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Podcast: Revolutions in Vertical Flight S1 E1 - The Birth of VTOL

20th December 2019 - 12:14 GMT | by Studio


Welcome to Shephard Studio’s podcast series on Revolutions in Vertical Flight, sponsored by our partner Bell.

Listen on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify and more.

The Revolutions in Vertical Flight podcast tells the little-known story of the history of rotorcraft, from the autogiro and helicopter, to the tiltrotor and eVTOL platforms in development today. 

Revolutions in Vertical Flight reveals the stories of a small group of pioneers, the visions and beliefs that drove them, and their approach to invention and innovation.

And the Shephard Studio podcast series looks at the vertical flight innovation underway today, revealing how it will transform military operations and revolutionise urban mobility..

In this episode, we go back to the beginning and look at how the work of a Spanish engineer to perfect his autogiro design helped pave the way for the development of the helicopter.

We speak to Sergei Sikorsky about his memories of his father’s pioneering work creating the first successful helicopter design. And we hear how Frank Piasecki’s ground-breaking tandem rotor design helped the helicopter to revolutionise military operations.

Episode 2: The Dawn of the Helicopter is here

A transcript of this episode is below:

The news reports of the time of breathless with excitement. The arrival of the helicopter promise sky buggies for everybody, helicars that would cost no more than a medium price automobile. The helicopter shown on those early 1940s newsreels were certainly revolutionary, but few realized at the time just how the arrival of those early Bell, Hiller, Piasecki and Sikorsky helicopters were to transform so many areas of society.

Helicopters became lifesavers. Millions of lives ultimately being saved by the air ambulances and search and rescue helicopters. While a myriad of industries were enriched by the helicopter’s unique attributes.

Today, the arrival of the next generation of rotorcraft could deliver something the early helicopter pioneers could only dream of – the ability to hail an air taxi to whisk you across town all through a smartphone app.

Welcome to Shepard Studios’ Revolutions in Vertical Flight brought to you in partnership with Bell. Over the course of six episodes, we are looking at the history of vertical flight and discover the key pioneers and revolutionary moments that created the rotorcraft industry we know today. And we consider the future revolutions, how next generation rotorcraft will shape the future battlespace, and hear how innovation underway today will enable the urban air mobility of tomorrow.

Everyone has a mental image of those failed early attempts at creating a working helicopter, but what was that revolutionary leap, what was the breakthrough that took the helicopter from the wacky experimental machines of the early 20th century and made it a viable concept?

Invariably, when we asked that question of helicopter experts and historians, the onset pointed us to the inventor of an entirely different of aircraft altogether.

Juan de la Cierva was a Spanish engineer and pilot that invented a new single rotor type of aircraft that came to be called the autogyro. Still popular today, the autogyro uses an unpowered rotor in free auto rotation to produce lift. Cierva’s work on the dynamics of the rotor system would pave the way for the modern helicopter. This is Jeremy Graham, a fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Graham: “Lots of rotary wing inventions can be found in the history books going back well I suppose ultimately to Leonardo's screw, which would never have worked, but that's by the by. The point is he had at least imagined a rotary wing solution, but the person that really I think made it work for us would be a Cierva. Cierva started as a fixed wing designer as a young man, moved to rotary wing as his vision as to how the stall could be avoided. So, a lot of accidents had happened because of a fixed wing stalls. And he had the very simple notion that if the wing was always moving at a sensible speed, then it would never stall and this would be a safe aircraft. His notion of a rotary wing aircraft was all well and good, but it took a while to really resolve how to make it work properly.

“His early attempts have all the appearance of experiment, of science and they didn't work very well. It wasn't powered. It was basically a rotating wing kite. It was not truly controllable and he struggled with this for some time. Eventually managed to cotton onto the fact that as the aircraft begins to move forwards, you get an asymmetry of lift. So, his rotors were very stiff in flap and they had no lag motion either, stiff in lag as well, and they had no controls, no direct controls at all. But the effect of that was that one blade is moving into wind and on the other side of the road to the blade is moving out of wind. So, one blade is going as speed wise faster than the other, so it lifts harder than the other one. So, the aircraft tended to roll over and he had a lot of accidents with the aircraft rolling over on take-off.

