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Aviation History Month Day 13 - 12th of November 1907

It was on this day in aviation history that the first manned helicopter is reported to have taken place when Paul Cornu lifted his Cornu helicopter off the ground.

A photograph of the original Cornu Helicopter (from Public Source)

The Cornu helicopter was built by French bicycle maker Paul Cornu. It had an open framework with a curved steel tube as a basis that had an engine in the middle and rotors at each end the rotors were counter-rotating and driven via a belt system from the engine. The control system was nothing compared with current day helicopter controls. Via cables, Cornu could change the pitch of the rotor blades for vertical control, while vanes at each end of the machine would direct the downwash from the rotors to provide directional control.

Paul Cornu in his helicopter in 1907

It is reported that the rotorcraft made several very short flights, reaching a maximum height of 5 - 7 feet (1.5 - 2 meters) with a flight time of less than a minute. These very short flights were enough for Cornu to establish that the control system he had designed was seriously flawed and basically ineffective. This led to him abandoning the craft shortly after the flights.

In more recent years analysis of the design using modern engineering techniques demonstrated that the Cornu helicopter was not able to be flown in a controlled manner. The original Cornu helicopter did not survive. Two replicas have been built.

  • One by the École supérieure des techniques aéronautiques et de construction automobile (ESTACA) {Higher School for Aeronautical Techniques and Construction of Cars} no on display at the aviation museum at Le Bourget France, on display since the 15th of December 2007

  • Another replica was built by the Helicopter Museum of Bückburg as a homage to the achievements of Paul Cornu. This replica is on display since the 13th of November 2007.

Replica of the Cornu Helicopter in front of the Helicopter Museum of Bückburg

Specifications of the Cornu Helicopter; General characteristics

  • Crew: One pilot

  • Gross weight: 260 kg (573 lb)

  • Powerplant: 1 × Antoinette , 18 kW (24 hp)

  • Main rotor diameter: 2 × 6.00 m (19 ft 8 in)

  • Main rotor area: 56.5 m2 (608 sq ft)


  • Cruise speed: 0 km/h (0 mph, 0 kn)

  • Endurance: 0 hours 0.5 minutes

  • Service ceiling: 2.0 m (7.0 ft)

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