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decade of rapid growth in helicopter design that was about to unfold in the United States during the 1940s. The development of the helicopter has been a long

process pushed forward in phases by men like Cierva, De Bothezat and Sikorsky. The length of this process and the incremental nature of rotary-wing developments make it impossible to denote one individual as the inventor of the helicopter. It is similarly difficult to designate one aircraft as the first helicopter. Some aviation historians will argue that the Breguet-Dorand Gyroplane Laboratoire was the first real helicopter, while others will say that the Fw 61 was the first practical helicopter. Which aircraft should lay the rightful claim to being

the first? The Gyroplane Laboratoire was constructed in the early 1930s and did fly in 1935, beating the Fw 61 into the air. The Breguet-Dorand creation also establish sev- eral FAI records for speed, altitude and endurance while demonstrating good controllability. However, less than a year after the Gyroplane Laboratoire took to the sky, the Fw 61 flew and significantly raised the bar for helicopter design and capability. The Fw 61 was the first helicopter to make an autoro- landing and smashed the altitude and speed


records set by the Gyroplane Laboratoire. The Fw 61 made several cross-country flights and was the first heli- copter designated as an approved aircraft by an aviation regulatory agency; it is also generally regarded to have had a higher degree of reliability, control and capability than the Gyroplane Laboratoire. Regardless of whether or not the Fw 61 should rightly be considered the first actual or practical helicopter, it holds a significant place in helicopter history. ◆


Coates, S. (2002). Helicopters of the Third Reich. Hersham, Surrey: Classic Publications.

Gablehouse, C. (1967). Helicopters and Autogiros: A Chronicle of Rotating-Wing Aircraft. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company.

Heinrich Focke-Fa-61. (n.d.). U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission Website. HE5.htm

LT Brad McNally is a 2001graduate of the United States Coast Guard Academy. After serving two tours in Coast Guard Naval Engineering he attended Naval Flight Training in Pensacola, Florida. He was previously station at the Coast Guard Air Station in Atlantic City, NJ where he was an aircraft commander in the MH-65C Dolphin helicopter. He currently resides in West Lafayette, IN with his wife Monica and son Brett where he is assigned as a graduate student at Purdue University pursuing a Masters Degree in Aeronautical Engineering.

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