Commentary: A Forum 75 Years in the Making

A Forum 75 Years in the Making

By Mike Hirschberg, Executive Director
The Vertical Flight Society
From Vertiflite March/April 2019

Commentary March-April 2019For 75 years, the Annual Forum has been the high point of the calendar for the world’s vertical flight technical community. From its humble beginnings during World War II, it has remained the largest and most important gathering of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) engineers, scientists, academics, managers and leaders in the world.

On May 13–16, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in downtown Philadelphia, the Vertical Flight Society will celebrate 75 years of advancing vertical flight. Philadelphia couldn’t be a more appropriate venue, as it is recognized as the birthplace of the United States, rotary-wing aviation in America and the Annual Forum.

This year’s 75th Annual Forum & Technology Display will set many records, including the presentation of the most technical papers. With more abstracts received than ever before — nearly double the number from 20 years ago — Forum 75 will include nearly 300 technical papers and 50 special session presentations, plus some 70 exhibitors and unlimited opportunities to network with today’s and tomorrow’s vertical flight leaders.

Triple Origins

Philadelphia is often called “the birthplace of the United States,” as both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were written and signed in Independence Hall, just 3,000 ft (1 km) from the convention center. Adjacent is the Liberty Bell — the iconic symbol of Philadelphia and of American independence — that once hung in Independence Hall.

As we have covered in Vertiflite over the past year, the Delaware Valley is also known as “The Cradle of Rotary-Wing Aviation in the US,” being the site of many important “firsts” in vertical flight. This includes the first successful rotary-wing aircraft in America, the Cierva C.8W Autogiro; the foundation of the Pitcairn-Cierva Autogiro Company of America, the Kellett Autogiro Corporation and the Platt-LePage Aircraft Company; the sponsorship of the Dorsey-Logan Bill that funded early helicopter development; and the Rotating Wing Aircraft Meetings at the Franklin Institute in the late 1930s (see the Sept/Oct 2018 issue of Vertiflite or 

The foundations of today’s rotorcraft industry also began in this region. Arthur Young and Bartram Kelley developed their stabilizer bar concept for what became the enabling technology of the early Bell Helicopter. Frank Piasecki founded what would become Boeing’s tandem rotor business in Philadelphia, as well as today’s Piasecki Aircraft Corp. and its offspring, Dragonfly Pictures. (Even Igor Sikorsky benefited from the Autogiro technology and meetings in the Philadelphia region.) The world's first commercial helicopter operator, Helicopter Air Transport, and the world's first helicopter airshow (at Forum 3) were also nearby. 

Recent articles in Vertiflite have profiled these area companies as well as Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky production facilities in Coatesville, Leonardo’s AgustaWestland Philadelphia Company plant at the Northeast Philadelphia Airport, Eaton Corporation in Glenolden and Continuum Dynamics, near Trenton.

Forum 1

Philadelphia is also a fitting location to celebrate the legacy of VFS. Seventy-five years ago, the small group of helicopter engineers, managers and leaders that was the fledgling “American Helicopter Society” organized its first major technical meeting and picked Philadelphia as the place to hold it.

This First Annual Forum was held at the Engineers Club of Philadelphia, at 1317 Spruce Street. The site is also about 3,000 ft (1 km) from today’s Pennsylvania Convention Center (in fact these two points form an equilateral triangle with the distance from Independence Hall).

The one-day meeting, on Monday, April 23, 1945, started with a technical and engineering session at 1:30 pm, followed by an economic session and dinner at 6:30 pm. This seminal event — then referred to as the “Annual Philadelphia Helicopter Forum” — covered a wide range of subjects on which some 13 speakers presented their ideas to the gathering. The technical and engineering meeting, 1:30 – 5:00 pm, had panels entitled, Undercarriages, Performance—Theory and Flight Test, Design of Rotor Blades for Fatigue Loads, and Cockpit Arrangement for Helicopters.

The evening session, 6:30 – 9:00 pm, included dinner and covered “The Economic Aspects of Helicopters.” Speakers were comprised of executives from the US government, American Airlines, the Glenn L. Martin Company, Greyhound bus line, Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Fairchild Aircraft, Southwest Airways and All American Aviation. The evening session had a strict limit of 250 attendees, due to the capacity of the room. Registration for the Forum technical meeting and the dinner was $5.00.

Forum 75

This year’s 75th Annual Forum spans four days and bridges 75 years of historical perspective with a vision for the “Future of Vertical Flight.” 

Monday, May 13, begins with a short course on electric VTOL aircraft fundamentals and the 7th Annual Micro Air Vehicle (MAV) Student Challenge. The afternoon technical sessions are 1:30 – 5:30 pm and include a special session on the history of the American Helicopter Society, given by AHS Executive Director Emeritus Rhett Flater. Monday evening has a special event, “Memoirs of our Pioneers: A Celebration of Their Life and Times,” featuring the family and friends of the original American helicopter pioneers, such as Frank Piasecki, Arthur Young, Harold Pitcairn and Igor Sikorsky. This event will be held at the nearby Franklin Institute, 6:30 – 9:00 pm and is limited to the first 250 attendees, due to room capacity. Registration for the special panel discussion and a reception afterwards is $50.00.

A special two-day Technology Display schedule is planned this year for Tuesday, May 14, and Wednesday, May 15. Forum 75 will explore emerging technologies and trends with executives from Airbus, Bell, Boeing, Leonardo and Sikorsky, as part of our annual “Straight Talk from the Top” CEO panel on Tuesday morning. Tuesday will also feature the Forum 75 keynote address and this year’s Alexander A. Nikolsky Honorary Lecture by Nick Lappos: “Design Advantages of an Integrated Cyber-Physical Aircraft.” Tuesday evening will be capped by the annual Exhibitor Reception, 4-6 pm.

Wednesday and Thursday will feature full days of technical sessions, as well as special sessions covered military programs, eVTOL and urban air mobility. Wednesday evening’s Grand Awards Banquet will again highlight the greatest accomplishments in advancing vertical flight with the special legacy of the Vertical Flight Society. Tours of local rotorcraft manufacturing plants are planned for Friday morning.

The Future of Vertical Flight

Advances in vertical flight technology are rapidly accelerating. This year’s 75th Annual Forum & Technology Display is the ideal opportunity to understand the breadth and depth of the transformation taking place within vertical flight, with nearly the 300 technical papers spanning advancements in every technical discipline, from acoustics and aerodynamics to unmanned systems and wind energy.

For 75 years the Vertical Flight Society has held the only event in the world that focuses on all aspects of vertical flight — US/international, manned/unmanned, military/civil and electric/convention propulsion — and from basic technology to operational systems. The Annual Forum is the largest and longest-running vertical flight technical event in the world.

The 75th Annual Forum & Technology Display takes place May 13–16 in Philadelphia. You don’t want to miss it!

What do you think? Let us know!

Posted: 2019-02-20