Paul Cornu’s “Flying Bicycle” – 110th Anniversary of the First Helicopter Flight

Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2018 issue

On November 13, 1907, French engineer and bicycle maker, Paul Cornu, made history by becoming the first man to fly a rotary-wing aircraft. The primitive helicopter – a twin-rotorcraft powered by a 24 hp engine – only lifted Cornu about 1.5 meters or 5 feet off the ground, holding him there for 20 seconds at Coquainvilliers, near Lisieux, France. But that was high enough for Cornu to take his place in the history books as the first man to successfully fly a rotary-wing aircraft. The aircraft weighed 13 kilograms or 28.7 lbs.

Paul Cornu was born in 1881 in Lisieux, France. Once he reached working age, he joined his father in the family business – an automobile, cycle and motorcycle shop where his talent for engineering became clear.

Cornu’s inventive skills first came to the forefront when, at the age of 24, he designed and built the helicopter he called a “Flying Bicycle.”

Cornu died in 1944, when his home was destroyed during a World War II Allied bombardment (

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