“He resolved this in the end by putting a flapping hinge, making the rotor flexible in flap. So, the blade that wanted to lift simply flapped on. It flapped down again as it came around on the retreating side. At that stage though, he was still relying on fixed wing style aerodynamic controls. And until those, so the aircraft, because of its ability to fly extremely slowly, as long as the rotor was rotating, there was lift, it wasn't going to stall. So, he could land at very, very low speeds and he could take it the aircraft off the ground at very low speeds as well. But at those speeds, the fixing controls didn't work. You needed a fair amount of forward speed for the ailerons and the elevators rather to really work. They persevered with that configuration right through the twenties.”

De la Cierva moved to the United Kingdom in 1925 where he established the Cierva Auto Gyro company. The patents he took out over the course of refining and improving the rotor system on his autogyro, were later adopted by the pioneers of the helicopter.

Graham: “Well, it could be seen in various forms because his approach to industrialization was to get people who had a history in the business of aviation to join forces with him. And he sent letters to all sorts of people inviting them to share his invention. He took many patents to protect his inventions. And in the early 1930s, he made a giant leap forward, which was to realize that if you could tilt the rotor under command, then you control aircraft pitch and roll and you didn't need the elevators or the ailerons. So he took the wings off and you end up then with an aircraft where the pilot is able to move the rotor thrust vector by an enormous handle that he had it in the cockpit, which actually tilted in pitch or roll or any combination, the rotor head and therefore the whole rotor. And by doing that, he finally had a completely controllable aircraft.”

It was in 1958 when one young pilot began to build up a private collection of rotorcraft documentation that a helicopter museum was born.

Ap Rees: “This was the first helicopter I acquired, by the way, this was the first helicopter I flew in, in the early 1960s. And when Westland decided to get rid of it in 69, I bought it.”

Here is Elfan Ap Rees, chairman of the Helicopter Museum in the southwest of England, which houses more than 80 helicopters and autogyros from around the world.

Ap Rees: “What I say to now is don't start collecting things because you don't know where you're going to end up. This is actually the world's oldest surviving helicopter, the Hafner R II which was built in Austria in 1931.  It came to England when Raul Hafner moved here to further develop helicopters and autogryos. This has a unique form of anti-torque control because at that time he wasn't thinking of using a tail rotor, but it was actually having two vanes effectively, which tipped in one direction or the other. So, the downdraft from the main rotor was deflected. It wasn't really successful. The aircraft just about got off the ground but then started tipping so you could see what was going to happen. But later he was very successful. But again, a lot of the early helicopter development was strangely enough down to Cierva, although he only ever produced autogyros and passed away before helicopter got going.

“Most of the designs had to use his patents for rotor hub control, swash plates and so on. And you know, even people like Sikorsky couldn't control their helicopters until they actually used the Cierva patents. You know, they didn't want to, but they had to, he was the real pioneer of rotary wing aircraft. No, two ways about it. All the other pioneers were trying different methods of control and they just didn't work. What Cierva did, was develop a cyclic and collective control, which were linked and what we call the swash plate now, which means that the rotor blades follow a pattern that you can define.”

In 1929, a man by the name of Harry Pitcairn brought the autogryo to America, buying the right to license Juan de la Cierva’s patents for $300,000. This is Richard Whittle, an aerospace writer who covers the rotorcraft pioneers in his book on the V-22 tiltrotor.

Whittle: “One of the things that I write about in my book, which was a critical development in the history of helicopters, was the introduction in this country of a type of aircraft called the autogryo which, which in the 1930s was, or 20s rather, was invented by a Spanish an inventor named Juan de la Cierva. And this was an aircraft that that had a freewheeling, free spinning rotor on top, which would allow it to land in short distances. And, and there was a businessman in the Philadelphia area named Harry Pitcairn, who bought the rights to produce that kind of aircraft in the United States and, and was working on that and, and selling some, there's a, there's a really one of my favourite little bits of autogyro history is that in the movie It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable and I believe made in 1934. There's a scene where the bad guy in the movie, this this sort of tycoon lands his autogyro on another character's lawn.

