Welcome to the National Helicopter Museum!

Aviation Sights of Connecticut

By: Robert G. Waldvogel

With the exception, perhaps, of Ohio, no other state is more synonymous with aviation than Connecticut. Inextricably tied to many of the world's most renowned aircraft, powerplant, and propeller manufacturers, it is canvassed by the likes of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, Pratt and Whitney, Chance Vought, Avco Lycoming, Hamilton Standard, and the collective United Technologies. Many of their valuable contributions can be viewed by visiting its aviation sights.

National Helicopter Museum

Sandwiched between Avco Lycoming at one end of Stratford and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation at the other, and located in the abandoned, 48-foot-long eastbound Metro North Railroad Station, the National Helicopter Museum traces the technological and historical development of rotary-wing aircraft.

Brainchild of Dr. Raymond E. Jankowich, a local pediatrician, and Robert McCloud, founder of The Stratford Bard newspaper, it was conceptualized in 1978 because of its helicopter-associated location and potential benefit to the city. Its realty was cemented with a grant from Avco Lycoming.

Billing itself as the only such museum devoted to rotary-wing airplanes and opening in 1983, it is entirely run by volunteers, most of whom are former Sikorsky employees, and offers a chronologically-displayed photo essay, models, and a few airframe sections which collectively trace helicopter design from nature, which aerial flight had traditionally attempted to emulate, to the 21st century.

The helicopter itself traces its origins to the Chinese flying tops recorded as early as the fourth century BC. Comprised of short, round sticks, they were affixed with "helicopter blade," or airfoil-resembling, feathers. Rotated by either being rubbed back and forth or pulled by a string, they spun and their angled feathers generated lift, causing them to vertically ascend.

Leonardo da Vinci later made numerous sketches of wing-flapping gliders, parachutes, and air screws capable of lifting humans, the screws themselves made of linen in order to ride the air, about which he theorized, "when force generates swifter movement than the flight of the unresisting air, this air becomes compressed after the manner of feathers compressed and crushed by the weight of a sleeper. And the thing which drove the air, finding resistance in it, rebounds after the manner of a ball struck against a wall."

The museum's own "In the Beginning" display illustrates these early concepts. Man's first rotary wing was the prehistoric boomerang, which led to the Chinese top and da Vinci's Helix, the first recorded helicopter" design.

Its "Early Dreams" drawings, from 1843, depict both round, fan-resembling and side-by-side rotors, while those generated by Sir George Cayley were flatter, forming a wing in flight.

The "Early Prophets" survey indicates that the first successful, powered ascent reached a 40-foot height during a 20-second flight.

A 60-rotor helicopter, designed by Gustave Whitehead in 1911, appears in the "Before Sikorsky" collection, while the "International Achievements" panel depicts the development period between 1930 and 1935.

Professor E. H. Henrich, as evidenced from the "German Ascendency" panel, formed a new company to pursue his dreams of designing a rotary-wing aircraft after serving as Focke-Wulfe's Design Chief, and it made a 28-second flight on June 26, 1936.

A mural entitled "Birth of First Flight" and obtained from the Sikorsky factory displays a short timeline of his designs beginning with the VS-300-V1 of 1942.

Engine development can be gleaned from "The Gas Turbine Revolution." The steam engine, for instance, had too much structural weight to support then-known vertical lift technology, but the lighter gasoline powerplant, appearing just after the turn-of-the-century, was ubiquitously used. The relatively light, yet powerful rotary engine had been employed during the 1920s for helicopter experimentation, its entire cylinder block rotating round a stationary crankshaft and thus producing significant, air flow-created cylinder cooling.

The "State of Art in Crafts" survey showcases the significant helicopter manufacturers, including Sikorsky, Bell, Hughes, Kaman, Piasecki, Boeing-Vertol, and Robinson, while a half-dozen display cases feature rotary-wing models.

Despite the museum's small size and artifact dimension-limiting door, it nevertheless displays several actual helicopter components. The main rotor of an S-58, for instance—weighing 110 pounds and measuring 28 feet from its rotational center—is viewable close to a Sikorsky S-76 tail rotor blade assembly. Engines include an Avco Lycoming T800-APW-800 turbine and a T55-L-714, which powered such Boeing designs as the CH-47 Chinook, the Model 234, the MH-47E Chinook, and the Model 360. Also featured are an an RAH-66 Sikorsky "shadow" Commanche fly-by-wire test mockup, and the cockpit section of a Sikorsky S-76 in utility/offshore oil configuration; the design has a 43.4-foot fuselage length, a 44-foot rotor diameter, and can achieve 155-knot forward airspeeds.

The museum provides a small, but valuable venue through which rotary-wing technology and history, often discounted in aviation studies, but here singularly responsible for Stratford's very existence, can be explored.