The first machines with flapping wings or with rotary wings (helicopters) were thought up in the late 18th century, or even as early as the late 15th century, if reference is made once more to the work of the genius Leonardo da Vinci on the project he named Helix. In fact, for a long time, research into rotorcraft kept encountering obstacles relating to propulsion and in-flight stability, the factors that control the machine’s movement around three axes: pitch, roll and yaw. Researchers in the field of rotary wings, researchers displayed great inventiveness as from the mid-19th century.

In 1877 a helicopter of 350 kilos designed by Italian Enrico Forlanini took off with no pilot and no load, climbing to 13 metres for 20 seconds. After many other attempts, the first satisfactory results came in the early 20th century, with the captive craft of Monaco’s Maurice Léger (1905) and, above all, with the gyroplane of the Breguet brothers who, on August 24 1907 accomplished a anned hovering flight 60 cm above the ground for over a minute. Yet it was Paul Cornu, a cycle manufacturer from Lisieux, who around the same time perfected around the same time a helicopter worthy of the name. His craft rose 1.5 metres above the ground with two passengers on board, on November 13 1907. At this time, research was also advancing in the United States, and more particularly in Russia, though it was Hellehammer in Denmark who succeeded in flying a distance of 42 metres at a height of 1.5 metres in an aircraft of his own invention in 1912.

After the First World War, other significant breakthroughs were made, notably thanks to the efforts of Étienne Oehmichen, of the Marquis de Pescara and of the Spaniard Juan de La Cierva. De La Cierva invented the gyroplane, the principle of which made it possible to eliminate the gyroscopic effect thanks to the use of articulated rotary wings.

The 1940s and the early 1950s demonstrated the unique suitability of the helicopter as a rescue vehicle.

The first world rotorcraft championships were organised in 1971 in Bückeburg. Since the mid-1980s, they have been held on average every three years. The disciplines on the world championship programme especially emphasize the rescue dimension of the helicopter.