On 13 November 1907, French engineer and bicycle-maker Paul Cornu made history by becoming the first man to fly in a rotary wing aircraft. Like the Wright Brothers, Cornu was a bicycle maker who dreamed of flight.
Ensuring his place in the history books, his primitive twin-rotor helicopter was powered by a 24HP Antoinette engine and lifted Cornu about five feet off the ground, and held him there for 20 seconds at Coquainvilliers near Lisieux, France.
Paul Cornu was born in 1881 in the French town of Lisieux, where the local high school is named after him. His talent for engineering became clear when he joined his father in the family business an Automobile, Bicycle and Motorcycles shop where. At the age of 24, he designed and built a working, two-rotor model helicopter weighing 26 pounds. The success of his invention, which he demonstrated at the annual agricultural fair in Lisieux on 4 October 1906, encouraged him to build a large-scale version capable of carrying a passenger.
Cornu died in 1944, when his home was destroyed during a World War Two Allied bombardment.
History of helicopters
Helicopters are a relatively recent invention. But their origins may date back to the 15th century, when Leonardo da Vinci sketched a reed, linen and wire “airscrew” device designed to compress air to obtain flight. Da Vinci never tested his theory, which is perhaps a good thing as modern scientists believe it would have been too heavy to get off the ground. In fact, it took hundreds more years for the first actual helicopter to take flight.
In 1877 Italian Enrico Forlanini flew an unmanned helicopter weighing 700 pounds to a height 42 feet for 20 seconds. In 1907, a few months before Cornu’s historic flight, French inventors the Breguet brothers, accomplished a manned flight that lasted 60 seconds but was held in position by men standing on the ground.
Later developments included the first rotorcraft record registered by the FAI – a 2,392 foot flight made by the Marquis of Pescara near Paris in 1924 – and the first flight of the VS-300, the world’s first practical, controllable helicopter designed by Igor Sikorsky, in September 1939.