On Nov. 13, 1907, French engineer and bicycle maker Paul Cornu made history by becoming the first man to fly in a rotary wing aircraft.
The primitive helicopter — a twin-rotor craft powered by a 24-horsepower engine — only lifted Cornu about 1.5 meters off the ground, holding him there for 20 seconds at Coquainvilliers, near Lisieux in France.
But that was enough for Cornu to take his place in the history books as the first man to successfully fly a rotary wing aircraft.
Cornu was born in 1881 in the French town of Lisieux, where the local high school is named after him to this day.
Once he reached working age, he joined his father in the family business, an automobile, cycles and motorcyles shop where his talent for engineering became clear.
Cornu died in 1944, when his home was destroyed during a World War II Allied bombardment.
Cornu’s “flying bicycle”
Like the Wright Brothers, Cornu was a bicycle maker who dreamed of flight.
His inventive skills first came to the fore when, at the age of 24, he designed and built a working, two-rotor model helicopter weighing 13kg.
The success of this invention, which he demonstrated at the annual agricultural fair in Lisieux on Oct. 4, 1906, encouraged him to build a large-scale version capable of carrying a passenger.
The helicopter he built had two rotors mounted one behind the other, a 24-horsepower Antoinette engine, and movable flat surfaces, or control vanes, mounted under the rotors for steering purposes.
It was with this machine, known as his “flying bicycle,” that he achieved the first manned helicopter flight.