“So, and, and autogyros are actually used for a while and I think to, to carry mail between Philadelphia and New York. So, and, and so, and then if the 30s Mr Pitcairn went to his Congressman and, and tried to get Congress to appropriate money to get the [US] Army, which of course was the aviation service back then, to buy and develop autogyros. And, and after a series of hearings the, that Congress actually ended up providing money for the development of any kind of rotary wing aircraft as the, as the rotor is called a rotating wing.”

Tragically Cierva was killed in an airliner crash in 1936 preventing him from taking his work on rotor dynamics and control to create his own helicopter.

Graham: “My guess is that by the time he was killed in an air accident, which was the result of he was flying in a fixed wing commercial aircraft and it was a result of a stall, which is very ironic, but by that stage I'm absolutely convinced he was thinking about individual blade control as well. I would imagine he had grasped this idea because the collaborations that he was involved in the UK resulted in short order after his death in helicopter that actually had that sort of control. His collaborations included Focke in Germany and of course Focke went on to design develop what's arguably the first proper working helicopter. It seems quite interesting that in Germany Flettner and Focke both designed helicopters and then they were both involved in autogryos as well before that. But they both designed helicopters where the torque reaction was not removed by a tail rotor. The other did it with two main rotors that were separated or two main rotors that were intermeshed the rotors of course going in different directions to contract the talk.”

The Focke-Wulf Fw 61 is often considered the first practical, functional helicopter, and was first flown in 1936. In February 1938, the Fw 61 was even demonstrated flying indoors at sports stadium in Berlin.

We can only speculate what the Fw 61 project would have led to if the Second World War had not intervened. But the success of the Fw 61 as a flying machine did serve to spur on the ambitions of one young aircraft designer – a man known as Igor Sikorsky.   Here is Igor’s son, Sergei Sikorsky, who was kind enough to speak to us on the phone about his recollections of his father.

Sergei Sikorsky: “His love of aviation came, I believe from the fact that his mother was a very, very well developed scientifically and it was very much a student of Leonardo DaVinci and also Jules Verne. She read Jules Verne science fiction novels. And of course, as this inspired young Igor and I know that my father was suddenly fascinated and read and re-read that particular novel half a dozen times. And it meant, it was logical interestingly that when he went to have a vacation with his father, Professor Sikorsky in Germany, he read there the very first reports of the Wright Brothers flying. And that, that report of that flight inspired young Igor and it was already in that very same hotel where he read the very accurate account, studied the photographs of the Wright brothers first public demonstrations in Europe and decided that he wanted to get into the, into aviation.”

His love of aviation cemented a young age, Igor Sikorsky set out to be an aircraft engineer and designer. Attempts as early as 1909 to build a helicopter were unsuccessful, but the relatively inexperienced engineer showed amazing forethought to realize that the existing technology of the day wouldn't support helicopter development at that time.

Sergei Sikorsky: “In fact, he did build one or two tiny little helicopter rotors in his hotel room, in the garden and that was the start of his experimentation. He then left Russia briefly I believe in 1909 when he tried to, first of all, he went to Paris. He studied everything he could about aviation at that time. He bought a 15 horsepower engine and returned to Kiev, determined to build a helicopter. His first helicopter literally generated, as he himself put, a fascinating vibration. It had one minor problem; it would not fly. But otherwise it was an excellent helicopter. He then built a second helicopter. This second machine could barely lift itself, today we would say that it hovered in ground effect in the air cushion, but it wasn't all incapable of lifting anything besides itself. He realized at that time somehow that the helicopter was still some way away from being solved and he took up the challenge of the fixed wing aircraft.”

For the next ten years and throughout the First World War, Sikorsky designed scores of successful fixed wing aircraft.

