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June 16: Berliner’s Helicopter

June 16, 2014
18_berliner_1924Officials of the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics watched Henry Berliner pilot the first controlled, horizontal helicopter flight in the U.S. on this date in 1922 (some sources dispute that it was the very first such flight). Berliner was the son of the famous inventor Emile Berliner, who had built and flown the first helicopter in 1908, but Henry’s flight, in College Park, Maryland, included forward motion. In 1923, Berliner added a triple set of wings to his prototype (mostly to assure its capacity to glide in case of engine failure), which enabled it to hover and reach forward speeds of 40 mph (but an elevation of only fifteen feet). Ultimately, the Berliners’ machines never achieved enough controlled flight capacity to be commercially viable, and were supplanted by more successful helicopter designs. Their triplane is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum. “In 1906 or 1907 Emile Berliner became fascinated with the possibilities of the flying machine. This led to his involvement in the development of the helicopter which, as he himself said, was one of the earliest forms of heavier-than-air machines conceived, going back at least as far as the time of Leonardo da Vinci.... By 1909 he had constructed a working model that was capable of lifting the weight of two adult men, however the helicopter was tethered to the ground and no free flight was attempted. Although Berliner had to relinquish his work on the helicopter, his son Henry continued it.” —“Emile Berliner and the Birth of the Recording Industry”, Library of Congress