At Longhorn Helicopters, we’re pretty excited about helicopters — obviously. We like learning about them, figuring out great uses for them, and of course, flying them.

While airplanes get all the airtime in our history classes, we thought we’d take a look at the origin story of the whirlybirds we love.

The first successful powered glider flight occurred on December 17, 1903. It would be another 36 years before helicopters would really be developed enough to take their place in the sky.

The idea of being able to execute a vertical takeoff  fascinated inventors for centuries, from first century Chinese kite designs to the dreams of Leonardo da Vinci during the Renaissance.

Those seeds of an idea sowed by da Vinci would begin to come to fruition through multiple early 20th century innovators.

1907 saw significant progress forward for the idea of helicopters, and most of the momentum came from French inventors. Louis and Jacques Breguet were the first to construct a craft that achieved vertical liftoff (they called it a Gyroplane).

The first piloted helicopter liftoff (reaching a height of one foot) occurred in 1907 with a two-bladed model designed by French inventor Paul Cornu. But that design wasn’t stable enough to be freestanding without significant support from a ground team.

Another early French helicopter design that same year was contributed by Etienne Oehmichen, who was the first to successfully transport a passenger in a helicopter.

Throughout the ’20s and ’30s, vertical flight continued to develop in the form of an autogyro developed by Soviet inventor Nikolay Kamov. Autogyros were used for both entertainment (sightseeing) and practicality (delivering mail).

The eventual evolution of autogyros into the helicopter as we know it today would happen just in time for World War II.

French inventor Etienne Oehmichen saw moderate success with his helicopter design in the ’20s, and a German model created by Henrich Focke and Gerd Achgelis became popular in the 1930s.

In 1939, Igor Sikorsky entered the scene with the first successful flight for his single main rotor and tail rotor design.

His helicopter would become such a standard design that it’s still influencing production today, earning him his widely regarded reputation as the Father of the Modern Helicopter.

And we still love Sikorsky choppers.

Throughout WWII, the use of Sikorsky’s helicopter design was most effective in reconnaissance and rescue missions.

After the war ended, the commercial use of helicopters exploded in the United States as economic development boomed. This resulted in the diversification of helicopter designs and uses that we see today. 

These early forefathers of helicopter design made it possible for us to use helicopters for countless things now: medical uses, transporting goods, defense, and even adventurous tours.

Experience just how far helicopters have come yourself on one of Longhorn Helicopters’ tours!