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.

 

New Weapons: New Warfare

What do you think of when you think of World War I? After all the alliance mess and initial outbreak of war, the next thing that comes to my mind is trench warfare.

Technically, trench warfare was not a new thing during the First World War. (It actually started during the American Civil War.) But during WWI trench warfare was the main tactical form of offense and defense on land. Just as a review, trench warfare involved troops living in (usually muddy) trenches, surviving artillery barrages, trying to shoot the enemy across barb wired “no man’s land” and dreading the day when somebody with too many stars on their collar decided it was a good idea for the common soldiers to jump out of the trenches and try to run across the empty fields while getting shot at. Get the idea of trench warfare?

OK, so the soldiers needed some innovative weapons for defense and offense and a number of new technological advancements were made during this conflict. Now, wars – with all their destructive powers – force technology advancement: read on and consider how some of the innovations from WWI battlefields help modern life today.

1. Airplane If fighting on the ground is so hard, how about fighting in the skies? The airplanes of WWI were hard to manage, but daring pilots climbed into the open air cockpits for reconnaissance missions, bombing raids (dropping the bombs by hand) and air to air combat. The mounted machine gun for airplanes was designed with an “interrupter” so the pilots wouldn’t shoot off their own propeller. The mass production of planes and the training of pilots launched the aviation industry which grew rapidly in the following decades, expanding into civilian transportation.

File:AL17 Warren Eaton Photo 000609 (10873949664).jpg

WWI Era Airplane (Source Wikimedia)

2. Zeppelin The Germans used these large “airships” to glide over London and drop incendiary bombs. The Zeppelins were different from our modern day media blimps – they had a solid interior framework and were then filled with gas.

3. Machine gun Returning to the muddy trenches, we’ll find the machine gun. This new technology allowed hundreds of bullets to be fired from the gun, which had a devastating effect on troops making frontal assaults on the trenches. Machine guns tended to be placed in strategic locations (called nests) and could sweep a wide range of open ground. (Have you seen the old black and white film “Sergeant York” with Gary Cooper? Machine gun nests and their effects are shown in this movie.)

4. Tank OK, so the tanks weren’t really effective in WWI, except as a fear tactic, but these metal monsters with tracks were definitely here to stay and would evolve into effective fighting machines in the years leading up to WWII. During the First World War, however, the tanks tended to get stuck in the mud or were unable to get out of trenches; oh, but they were effective for mowing down the barbed wire so the infantry could follow – sophisticated lawn mower?

5. Gas There were several types of gas used for chemical warfare during WWI. Troops were issued gas masks to help prevent the burns and other excruciating injuries caused by the poison gas. Often, both sides suffered when the gas attacks were made because there was no guarantee that the breeze would consistently blow the gas clouds toward the enemy. Thankfully, chemical warfare has not been widely used since WWI and I can’t think of any positive benefits for society from the technology of this weapon.

6. Flamethrower I was really doubtful when someone listed this weapon in a comment last week, so I researched it a little…and learned something new! Yes, indeed, the modern flamethrower was first used during WWI. It was very primitive, and mostly stationary, but it would evolve into the fearsome weapon of WWII and the Cold War era. Interestingly, some of the technology used on flamethrowers has helped to improve tools like welding sticks.

7. Radio For the first time in warfare, communication was becoming easier.  Sure, they still used messengers, telegraph, and carrier pigeons, but with the ability to transmit human voice through wires, communication was on its way to a revolution.

8. Submarines Scientists and inventors toyed with the idea of underwater attacks for centuries, but in WWI the science fiction became reality. Dark vessels ploughed along underwater, surfacing to fire torpedoes at unsuspecting targets, before sinking into the ocean depths again. The Germans had a strong submarine fleet and they practiced unrestricted submarine warfare; they would fire torpedoes at any ship, even neutral civilian vessels. This practice of unrestricted naval warfare alarmed the world and was a key factor to bring the United States into the conflict.  (Oops, did I just give away next week’s topic?)

So what were the effects of the new weapons of WWI? Well, to be blunt, more battlefield and civilian deaths in this large scale war. On a more positive note, some of the technology did transfer into the peaceful world, making life safer and easier (ironic, isn’t it?). Ultimately, WWI weaponry changed warfare and these innovations ushered in a new way of fighting that would be further developed in WWII, about three decades later.

Now, wars are fought on land, sea, and air. Communication, revolutionized by radio, continues to improve. Tanks evolved from metal monsters stuck in the mud, to the fast units that speed across deserts today. Submarines, improved and transformed, now stay underwater for years, guarding and patrolling.

The new weapons of WWI brought a new era of warfare which continues to impact our world today.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Your thoughts?

Historic Aircraft in Tucson, AZ

Bonus post…I’ve been traveling.

Some of you may have noticed that the weekly post (this month featuring the Normandy Invasion) was late in appearing last week.  No, delayed posting is not going to be my habit, and perhaps you will forgive me if when you see where I was with no computer access!

PIMA AIR & SPACE MUSEUM…and….DAVIS-MONTHAN AF BASE AIRCRAFT BONEYARD in Tucson, Arizona.

Here’s some photos and a little journaling –

Pima Air and Space Museum

Pima Air and Space Museum

This A-10 Thunderbolt II is displayed in the main hanger.

This A-10 Thunderbolt II is displayed in the main hanger.

 

Look at all these planes!

Look at all these planes!

Beautifully restored B-17 Bomber from WWII

Beautifully restored B-17 Bomber from WWII

There are over 300 planes here at the Pima Air and Space Museum.  I had a day and a half at the facility and could have spent longer.  (I like to read every sign in a museum…not always the best idea when on a limited time schedule).

One of Miss Sarah's favorite WWII aircraft - THE P-51 Mustang.

One of Miss Sarah’s favorite WWII aircraft – THE P-51 Mustang.

I really like World War II era aircraft and this museum had an abundance of these displays.

The Helicopter Line

The Helicopter Line

The entire museum facility covers about 80 acres!  Aside from the hangers there are hundreds of aircraft displayed outside.  I highly recommend the tram around the property as a way to see most of the outdoor display; our tour guide was informative and I learned quite a bit.  Later I went back and took photos of specific aircraft.

Pima Air and Space Museum is the largest non-profit, non-government-owned flight museum in the United States.  They have over 300 aircraft in pristine facilities or outdoor locations.  The museum volunteers and staff were very friendly and informative.

Now, onto the Air Force Boneyard – accessible to civilians by tour bus!  Here, military aircraft are preserved for future use, salvaged for unique parts, or ultimately crunched after all useable parts are removed.  Applause to the Air Force for their penny-pinching and resourcefulness in an era of tight military budgeting.

This plane and the others in the background could fly again.

This plane and the others in the background could fly again.

These large transport planes are truly in the boneyard...they will never fly again and are being stripped of useful equipment needed by aircraft still in service.

These large transport planes are truly in the boneyard…they will never fly again and are being stripped of useful equipment needed by aircraft still in service.

More planes in the boneyard.

More planes in the boneyard.

I thoroughly enjoyed my sight-seeing time in Tucson, AZ, and I hope that if you are in the area you will stop by the museum or tour the base.  If you love historic aircraft, planes, or flight technology this is a place you may never wish to leave.

Beauty of Flight!

Beauty of Flight!

There is something wonderful about flying.  Defense, patriotism, pleasure, recreation, experiment, challenge, adventure, dream…so many aspects in the idea of flight.  The  sculpture at the Pima Air and Space Museum defines this idea simply: Beauty of Flight.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

For your information: http://www.pimaair.org/