Sergei Sikorsky: “He did build the, a number of increasingly promising aircraft. He then became famous internationally for building and successfully test flying the world's first multi-motored and actually four engine aircraft. It was by probably three times as big as anything that had been flown up to that time. There were a number of decisions that my father made when building the aircraft and these were decisions that included a very high aspect ratio wing, which meant a very long, thin wing sort of thing. What a good sail plane or glider uses today. It was the secret to his success because now aerodynamically we know that he never could have gotten off the ground with what we call a low aspect ratio wing. Very often he would design his aircraft, he would help build the aircraft and then he would test the aircraft. All of this was typical of those early pioneers, but it was also a very excellent school because you literally built what you would later fly. And if there were weaknesses, sometimes they cost a crash, sometimes quite literally it, it took your life. Consequently, one learned very quickly and one learned very prudently. One did not learn and learn prudently, one did not survive that 1911- 1912 early bloom of aviation.

“Dad was warned in 1917, early 18 that he was already under suspicion and would probably be executed by the Bolsheviks because of his friendship with the czar and because of his very great popularity. Consequently, he left Russia in January, February of 1918 never to return. He decided to come to the United States because of his deep conviction that if a small, penniless, relatively unknown immigrant came to the United States, it was because the United States was probably the only country at that time in the world that could welcome him and give him a chance to start his aviation career all over again. And that's what happened.”

After emigrating to the United States in 1919 and setting up his own aircraft manufacturing company, Sikorsky decided it was time to get back into the helicopter game again.

It was on a visit to Germany in 1938 to present a paper on the flying boats he was designing at that time that Igor Sikorsky saw the Fw 61 in flight.

He was now convinced that all the essential elements to create a successful helicopter, were now in place.  The race was on.

Sergei Sikorsky: “I believe personally that during all of this, he kept coming back in a spare moment here or a spare afternoon there. He kept coming back to his first love, the helicopter. We know already in 1930 he was describing a potential helicopter and is sending studies and memos to the chairman of the board of United Aircraft, which at that time was a large growing aeronautical company, which by then had bought Sikorsky aircraft. In 1938, he was able to convince the management of United Aircraft that it was time to study that helicopter actively. Part of this decision, I believe was based on his visit to Europe and to Germany where he saw the Focke Fa 61 helicopter.  Professor Focke had a configuration of two rotors side by side. There is no doubt that those air, because if that aircraft, in my father's opinion was the first truly successful helicopter.  However, my father felt that it, that the design of two rotors rotating in opposite directions to counteract torque was possibly a success, but not necessarily the final step.”

With his company having been sold to United Aircraft and Transport Corporation in 1929 Sikorsky had to convince the United board that the time was right to invest in helicopter development, and that his helicopter design was the way to go.

As his son explains, there was much scepticism at the time about the idea of using a single main rotor and single tail rotor to counter the torque.

But in December, 1938 he was able to convince the board to give him the go ahead.

Sergei Sikorsky: “It was then in 1939 that he received the permission from United Aircraft management to go ahead with his helicopter experiment and it was severely criticized by a number of people who felt that the idea of one single main lifting rotor and the added tail rotor, a shorter of rear rudder rotor, was extremely impractical. However, Mr. Sikorsky decided that this was the way to go.  Despite great criticism and, and a lot of scepticism, he decided to go into the little rotor with small tail rotor configuration. No, you asked me how I followed this. I was growing up at that time, probably 14- 16 years of age. I watched the growth of the VS-300 and one or two of the test demonstration flights. I remember very clearly being able to stand on the legs, on the landing gear of the helicopter and my father would lift into the air and fly me very carefully and very prudently around the field. But yes, was standing on the landing gear of the helicopter and I was actually flying in the machine and those are memories that I will never, ever forget.”

His design plans eventually culminated in the first tethered flight of the VS-300 helicopter on the 14th of September 1939, the first free flight occurring eight months later on the 24th of May 1940. This success with the VS-300 led to the Sikorsky R-4. The R-4 was the world's first mass-produced helicopter and the first helicopter used by the United States Army Air Forces.

