Today is the first day of the Paris Air Show, always a wondrous occasion in which is celebrated humankind's gravitational léger de main. The IHT, of course, writes about the big business side of the show: Airbus vs. Boeing and how many contracts they rake in. But the organizers are celebrating 100 years of the helicopter this year. (Via Frogsmoke).
The first working helicopter was invented by Frenchman Paul Cornu, whose contraption is shown above. The feat of the bicycle-maker and engineer is all the more astounding because the contraption resembles less a bird, as regular aircraft do, and more an abstract notion of suspension. Many ideas for new technologies began through a continuity by conceptual analogy: the thorned branches of osage orange hedges and barbed wire, stones and hammers, birds and airplanes. Others came from new principles of physics, chemistry, engineering, such as the steam engine. But where did the helicopter come from? The Chinese had a flying top too made out of bamboo as early as the 5th Century. Leonardo designed a flying machine in the 15th Century based on his observations of bird flight.
Other European inventors designed prototype models to Cornu's version through the 19th Century. But, still, how does one move from the observation of bird flight to the rotary wing of the helicopter? Perhaps, rather, the source was the seeds of maple trees?