Thursday, August 20, 2009


Found a cool 2nd-hand book on helicopters in a charity-shop in Taunton a couple days ago. Must say, these v. early 20th century beasties make a nice change from the usual flapping-wing Da Vinci monstrositities and Moorcock ornithopters. That one at the top looks like the sort of old threshing-machine that grumpy, fingerless farmers used to use round here back in the day:

Hmmm: mostly French designs, by the look of 'em. Wonder why the French were so interested in early rotary-wing craft?

A quick Google returns some flimsy info:

"In 1784, the French inventors, Launoy and Bienvenue, created a toy with a rotary-wing that could lift and fly, and proved the principle of helicopter flight. In 1863, the French writer Ponton D'Amecourt was the first person to coin the term "helicopter" from the two words "helico" for spiral and "pter" for wings. The very first piloted helicopter was invented by Paul Cornu in 1907, however, this design was not successful."

Yep, indeed, I believe the earliest theoretical visions of helicopters were called pteropheres.

It still doesn't tell me why the French were so fascinated by the idea of helicopter-like craft - far more so that the Germans or British. Possibly because it initially spun off (sorry, accidental pun!) from the idea of adding aerial 'screws' to hot-air balloons and the French were a ballooning nation (tho obv. not all of them lol; tho that might make for an interesting scenario!), okay, perhaps "balloon pioneers" might be a better phrase.

Jules Verne was inspired by D'Amecourt to write Robur le conquerant wh/ features a giant vertical-screw-lift flying-machine. Perhaps Verne possibly helped embed the idea of helicopter-like craft in French Popular Culture, but his countrymen had already been thinking about it long before then.


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