Friday, June 15, 2007

Helicoptering


Paul Cornu was born on this day in 1881 in Glos-la-Ferriere, France.

An engineer living at Lisieux, Cornu designed a 28-pound working model of a vertical flying machine (or helicopter) which he had flown successfully in 1906. He decided to build a life-sized version of his helicopter for a try at the Deutsch-Archdeacon Prize, a bounty of 50,000 francs offered by a pair of wealthy Parisians to the first to achieve manned, mechanically-powered flight over a specified 1-kilometer course. Cornu raised 100 francs from about 125 friends, built a 573-pound version of his flying machine, and after several unmanned tests with a 110-pound sand bag on board, on November 13, 1907, Cornu piloted his awkward copter to one foot above the ground and hovered for about 20 seconds -- the first manned helicopter flight ever.

On later flights, Cornu managed to ascend to five feet and accidentally achieved a record for two-person flight when his brother grabbed the frame of the machine to keep it from tipping and was briefly swept aloft. In 300 flight attempts, Cornu gingerly guided his craft forward and backward at a maximum speed of 6 miles per hour, but could not achieve the Deutsch-Archdeacon objective; the prize was won by Henri Farman in an airplane in 1908. Cornu gave up his experiments in 1909, lacking necessary funding.

It took another 31 years before Igor Sikorsky would design a practical, stable and navigable helicopter. Cornu died in 1944.

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