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All About Helicopters

Updated on October 2, 2012

All about Helicopters

Helicopters are amazing vessels that allow people to travel quickly through the air. Helicopters are used by the police, army, ambulance, fire services, government dignitaries and even civilians and private companies. In this article I am going to explore the world of Helicoptering and explain some basic facts about flying these marvelous machines as well as displaying some of my favorite Helicopter Photographs I have taken.

One of Leonardo Da Vinci's helicopter sketches.
One of Leonardo Da Vinci's helicopter sketches.

Helicopter History

Today, most travel through the air is done in air planes but people often forget the story of air travel actually started with the helicopter. In Ancient China people played with toys, which rose in the air after being spun rapidly by hand. In the mid 1500’s the genius Leonardo Da Vinci took this idea and developed it into detailed drawings of a Helicopter. Of course his initial sketches were flawed, due to the weight and size of a viable machine but it outlaid a path which many people would follow and develop. As development and ideas grew through the 17th and 18th century it became clear that two key factors still remained unsolved: the understanding of natural lift and how to provide an adequate lift. Only at the tail end of the 19th century did the combustion engine appear, and act as a breakthrough in this field. Issues relating to Torque and nose tipping slowly were resolved and by the early 20th century the dream of a flying helicopter started evolving into a reality. On 13th November 1907, a French pioneer named Paul Cornu successfully elevated his twin rotor helicopter for a few seconds without any external assistance. It took another seventeen years before another French pioneer named Etienne Oehmichen successfully flew his helicopter over a short distance. From that day the evolution of the helicopter accelerated greatly leading up to the magnificent machines we see today.

How do they fly?

Helicopters gain lift by using one or more horizontal power driven propellers that are known as Rotors. A spinning rotor blade provides torque which would unaided make the helicopter spin itself. This spinning of the actual whole machine is combated by a vertical rotor blade on the tail of the helicopter. On larger twin blade helicopters the blades spin in opposite directions which cancels out the reaction. The helicopter is sent in a certain direction by angling the rotors to provide lift in that direction. Many forces are created by a flying helicopter, and most of these need to be combated to allow a smooth flight. This is what makes these machines so complicated to fly. The engineering and engine behind the helicopter really needs to be understood before stepping foot into the cockpit of one of these remarkable machines.

Some Cool Facts about Helicopters

· If the engine of a helicopter were to stall or stop abruptly the rotor blades will continue to turn for long enough to ensure the helicopter can safely land without crashing.

· Helicopters are very safe to fly in poor weather conditions as they have the ability to alter their speed rapidly, easily move up or down, left of right and even fly sideways or backwards.

· The first helicopter rescue was in 1944, and since then over three million lives have been saved thanks to the helicopter.

· There are close to 20,000 civilian helicopters in the world today.

· There are close to 52,000 operational helicopters in the world today.

· Helicopters have the ability to fly long distances if there is enough fuel.

· The fastest helicopter is the Westland Lynx, which on the 6th of August 1986 traveled at 402km/h.

· The biggest helicopter was the Russian Mil Mi-12 Homer from 1968. This legendary machine could lift 40,204kg up to 2255 meters.

Some Myths about Helicopters

Myth 1: Helicopters often stall and when they do there is no chance of survival.
This is far from the truth. As I mentioned earlier, if a helicopter does stall; which is extremely rare, the helicopter rotor blades will continue to turn long enough to give the pilot plenty of time to safely land the helicopter. The rotor blades will slow down due to the loss of power, but this helps gives a soft and gradual landing.

Myth 2: A helicopter needs two engines, one to control to top rotor, and one to control to tail rotor.
This is far from the truth. All helicopters have the ability to run both sets of rotor blades from one engine. The second engine that you will find now on all helicopters is purely a safety engine. If the first engine fails you have something to fall back on. The generally means if your main engine fails midway through a flight there is no need for an emergency landing as you still have an engine capable of flying the helicopter. If the second engine fails you will be able to make a slow natural descent (see Myth 1).

Myth 3: Helicopters are too fragile to fly in heavy wind or storms.
Helicopters are the rescue vessel of choice in major storms. This myth is total rubbish. Helicopters are designed to fly in all conditions as the rotor blades turn at intense speeds which create their own wind cycle. The weather does not affect helicopter flight at all. In fact helicopters can affect the wind cycles of area’s they fly through.

Myth 4: Helicopters are very bumpy and uncomfortable during flight.
It is true that helicopters vibrate more than airplanes but they are actually more stable then airplanes in turbulence. This is due to them creating their own cycle of wind.

R22: The best entry level helicopter
R22: The best entry level helicopter

How expensive are Helicopters?

Helicopters are very complex pieces of machinery that you need a pilot license to fly. Owning your own helicopter is a dream of many but unlike a car they are not always easily affordable (unless you have a huge trust fund).

The most basic helicopter would have to be the Robinson R22. This beauty has two seats and is relatively simple to fly in comparison to other more complex helicopters. This helicopter has a single rotor atop the machine, and a small tail rotor. You are looking at around £200,000 for a new helicopter, but you can often find second hand or reconditioned models for as little as £100,000.

The price of helicopters only goes up and up and up as you look for more space, and faster engines. If you are looking for something truly magical, such as the Eurocopter EC120 Colibri Hummingbird, which is a luxury helicopter with all the mod-cons and latest safety features and five seats you are looking at spending near to £1,400,000.

When you look at industrial helicopters the prices will tend to start at around £800,000.

Some of My Helicopter Photographs

Here are some photographs I have taken of helicopters. In fact all the images in this article (excluding the sketch by Leonardo Di Vinci) I have taken. I hope you enjoy them!


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