Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Helicopters, bubble canopies and quotations

click photo to enlarge
"Definition of a helicopter: a conglomeration of spare parts flying in close formation."

"Helicopters are like horror movies: you know something bad is going to happen, you just don't know when."

Helicopters don't fly, they just beat the air into submission.

I remember once reading an article about the invention and development of the photocopier, during the course of which the author said that many engineers engaged in the task felt that what they'd created was so complex, with so many parts, it really shouldn't work at all. The latter suggestion has been made about the bee and its ability to fly. And, as the three anonymous quotations above suggest, the helicopter is viewed in pretty much the same light.

Perhaps it was the fact that the first helicopter flew a long time after the first aircraft and sufficient time had passed for people to become comfortable with what a flying machine should look like. The appearance of a gawky craft without wings, tailplane, fin and with no long thin body, that when airborne wobbled alarmingly, and always crashed if the motor stopped - no gliding possible - must have immediately sown seeds of doubt about the safety and future of the helicopter, thoughts that haven't entirely disappeared from the general public's mind even today.

I recently went to Newark Air Museum in Nottinghamshire, a quite large private collection of military and civil aircraft of various types. Today's photograph shows a Westland-built version of the Bell Sioux, a military version of the Bell 47 that first flew in late 1945. Like many early helicopters it has something of the dragonfly's appearance, with a large perspex bubble cockpit at the front and a steel lattice-work "body" (more a skeleton) that ends with a tail rotor. Above are two rotor blades with, below, the same number of landing skids.

This particular helicopter was on display in one of two large buildings that hold most of the aircraft. The plastic cockpit was reflecting the multiple skylights of the roof, and the pattern they made drew my eye and suggested a photograph. I took this shot knowing that I would crop it to square and vignette the background to emphasise the bubble with its mannequin pilot.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/20 sec
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation:  -1.00 EV
Image Stabilisation: On