An idea from the time the sky was the limit, Part 1

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One of the three pre-production Pentecost Hoppi-Copters. Anon., “Hoppi-Copter in flight.” American Helicopter, June 1948, cover.

Good day to you, my reading friend. Let us begin this issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee with a question. Have you ever wanted to own a small flying machine you could use to get to work or visit friends? Yes? No? Never mind. Regardless of your interest, or lack thereof, may I invite you to press onward and downward - which may not be a good idea when flying at low altitude, but I digress. This week’s story came to us straight from the pages of the monthly American Helicopter, more specifically its June 1948 issue.

Our story began in March 1909 when Horace Thomas “Penny” Pentecost came into this world. A mechanical engineer by training, he spent some time with Socony-Vacuum Oil Company and General Electric Company before finding a job with Boeing Aircraft Company, in 1943. It was there, while working on various war-related projects, that Pentecost became fascinated by helicopters. You see, my reading friend, one could argue that this type of rotary wing aircraft came of age around that time, the early to mid 1940s that is, thanks to the research conducted by the great powers to win the Second World War.

In 1944, during his time away from the office, Pentecost began to work on a highly original concept, a tiny helicopter a person could wear like a backpack. He believed that such a vehicle would not be too difficult or dangerous to fly. The American armed forces would undoubtedly be interested in a flying machine that would greatly increase the mobility of the average soldier. After all, the pilot of such a micro helicopter would be able to land precisely where his superiors wanted him to go, something that a paratrooper was all too often unable to do.

To paraphrase the lead singer of the American new wave band Talking Heads, in its 1981 hit Once in a lifetime, you may ask yourself how did this fascinating story ended. Ask no more, my reading friend, but do come back before long to read the second part of this article.

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Rénald Fortier