Sikorsky's final VS-300 rotor configuration remains the basic design used by helicopters to this day.

Sergei Sikorsky: “By the way, later on in the very, very final configuration, the helicopter engine power was increased from 75 to 90 horsepower. Possibly at a on a good day, it would deliver 95 horsepower or so. That's when they put a small rear cockpit just behind the pilot and it can be clearly seen in some photographs, especially the photographs over the VS-300 being handed over to the Ford museum. The technical background to the helicopter was very probably the appreciation of the lead lag of the main rotor blades as the machine went through the air and the increasing number of blades. The helicopter started with three blades. It's one time or another. The main rotor was reduced to two blades. Eventually it was decided that three blades or even more were the way to go.”

As Sergei Sikorsky explains, his father's motivation for the creation of the helicopter was clear.

Sergei Sikorsky: “His conviction that once developed, the helicopter would prove to be, in his words, a unique instrument for the saving of human lives. I think it was this vision of the helicopter as a lifesaving vehicle that dominated his desire, his ambition to create the helicopter. He was obviously enamoured over the idea of vertical flight, of being able to hover motionless in the air. But I think his strongest reason for developing the helicopter was his dream of the lifesaving capability of the machine.”

Here's Igor Sikorsky himself speaking in 1967 as he accepted the Wright Brothers’ Memorial trophy.

Igor Sikorsky: “Now, why is it that the Wright brothers succeeded that everybody else is failing? I would say strange as this may sound that their approach was remarkable in their scientific and engineering common sense truthfulness and reliability to say the first, they realize it, that building a successful flying machine is only part of the thing. Learning how to fly is the other part.

The designers and the builders of aeroplane would be building something useless and worthless if it wouldn't be for this skill and courage of our airmen for airmen of the armed forces and the private pilots who made exploits that could feel not merely a volume, but could feel library of all these exploits. I would like to mention briefly just one which is particularly valuable and particularly the dear to me, switch to my mind, forums, one of the most glorious pages of human flight.

It is the story of air rescue by airplanes and lately by helicopter and not concerned the helicopter to my information and I made a reasonably accurate study. The number of lives that had been saved, it lists considerably above 100,000 it is probably reaching, possibly already exceeding 200,000 live. Now this is the result, not just of the helicopter, but mostly and mainly of this skill, ability and courage of our flying men, all of them, and they report of these flying men. In completing my address, I would like to express this time, my thankfulness and friendship, my deepest respect and admiration. And I thank you all.”

Much in the same way as their founder, today the Sikorsky companies still tracks the lives saved by their machines.

This is Chris Van Buiten, vice president of Sikorsky Innovations. He says Igor Sikorsky's legacy is felt across the company to this day.

Van Buiten: “We literally feel a responsibility to carry on that innovative legacy that Igor Sikorsky had. And we've never put it on a coffee mug, but it's in our minds a lot, you know, as we face decisions, what would Igor do? You know, whenever we ask ourselves that question, we know it to have the courage to lean forward and do the next thing and not be complacent with where we are. It's pretty neat that we've kept his office completely preserved as it was the last day he worked there. And just bringing engineers, visitors, customers about office and seeing the spectrum of airplanes and helicopters and innovation and the people he was working with is, is just a constant reminder. Another simple thing we do that quite to the heart of his legacy is we keep track of how many lives our helicopters save in a given year. And we celebrate the saves by awarding pilots the flying S pin. The winged S was, you know, Igor Sikorsky's symbol for the company and he was all about the ability of the helicopter to save lives.”

Designed and built by Frank Piasecki, the PV-2 is widely regarded as America’s third successful helicopter after Sikorsky’s VS-300 and R-4.

Developed from parts salvaged from the wreck of a light airplane as well as automobile parts and an outboard motor, the PV-2 took to the air for the first time in 1943. Promotional films of the PV-2 promised one for every American driveway. Indeed, Frank Piasecki had focused his initial efforts on the development of a small helicopter suitable for home and business uses - much the same vision of the other early helicopter pioneers.

