Wootton helicopter


The mid-1800's was a banner time for American inventors to try their hand at designing flying machines. To those of Nelson, Crowell, and others, John Wooton added his in 1866.

A native of Boonton, New Jersey, he invented a machine featuring a large ring-shaped wing beneath which hung two circular compartments. One of these held the power plant and the other, directly beneath it, was for passengers. The cautious inventor designed his wing in this fashion with the thought in mind that its parachute-like qualities would help bring the machine back to earth in one piece if anything went wrong while aloft.

The helicopter was supposedly powered with a steam engine which turned two or more propellers that were fixed between the wing and the topmost gondola. Again we see an American inventor anticipating the convertiplane by designing the propellers to tilt either vertically or horizontally. Indeed, Wooton had many features in his design aside from the one above that were not to be seen again until the modern days of aviation.

For example, his flying machine had a hoisting device within it by which the passenger's compartment could be raised or lowered while the machine hovered over one spot. Present-day helicopters are equipped with similar mechanical hoists capable of doing the same thing. He also called for catapulting apparatus to launch his aircraft into the skies. This was a sort of roller-coaster affair on which the helicopter was supposed to be hauled to a high point at one end. With everything set for the take-off, the machine was released and left to roll down one incline and up the next, at which time, by the combination of lift given by the parachute-wing and whirling propellers, the machine was to become airborne.

Landing and stopping the helicopter after a flight called for still greater skill on the part of the flyer. Although designed to descend vertically, the vehicle was expected to roll after its wheels touched the ground. To stop the craft, the pilot had to aim it between two upright poles. A hook fastened to the topmost portion of the flying machine grabbed ropes which stretched between the uprights and halted the craft. Although the method is different, basically, the present-day navies of the world use somewhat the same means of bringing aircraft to a stop on the decks of carriers.

Even though the New Jersey inventor never reached the stage of building his helicopter, his work can be considered important in the rotary-wing field if only for the many novel and advanced engineering features which he called for in his design.

Frank Ross Jr. "Flying Windmills", 1953