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Photos: On this day – May 24, 1940 – Igor Sikorsky performs the first successful single-rotor helicopter flight

Posted May 24, 2013

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On this day – May 24, 1940 – Igor Sikorsky performs the first successful single-rotor helicopter flight.

In the United States, Russian-born engineer Igor Sikorsky and W. Lawrence LePage were competing to produce the U.S. military’s first helicopter. Before the war, LePage had received the patent rights to develop helicopters patterned after the Fw 61, and built the XR-1.Meanwhile, Sikorsky had settled on a simpler, single rotor design, the VS-300, which turned out to be the first practical single lifting-rotor helicopter design and the best-flying one since the Soviet TsAGI 1-EA flown nearly a decade before. After experimenting with configurations to counteract the torque produced by the single main rotor, he settled on a single, smaller rotor mounted on the tailboom.

Developed from the VS-300, Sikorsky’s R-4 became the first large-scale mass-produced helicopter with a production order for 100 aircraft. The R-4 was the only Allied helicopter to see service in World War II, primarily being used for rescue in Burma and Alaska, and other areas with harsh terrain. Total production would reach 131 helicopters before the R-4 was replaced by other Sikorsky helicopters such as the R-5 and the R-6. In all, Sikorsky would produce over 400 helicopters before the end of World War II.

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