The course of his work was changed dramatically after the US Navy asked for a demonstration of the PV-2. Navy chiefs had been slow to see the benefits of the helicopter. The PV-2 impressed so much that Piasecki’s company was chosen to build the prototype of a large troop-carrying helicopter.

This is Frank Piasecki’s son John, talking to the Royal Aeronautical Society in London.

John Piasecki: “The amazing thing about PI was he had a, an approach to addressing needs that didn't, didn't use polls, didn't use market surveys. You had a very close relationship with the operational community and he, he identified needs that they had before they really knew they had needs. In fact, when he first approached the Navy about helicopter, the Navy sort of scoffed at the whole idea of vertical flight and their response was, well, why do we need a helicopter? We don't have one now. So, I think one of the first trademarks of an innovator is to see opportunity where, where people don't see it yet.”

But while the PV-2 was unable to carry a set of golf clubs, let alone a second passenger, the navy suddenly wanted a helicopter able to carry almost a ton of payload.

Frank Piasecki’s solution was the tandem rotor configuration. This radically new configuration was made possible by his ground-breaking development of a dynamically balanced rotor system, developed for the PV-2.

This rotor system gave the pilot cyclic pitch control and reduced dynamic loads, opening the door for much larger and more capable helicopters.

Perhaps more than any other helicopter design, the tandem rotor configuration expanded the military role of the helicopter from an aerial observation and medevac platform, to one able to undertake air assault missions, anti-submarine operations and search and rescue duties. Piasecki dubbed his new prototype the PV-3

Here’s Frank Piasecki himself.

Frank Piasecki: “So, our effective useful load of 1900 pounds and those days was roughly three times the size of anything that was flying at that time. People didn't realize why that shape was, but it was because you had to have clearance in the middle of the fuselage for the rotor blade flapping. And of course, as you flew forward and you attended the machine, the front part of the machine was level and the rear pod was up as a rear pylon.”

With two large horizontal rotor assemblies mounted one in front of the other, the tandem rotor design designed by Frank Piasecki was perfect for a large cargo helicopter. The counter-rotating rotors each cancel out the other's torque, allowing all of the power from the engines to be used for lift.

This is unlike single rotor helicopters that must use some of the engine power to counter the torque created by the main rotor. Another advantage of the twin-rotor design was its tolerance where the payload was placed.

Piasecki’s PV-3 prototype was adopted as the HRP-1 Rescuer by the United States Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. A third generation of the design, the H-21, was dubbed the flying banana and saw service throughout the 1950s and into the Vietnam War.

More than 700 H-21 ones were eventually produced for service worldwide. Frank Piasecki and his team at Piasecki Helicopter Corporation designed and built ten separate helicopters from 1943 to 1953. Each new design contributed to the rapid evolution of vertical flight technology at the time.

But Frank Piasecki the innovator was to come up against the classic corporate struggle. Investors wanted the company to concentrate on the production of the established models rather than expend efforts creating new designs. So, in 1955 Frank Piasecki left the company he had founded to start Piasecki Aircraft.

Piasecki Helicopter in turn was renamed Vertol Corporation the following year before itself being acquired by Boeing in 1960 and renamed Boeing Vertol. The move left Frank Piasecki free to pursue new vertical flight technologies.

Frank Piasecki: “You go five steps forward and four steps back and you make, you don't make one slow step, you make a whole bunch of jabs to solve problems and, and you don't always hit the right solution. So, we said, okay, let's not do anything with a tandem because that's been fairly well established and so let's now fight against ourselves.”

Here's John Piasecki again speaking in London.

John Piasecki: “It's emblematic of a passion that is, is too rare these days. You know, the thing when I look back on my father's career that most strikes me is you really had to love what you were doing in order to take the risks that they took. You know, in today's world we are, we manage our huge aerospace projects with IPTs and sophisticated management processes.  As you could see by the flight safety policies, they had in the beginning days there was a lot of personal courage involved. I remember one time we were at some big public function and, and somebody, somebody came up to dad and said ‘ Frank Piasecki it's a pleasure to meet a real pioneer’ and as we were walking away, my dad turned me, he said, John, you know, you know what a pioneer is. Is it, is it just like in the old West, the pioneer’s that guy with all the arrows in his rear end.

