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Leonardo da Vinci’s Aerial Screw — nascent helicopter?

5 April 2013

Leonardo da Vinci’s Aerial Screw — nascent helicopter?

As we all know, Leonardo was a visionary beyond all measure. He also sketched what is often credited with the first concept of the helicopter in 1480, though the Chinese had been playing with rotor blades as toys since 400 BCE — they were called bamboo dragonflies or zhuqingting (竹蜻蜓). 

Model of the da Vinci Aerial Screw in the Hiller Aviation Museum — photo by Joseph May

The aerial screw did not get beyond the design stage and looks much like a reconsidered Archimedes screw (an early water lifting device). Power was envisioned to be provided by as many as four men turning a crank which would rotate the device — literally working as a screw. Unlike the bamboo dragonflies, which essentially autorotate, the aerial screw would have run into a problem since it did not have an antitorque mechanism — which would have to wait until the 20th Century and the first successful helicopter flights (see comment below) — such is the nature of pioneering.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Ed G permalink
    5 April 2013 11:42

    Sorry… but the first helicopter flight was well before 1940! There were a couple of French flights by Breguet and Cornu around 1906-1907 and it took years to sort out the stability and control issues before the first practical helicopters took flight in the mid- to late-1930s, notably the Focke-Wulf Fw 61 in Germany. Sikorsky pioneered the single main rotor with anti-torque tail rotor with the VS-300 which first flew in 1940.

    • travelforaircraft permalink*
      6 April 2013 09:21

      Right you are and thanks for this 🙂 I have edited the post to emend my error — thanks again.

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