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Hiller’s Helos

1 August 2010

Hiller’s Helos

37° 30’ 45” N / 122° 15’ 15” W

Stanley Hiller was brilliant and industrious — and that is only the start. He invented the first stable helicopter and he did that at the age of 16! Aside from his work in the development of early helicopters he also strove to get vertical flight to the regular person. Yes, he sought contracts with the military but one of his goals was to make possible a helicopter in every garage. This work occurred in the late 1940s and the 1950s — which were heady days in vertical flight experimentation.

A few of Hiller's helos — photo by Joe May

The Hiller Hornet was a test bed to eliminate two large design problems with helicopters — the weight penalty of the engine transmission and the tail rotor assembly (often thought of as an Achilles Heel with helicopters as well as what generates much if not most of helicopter noise). Almost uniquely, a small ram jet was placed at the end of each rotor blade. This eliminated a huge amount of weight by not having the weight of a main engine as well as the transmission. Initially the tail rotor was not present but a small one was subsequently installed. Getting fuel to flow to the engines was solved and must have been a challenge as the centrifugal forces would change radically with the rpm of the blades. Unfortunately for the design, ram jets work most efficiently at supersonic speeds but rotor tips (the fastest part of the rotor blade system) cannot be allowed to achieve supersonic velocities — a Catch-22 it would seem. But, as a test bed it was successful at proving the concept though fuel consumption was extremely high (recall these were early engines, though).

Hiller’s ram jet powered Hornet — photo by Joe May

Ram jet at the tip of one of the Hornet’s rotor blades — photo by Joe May

The Rotorcycle that could be dropped by parachute or carried in a luggage pod upon a car’s roof, assembled without tools and fly within minutes of unpacking.

Stowable helicopter, the Rotorcycle with an assembled one in the background (it’s the small blue craft) — photo by Joe May

The J-10 another tailless design that made it to the mock-up stage. Later the concept was used by Hughes Helicopter.

Hiller J-10 a no tail rotor design — photo by Joe May

The Raven is a truly historical aircraft. Probably the first helicopter to routinely be used for combat zone medical evacuations.

MedEvac Raven — photo by Joe May

This post is not meant to thoroughly or completely encompass Stanley Hiller’s contributions in the area of vertical flight. It is meant to illustrate how significant his efforts were as they were many and he was a great thinker as well as developer. Shortly after the 1950s he moved away from aviation and into corporate management practices. He made one last contribution regarding aeronautics before he passed away, in 2006, which was to donate his aviation collection which is now housed in the Hiller Aviation Museum, located in San Carlos CA. Posts regarding this museum — which covers Hiller’s aviation aspects as well as overall aviation and especially California’s aviation development history — will publish through this month. The museum is purpose-built for this and also serves as an institute for research, as well as education.


Entry is modest at around $10 and getting there is hardly easier since it is less than 10 miles from San Francisco International Airport**. One could also fly into Oakland International Airport***. There is no café though it is not required since the museum is located within an urbanized area.

** the San Francisco Airport Commission Aviation Library & Louis A. Turpen Aviation Museum (but informally called the San Francisco Airport Museum & Library) is located with the International Terminal, soon a post will be made regarding my recent visit there

*** the Oakland Aviation Museum is located at the Oakland International Airport property and a post will appear soon regarding my recent visit there

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Marty Davis permalink
    1 August 2010 13:39

    If the people of Hiller’s day dreamt of a “helicopter in every garage” we can be thankful that that particular vision of the future never came true. The FAA would have had to grow exceedingly large to deal with the enormous number of pilots flying rotary wing aircraft. And the flight routes would be so congested and the noise so unremitting that we earth-bound humans would rue the day the first helicopter took flight.

    Not that I wouldn’t mind my own personal helicopter. It still sounds marvelous.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      1 August 2010 14:07

      I have to agree with you — just look at how folks drive today with many (if not most) texting, eating, dialing, applying make-up, disciplining children and excessively weaving through traffic. It is good that aviating has not been brought to the masses!


  1. Hiller Tail Rotor

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