So, the important thing, and I think it's a lesson I think we could, we can take from his life, is that innovation isn't something that one gets by going into a white room and imagining fantastic new ideas. Innovation is, is built by years of hard work in fighting towards an ultimate goal and failing more than you succeed, but persevering. So, perseverance is one of those things that I think in many cases, probably trumps brains. I know my case it does. It's a lesson that I learned from my father and I, and I hope to live well by it.”

Today, Piasecki Aircraft Corporation specializes in the design, development and flight testing of experimental rotorcraft and unmanned air vehicles. From the development of the 16H Pathfinder - the world’s first shaft-driven compound helicopter - to the VZ-8 Airgeep, the company’s focus has remained steadfast on research and development.

More recently, the Piasecki X-49 Speed Hawk experimental high-speed compound helicopter helped demonstrate the company’s proprietary vectored thrust ducted propeller (VTDP) design.

John Piasecki outlines the company’s approach to innovation.

John Piasecki: “I think one of the first trademarks of an innovator is to see opportunity where, where people don't see it yet. The second part of innovation I think that's very important is that it has to be done within a small group of very diverse talents. In fact, if you look at our staff, our engineers also work in out in the shop instrumenting things where they work on the flight line. So, we get a multidisciplinary approach to problems that in larger companies gets, gets broken up into departments. And it allows for very rapid problem solving and allows you to take advantage of the experience of the mechanic early on in the design and allows you to do things a lot quicker, building things quicker and then getting them through tests and very cost effective manner is critical to being able to do projects in an affordable fashion.

“Today, we don't have these innovative programs as much as we should because there are real problems out there because the cost of doing them the normal way is so prohibitive. So, I think, I think we need to take a lesson from the past in this regard. You know, if you look at the first tandem helicopters, most people don't believe it, but that was flown from contract signing to first flight was 13 months. That's incredible.

“We can do that today. We can do that today. It's just that our systems don't allow for it. Our procurement systems don't allow for it. Our risk averseness doesn't allow for it. Not that I'm a, I'm propounding an abandoned, you know, risk management, but, but we have to have an educated risk and risk tolerant approach if we're going to do things new. We didn't get where we are today by, by living in a risk-free environment, particularly aviation.”

Testament to Frank Piasecki’s approach is that his designs were able to sustain not one but two helicopter companies over the years. While his original company was renamed Vertol Aircraft Corporation, in 1960 it was acquired by Boeing.

Boeing’s CH-46 Sea Knight was in service for more than 50 years until being retired by the US Marine Corps in 2015. Meanwhile the CH-47 Chinook has racked up 57 years of service with the US Army and is still going strong.

The distinctive sound of the Chinook helicopter is one monument to Frank Piasecki’s ingenious tandem rotor design.

As Frank Piasecki was developing his early helicopter designs, no more than 20 miles down the road in rural Pennsylvania, the work of another pioneer was about to further revolutionize the helicopter movement. And with it the future fortunes of the Bell Aircraft Corporation.

From building helicopter models in his parents’ barn, to the creation of the iconic Bell 47, Arthur M Young was set to take his place alongside the other fathers of the helicopter.

That’s next time on Revolutions of Vertical Flight.


Revolutions in Vertical Flight is brought to you in partnership with Bell - a huge thanks for their support. Thanks also to the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Vertical Flight Society and the Arthur Young Society for their assistance and access to their archives, as well as to Elfan Ap Rees and the staff at the Helicopter Museum. The speech by Igor Sikorsky was used under license from the Igor Sikorsky Historical Archives Inc. In our research, we found The God Machine by James Chiles extremely helpful and it's an excellent read.

Revolutions in Vertical Flight was written and produced by Tony Skinner with script assistance by Gerrard Cowan and audio edits by Noemi Distefano. And I'm your narrator, Gennifer Becouarn. Until next time.




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