Leonardo da Vinci’s Helicopter
Leonardo da Vinci’s helicopter is a world renowned example of his ability to think centuries ahead of his time. It is the first known drawing of any helicopter-like machine. The ancient Chinese had designs forlighter than air flight, such as hot air balloons and even some wild firework powered machines (some of which are believed to have been tested resulting in the death of the pilot) but nothing similar to a helicopter.
The design was drawn in 1493, 450 years earlier than an actual helicopter would take to the air. The main blade was 2 meters in diameter, the min supporting structure would be held together by reeds, or maybe Leonardo could use his invention for the rope making machine for this problem ;).
Leonardo’s invention for the Helicopter was most likely conceptualized while he was either studying or examining the seeds of the Maple Tree. This is the seed that most of us played with as children whereby it spins as it is dropping. It is also likely that he imagined that instead of the seed spinning as it falls, would it be possible for it to rise if it was spun?
He could also have been inspired by Archimedes Screw. This is a screw pump that was invented in Ancient Greek times by Archimedes of Syracuse, who was himself a Polymath like Leonardo.
Theory of operation of the helicopter
Leonardo’s helicopter was designed as a human powered machine. Unfortunately for Leonardo, engines had not been invented yet and humans have nowhere near the power to weight ratio required for them to produce enough energy to lift themselves against the force of gravity.
It was designed to work by having two men standing in the central circular platform. Each man would take hold of a wooden shaft and walk around the central shaft. This would rotate the “blades” of the helicopter and supposedly produce flight.
As i have said earlier this would never have happened due to the low power to weight ratio of the men, not to mention to astronomical weight the machine itself would have had. The lightest materials at the time would have been canvas as the covering for the blades and maybe pine wood for the machines main body, this would have resulted in a machine weighing close to, if not exceeding, a tonne.
However, it must still be recognized as a great leap of the imagination. Material Science and engine development would not allow such a machine to exist and fly until the late 1800s and early 1900s. Even during the time of the steam engine the helicopter was not a feasible machine as steam engines themselves are very heavy, plus the weight of their fuel and the water needed to produce the steam. The modern day helicopter basically had to wait for material science to produce aluminum as it is very strong yet lightweight. It also needed for engines to be developed that had a high power to weight ratio and were efficient enough to only need to carry a small amount of fuel with them yet get a large amount of power out of the fuel.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Helicopter is just one more example of the mans brilliance in any field to which he turned his attention. We owe the invention of the Helicopter to Leonardo and several other mechanical engineering masterminds, the developments in material science and the invention of lightweight yet powerful engines.