

Your historian,

Miss Sarah

No Second Guessing: A Lesson From Allied Headquarters, 1944

Have you ever had those moments of panic when you second guess yourself, sincerely hoping that you’ve prepared for a school test, worrying about the project you’re overseeing at work, or wondering if your kids are ready to face the challenges of life? I do. Just last week there was a half-day of intense panic, “I’m trying to write a book! What on earth do I think I’m doing? Where am I gonna find a publisher. I’m nervous…” Now that I’ve revealed a minor fear perhaps you can think of a few that you’re facing?

Well, I’ve got some great news for you this week. One of the best military leaders in the world faced a couple hours of second-guessing his plans. It’s time to learn a lesson about leadership and life directly from the planning headquarters of the June 6, 1944, Normandy Invasion.


He was the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in the European Theater of World War II. He’d been a soldier all his life, from his first training at West Point, through training exercises, and military war games. He was a practical man, a kind man who loved his family, a man who knew how to think, a man with vision, a man with a warrior’s spirit. His name was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

For many long months Eisenhower and a team of brilliant commanders had been planning Operation Overlord, going over every detail to ensure the success of the attack to the best of their ability. Attacks from the air – paratroopers and gliders – would begin the assault with the purpose of capturing important bridges to prevent the Germans from bringing up reinforcements. The navies would bombard the German defenses, followed by the infantry land assault. Militarily, the plan was daring, but sound.

Then on May 30, 1944, while waiting to determine the day of attack, Eisenhower’s headquarters telephone rang. It was Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, an expert in aviation warfare. He expressed his doubts about the success of the paratrooper and glider attacks, predicting heavy casualties without any benefit to the other attackers. Later, Eisenhower wrote about this moment: “It would be difficult to conceive a more soul-racking problem…” (Eisenhower, p. 246).

He asked Leigh-Mallory to put his concerns in writing and then “…went to my tent alone and sat down to think. Over and over I reviewed each step…thoroughly and exhaustively. …[There] was the possibility that if he were right the effect of the disaster would be far more than local: it would be likely to spread to the entire force” (Eisenhower, p. 246). After considering all information from every angle, Eisenhower decided that the airborne attacks must go on if the Utah beach landing was to be successful and that Utah was a crucial point that could not be cancelled.

“I telephoned him that the attack would go as planned…” (Eisenhower, p. 247). The decision was made. Eisenhower had made all the preparations that he could to ensure the success of the invasion, now, ultimately it depended on the men. Most of the high ranking Allied commanders visited the troops in the weeks leading up to the assault. On June 5 – after making the final decision to go ahead with the attack despite the questionable weather report – Eisenhower had one last duty to perform.

General Eisenhower meets with United States Troops before the Normandy Invasion

General Eisenhower meets with United States Troops before the Normandy Invasion

“I spent the time visiting the troops that would participate in the assault. A late evening trip on the fifth took me to the camp of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division [paratroopers], one of the units whose participation had been so severely questioned by the air commander [Leigh-Mallory]. I found the men in fine [spirits], many of them joshingly admonishing me that I had no cause for worry, since the 101st was on the job and everything would be taken care of in fine shape. I stayed with them until the last of them were in the air, somewhere about midnight. After a two-hour trip back to my own camp, I had only a short time to wait until the first news should come in…” (Eisenhower, p. 251-252).

Success. Paratroopers and glider crews seized the bridges and prevented German reinforcements from arriving quickly and Utah Beach was in Allied possession. And Leigh-Mallory – the good commander who felt it was his duty to express his concerns – was among the first to call Eisenhower to congratulate him on the positive outcome.


Now, it’s a good, true story…but what can we learn?

General Eisenhower was in the middle of a ginormous task and suddenly someone raised valid doubts, causing the monster called “second-guess” to reign for a few hours. What did Eisenhower do? Reviewed his preparations and then went forward with the action. Valuable lesson.

Okay, so most likely you’re not a five star general planning the liberation of Europe with the eyes of the world watching you. But remember that difficulty of yours – that “oh, my goodness what am I doing, I’m totally second guessing the wisdom of this” situation? Learn from one of the best leaders in history how to turn doubt into success.

#1. Stop. Take a deep breath.

#2. Preparation – review everything you know about the situation, every possible outcome. (If you can’t do this, you need more information). Next, weigh the cost and benefit, keeping in mind moral and ethical standards.

#3. Decide. If you’re sure you’re right, go ahead. But if you’ve considered the options and determined this is not a good plan, decide and be ready to stick to your conclusion.

#4. Action. Sometimes this falls on us, but sometimes it falls on others. If you’re the person to carry out the plan, do it! If you’re like the general, make sure your followers are prepared to do their best and encourage them along the way.

Well, I’m feeling better and more prepared for the challenges I’m facing after a little lesson at Allied headquarters. Remember that book I’m writing and the panic of publishing? I’ve taken a deep breath and discovered I don’t have enough information to make an informed decision. Library research books are on the way and hopefully in a few weeks or months, I’ll be able to finish #3 (Decide) and boldly move on to #4 (Action).

Thanks General Eisenhower for writing about your hard decisions and showing us how a successful leader combats doubts with preparation and action.

Plans are established by council; by wise council wage war.  Proverbs 20:18, NKJV

Your historian,

Miss Sarah


Eisenhower, D.D. (1948).  Crusade in Europe.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.