Helicopters are iconic aircraft used for everything from transportation to military combat, but did you know when the helicopter was actually first invented?

The invention of the helicopter was a gradual and interesting event, but if we were to take the invention of the helicopter to mean the first practical helicopter flight, that occurred in May 13, 1940. The helicopter was designed by Igor Sikorsky.

When the Helicopter Was Invented – A Timeline

The world’s first ‘real’ helicopter took its first flight on the 14th of September 1939 in Stratford, Connecticut. This chopper was designed by Igor Sikorsky, and it was built by the Vaought-Sikroskry Aircraft Division of the United Aircraft Corporation. In 1940, the Sikorsky helicopter took its first free flight.

But to get to the point of the first practical helicopter flight, many important events came before it. Let’s take a look at them.

Word Usage

The word helicopter was coined in 1861 by French inventor Gustave de Ponton d’Amécourt who built a small steam-powered helicopter that resembled a chair with four wings attached to it.


The oldest human reference to vertical flight, the basic idea behind helicopters, goes back to ancient China, specifically in the year 400 BC when Chinese children played with flying bamboo toys.

It wasn’t until the early 1920s that the vertical flight of a large object became feasible because of Spanish aeronautical engineer Juan De al Cierva’s invention of the autogyro, the world’s first type of rotorcraft.

A decade later in the 1930s, the first successful single life rotor was developed by two Soviet aeronautical engineers. Many years later, in 1951, Charles Kaman developed the world’s first turbine engine helicopter.

First Manned Flight

Two French brothers, Louis and Jacques Breguet experimented with airfoils in 1907. They succeeded in developing airfoils that were used on a helicopter to lift a person 0.6m or 2 feet into the air.

First Free Flight

The helicopter free flight also took place in France. The Cornu helicopter completed a successful free flight in 1907.

First Mass-Produced Helicopter

The XR-4 was the world’s first mass-produced helicopter. It was designed by Igor Sikroskry, who is the man credited with the world’s first true helicopter flight. Sikorsky was awarded a contract of $50,000 to develop the XR-4 for the United States government in 1940.

When Some of the Most Popular Types of Helicopters Were Invented

Tilt Rotor Aircraft

Tilt-rotor aircraft are a hybrid between turboprop planes and helicopters. The first tilt-rotor helicopter, the Dufaux triplane, was invented in 1909.

Intermeshing Rotor Helicopters

Intermeshing rotor helicopters have a set of two rotors turning in the opposite direction. The first intermeshing rotor helicopter, the Flettner Fi 265, was developed in 1938.

Aerial Crane Helicopters

Aerial crane helicopters are used for lifting objects into the air. The first aerial crane helicopter was the Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane in 1962.

Popular Military Helicopters


Boeing’s CH-47 Chinook is a transport helicopter designed by the American rotorcraft company Vertol and wsa first manufactured by Boeing in 1962.

Chinooks have been in service since first being developed over 50 years ago, and they’re mostly used for transporting troops and supplies across the battlefield.


The AH-64 was also developed by Boeing; it’s a twin-turboshaft military helicopter with cockpit space for two people. It’s one of the world’s most popular attack helicopters, and it’s used by the militaries of many countries including the United States, United Arab Emirates, Japan, Israel, and Singapore.

Related: How Much Does An Apache Helicopter Cost?

Black Hawk

Sikorsky Aircraft developed the Sikorsky UH-60 as a medium-lift utility helicopter. It has four blades, a twin-engine, and it’s used for tactical military purposes.

The UH-60 Black Hawk is used for missions like gathering reconnaissance data to transporting sensitive equipment; the Blackhawk’s cargo hook can lift up to 3,728 kg or 8,000lbs of cargo.

Related: How Much Does A Black Hawk Helicopter Cost?

Bell UH-1 (Huey)

Nicknamed “Huey”, the Bell UH-1 is a popular military utility single turboshaft helicopter with two blades. This is the helicopter you’ll see in many movies and media depictions of events like the Vietnam War since it was extensively used there.

Related: How Much Does A Huey Helicopter Cost?

Popular Civilian Helicopters

Bell 407

The Bell 407 is a single-engine, 4-bladed helicopter that’s used by rescue and utility services across the world. The Bell 407 has many variants, including military and unmanned experimental versions. This helicopter has an upfront cost of $2.7 million.

Eurocopter EC135

The EC-135 is a twin-engine, 4-blade helicopter that was developed by Airbus. It’s mostly used in Europe. Although there’s a military version of the Eurocopter, it’s mostly used for transportation and medical rescue purposes. The Eurocopter EC-135 has an upfront cost of $3 million.

AgustaWestland AW109

The AgustaWestland AW109 is a twin-engine helicopter that was built by Leonardo S.p.A, an Italian manufacturer. It’s a lightweight helicopter that has 8 eights seats. The AW109 has been in popular commercial use for nearly the past 40 years.

McDonnell Douglas MD

The MD Explorer is a lightweight twin-engine helicopter, and it was the first helicopter in the world to have been designed entirely using  Computer-Aided Design(CAD) tools. There have been two versions of the MC Explorer, the MD 900 and the MD 902. The MD 900 was the original MD Explorer, while the MD902 is a new version of it.

Helicopters Used in WW1 and WW2


Helicopters were in their early development phase during WW1, so they were never used on the battlefield. The PKZ was an experimental helicopter developed in the Austro-Hungarian empire during WW1, but only two units were ever built, and they were never used for combat.


During WW2, nearly all major combatants used rotary aircraft in some manner. Most of these early helicopters were only used for troop transportation or reconnaissance. For example, Nazi Germany developed the Flettner FI 282 to conduct reconnaissance and spot enemy artillery pieces.

During the war, Nazi Germany attempted to commission BMW to produce 1,000 Flettner FI 282 helicopters, but BMW’s factories were bombed and destroyed in the conflict. In the end, only 24 Flettner FI 282 helicopters would be produced by BMW.

The Americans also used their Sikorsky R-6 for reconnaissance purposes. They produced 225 units during the war but retired all of them after WW2.

Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.

Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.

Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.