February 2017

2017 February

Helicopter Pioneers

Igor I. Sikorsky and Colonel H. Franklin Gregory: Igor Sikorsky first successfully lifted the VS-300 off of the ground on September 14, 1939. In May 1940, Sikorsky made the first public demonstration flights in the VS-300 and was subsequently issued the first helicopter license by the National Aeronautic Association of the United States. While using the VS-300 to test his design concepts, Sikorsky taught himself and several others to fly helicopters. During a visit on July 24, 1940, Sikorsky offered Frank Gregory, the Project Officer for the Army Air Corps’ new Helicopter Program, the controls of the VS-300. Gregory accepted the offer and became the first American military helicopter pilot. (AHS would honor both as its first award recipients: Igor Sikorsky and Col. Gregory were the first AHS Honorary Fellows, bestowed in Oct. 1944.)

Charles H. Kaman: Charley Kaman is shown here with his first test stand built during WWII. He bought a 1933 Pontiac from a junk yard and created a towable trailer. He used the Pontiac engine as the power plant and an upright Dodge truck rear axle as the transmission. A $1.75 piece of spruce was used for the rotor blades and a standard bathroom scale was added to measure lift. Testing of his servo-flap system began. Charles Kaman and the company he founded, Kaman Helicopters, would develop the innovative servo-flap control system and perfect the intermeshing rotor head, trademarks of Kaman Helicopters that are still flying more than 60 years later. (Charles Kaman was selected as an AHS Honorary Fellow in 1950, and awarded the Alexander Klemin Award in 1981.)

Frank N. Piasecki, Raoul Hafner, Charles “Sox” Hosegood: The Bristol Type 171 Sycamore was the first British-designed helicopter to be certified for civil use as well as the first to fly and serve with the Royal Air Force. Created by the Bristol Aeroplane Company, first flight was on July 27, 1947. In 1944, rotorcraft pioneer Raoul Hafner was appointed by Bristol as Chief Designer and head of the new Helicopter Division. Bristol test pilot Charles "Sox" Hosegood was also heavily involved in the development of the Type 171. American tandem rotor pioneer Frank Piasecki is shown in the cockpit. (Hafner was awarded the Alexander Klemin Award in 1953, while Piasecki was selected as an AHS Honorary Fellow in 1947, and awarded the Klemin in 1989.)

Arthur M. Young: Unique among the approaches of the other early helicopter pioneers was Arthur Young’s decision to experiment exclusively with models prior to building a full scale helicopter. He believed in making mistakes on a small scale in order to learn quickly and relatively inexpensively. His approach paid off and his painstaking efforts allowed him to quickly develop a working full-scale helicopter, eventually receiving the first ever commercial helicopter certification with the Bell Model 47. His engineering ability helped establish Bell as one of the leading helicopter producers in the world. (Young was selected for the AHS Honorary Fellow in 1945, the second year it was awarded.)

Description: Paul Fardink
Photo credits: AHS International, Kaman, David Gibbings, State Archives of Florida/Steinmetz

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2017 History Calendar Index