The helicopter is probably the most versatile instrument ever invented by man. It approaches closer than any other to fulfilment of mankind’s ancient dreams of the flying horse and the magic carpet.
– Igor Ivanovitch Sikorsky
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1. After having flown the fixed wing aircraft successfully in 1903, man turned his attention towards the more complex and challenging problems of flying a rotary wing. The visionaries had long since prophesied the possibility of a vehicle that would takeoff vertically before moving forwards. The recorded evidence of this idea was found in the Chinese books as early as 400 BC, but it was probably only around 1490, when Leonardo da Vinci came up with his sketches of a similar vehicle, that the concept of helicopters actually advanced. Despite this, the first free flight was performed only in November 1907. Unlike the airplane, a helicopter is an aircraft with rotary wings. The capability to hover for long durations allows the helicopter to accomplish tasks unachievable by other means. In addition, the versatility and ease of operation, compared to a fixed wing aircraft make helicopters an excellent choice for all kinds of operations, by day and especially by night.
2. The earliest mentions of a vertical flight have been in a Chinese book written in 4th century BC, referred to as Pao Phu Tau. Someone asked the master about the principles of mounting to dangerous heights and travelling into the vast inane. The Master said, "Some have made flying cars with wood from the inner part of the jujube tree, using ox-leather [straps] fastened to returning blades so as to set the machine in motion". However, it was in 1490, when Leonardo da Vinci had the imagination to design a machine made of wood and starched linen, called the ‘helical screw’. This machine, operated by a spring mechanism, was supposed to literally screw itself vertically into the air. This machine, shown in Fig. 1, was the origin of the word helicopter. The word is a combination of the Greek words, ‘Helix’ meaning spiral and ‘Pteron’ meaning wing. Thereafter, in July 1754, Mikhail Lomonosov demonstrated a small coaxial rotor for lifting meteorological instruments. Christian de Launoy, and his mechanic, Bienvenu, made a model with a pair of counter-rotating rotors, using turkey’s flight feathers as rotor blades, in 1784.
3. Between the Fifteenth and Twentieth Centuries, adequate machinery needed to produce helicopters, like turbine engines and rotors, was not yet made possible by assembly lines, but as the Industrial Revolution prompted factories and technology accelerated, the helicopter evolved. One of the first breakthroughs in helicopter advancement was by George Cayley who produced a converti-plane in 1843.
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