Not content with being able to fly, a pretty good trick, someone decided it was vital to be able to hover as well.
Wingless Wonders. The big difference between helicopters and planes is the lack of wings: helicopters use rotors instead. Because of the rotors, helicopters don’t need to be moving forward in order to stay up in the air. This means they can do clever things like hover, rotate, fly backwards and stop in mid-air.
The idea of rotors had been around long before the Wright brothers’ plane: 1,500 years ago the Chinese had come up with a toy that flew using rotor blades. Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th-century notebooks show a drawing of a flying machine that uses rotors (it couldn’t really have flown, though).
The Chinese and Leonardo were ahead of their time. It wasn’t until the 20th century that helicopters really got off the ground: in 1907 Paul Cornu’s helicopter became the first to take off, but it only reached 1.8 m high, it had to be kept stable by men on the ground using sticks, and it managed 20 seconds in the air before it crashed.
Various helicopter pioneers worked hard over the next 20 years, improving on the design, making countless test flights. The first helicopter to do much better was designed by German Heinriche Focke and flew in 1936. In 1942 Igor Sikorsky’s helicopter became the first to go into production and was used by the US army during the Second World War.
Fasten your seatbelts: Flying a helicopter is very complicated because of the many different ways in which it can move. There’s a separate vital control for both hands and both feet and pilots need lots of training and skill. Good concentration is essential.