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Aviation Word of the Month – Helicopter

By Ian Brown, EAA 657159, Editor, Bits and Pieces

January 2022 –According to most dictionaries, heli or helio as a prefix relates to the sun, so what does that have to do with a flying machine?

I found this amusing definition of a helicopter on the Internet:

“Thousands of parts flying around in close formation with an oil leak, waiting for metal fatigue to set in!”

In fact, the mass-produced helicopter wasn't flown for the first time until 1944, 41 years after the Wright brothers, and almost at the end of WWII, although the first public demonstration of a helicopter flight was made by Dr. Igor Sikorsky four years earlier.


Igor Sikorsky in a U.S. Coast Guard HNS-1, 14 August 1944
Igor Sikorsky in his first public flight – wonder how his hat stayed on?


You might think that the word helicopter is based on the prefix heli and the vague notion of a copter, but that's not correct. In fact, the prefix being used is “helico” meaning helical and “pter” from the ancient Greek “pterus” meaning wing. So a wing describing a helical pattern!

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