There have been many people that have been fascinated with Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft such as helicopters. Leonardo da Vinci designed among other things a model for a helicopter. It was not till 400 years later that Igor Sikorsky designed the first successful helicopter.

Igor Sikorsky was a Russian engineer who lived in the USA. His helicopter had a rotor powered by a small engine and a smaller tail rotor at the back of the aircraft. His designs are still used today.

In 1939 the helicopter went straight up into the air 9.5 metres, flew 60 metres in the air and came straight down. While there had been other attempts at a VTOL flight, his was the first successful flight.

Igor Sikorsky’s first successful flight in 1939.
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Why Do Helicopters Fly?

Helicopters fly using the same principles as aeroplanes. Instead of wings, a helicopter has a rotor, a set of rotating blades. These blades are curved on top like the wings of the aeroplane. When they cut through the air, the air above the blade moves faster creating a low pressure. The air below moves slower and is higher in pressure. So when the blades spin around at a high speed they create a lift force like the wings of a plane. This upward force is greater than that of the weight of the helicopter and gravity so the helicopter is able to rise into the air and fly.

When in the air, the pilot is able to reduce the lift force until the helicopter is able to hover in the air. If the lift force is reduced even more, the helicopter is able to land on the ground.

By changing the angle of the rotor blades the pilot can make the helicopter move forward, backwards and sideways. The force that causes this is called thrust. For the helicopter to move this force must be greater than the force caused by the dragging effect of the surrounding air. This force is called drag. The movement of the helicopter is called the resultant motion.

A model of how a helicopter is able to fly.