Vertical Flight Heritage Sites

The Benjamin Franklin National Memorial at the Franklin Institute. Photo by Michael Parker.AHS International is proud to announce a new awards program to highlight the important vertical flight historical sites around the world. The Vertical Flight Heritage Sites Program is intended to recognize and help preserve sites of the most noteworthy and significant contributions made in both the theory and practice of helicopter and other VTOL aircraft technology. AHS hopes to promote to the public the rich history of the worldwide vertical lift community through this program. 

AHS has selected the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA as the first awardee of the Vertical Flight Heritage Sites Program. The induction ceremony was held on Sunday October 27, 2013 as part of festivities recognizing the 75th anniversary of the First Rotating Wing Aircraft Meeting, originally held at the Franklin Institute on October 27-29, 1938. This historic gathering was the first international meeting on rotary-wing aircraft and marked a turning point from autogyros to helicopters. It was from this event that the American helicopter industry was born. Flight magazine noted at the time that the Rotating Wing Meeting was held in Philadelphia because “this is the town in which practically all the rotary-wing activity in the United States takes place.”

Nominations are now open! All submissions and supporting documentation must be submitted by Wednesday, February 26, 2014. See the nomination application for requirements and details. 

To be recognized as a AHS Vertical Flight Heritage Site, the location should be:
  1. Historically significant in the development or operation of rotary-wing or VTOL aircraft,
  2. Historically significant in the life or career of a vertical flight pioneer
  3. Approved for recognition by the current property owner,
  4. Easily accessible to the public.
The AHS International Vertical Flight Heritage Sites Program grew out of the AIAA Historic Aerospace Sites Program. Members of the AHS History Committee supported AIAA's program by making numerous successful nominations for recognition. The selected sites include the following (plaque wording and brochures included here through the kind permission of AIAA): 
  • College Park Airport, College Park, Maryland, USA (2003)
    College Park Airport was founded in 1909 when the Wright Brothers came here to train the first military officers to fly. Other significant events at this field include the first testing of a bombsight (1911), the first testing of a machine gun from an airplane (1912), as well as the first controlled helicopter flight (1925). These and other achievements have earned College Park the nickname “The Field of Firsts.” 
  • Dunsfold Aerodrome, UK (2008)
    Plaque not yet bestowed 
  • NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Federal Airfield, California, USA (2009)
    Ames Aeronautical Laboratory was established in 1939 as the second laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Ames achieved early fame in wind tunnel design and testing, flight testing, and supersonic and hypersonic aerodynamics. In 1958 Ames became a founding part of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and did pioneering research in rotorcraft and vertical flight aircraft, spacecraft engineering, supercomputing and information technology, air traffic control, thermal protection for re-entry vehicles, astrobiology and space life sciences, and Earth and planetary sciences. 
  • Getafe Air Base, Spain (2011)
    On 17 January 1923, Juan de la Cierva’s C.4 Autogiro made its first successful flight at this site with Lieutenant Alejandro Gómez Spencer at the controls. The Cierva Autogiro was the first practical rotorcraft, and many aspects of its design were critical to the development of helicopters and other vertical lift aircraft. Between 1920 and 1924, Juan de la Cierva tested four prototype Autogiros at Getafe; and after numerous attempts, solved his control problems with flapping blade hinges. 
  • Bremen Airport, Bremen, Germany (2011)
    Bremen Airport was founded in 1913 when the senate of Bremen commissioned the Bremen Association for Air Navigation, itself established in 1909, to operate a flight base. The base opened in 1920. Aircraft manufacturers Focke-Wulff Flugzeugbau AG began operating here in 1924, and the state airline Deutsche Luft Hansa, formed from the merger of Aero Lloyd and Junkers Aviation AG, began operating in 1926. On June 26, 1936, the first fully operational helicopter of the world, the Fw 61, made its successful maiden flight at the Bremen Airport with test pilot Ewald Rohlfs at the controls. The airport’s facilities were destroyed during World War II, but were rebuilt soon after. Today, the airport serves the entire region, with millions of passengers using the airport each year. 
  • Bell Aircraft, Wheatfield, New York, USA (2012)
    On October 14th, 1947, the Bell XS-1 became the first aircraft to fly faster than the speed of sound. Designed and built by Bell Aircraft, the XS-1 was one of many significant aerospace achievements by Bell on this site. During World War II over 12,000 Bell fighter aircraft were built here, including the P-59, America’s first jet. Other significant milestones include the Bell 47, America’s first commercially certified helicopter, the Lunar Lander Training Vehicle, without which Neil Armstrong said he would not have been able to land safely on the moon, and the Apollo Lunar Module ascent engine, which lifted all twelve astronauts that walked on the Moon back into lunar orbit to begin their return journey to the Earth. 
  • Pitcairn Field, Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, USA (2013)
    On December 18, 1928, Arthur Rawson, followed by Harold F. Pitcairn, flew a Cierva C.8W Autogiro. This was the first successful rotary-wing aircraft to fly in America. Pitcairn Field – Willow Grove became the center of American Autogiro development and manufacture. The development of the helicopter in America was made possible in part by the rotary-wing patents held by Pitcairn. For their efforts, Pitcairn and his associates were awarded the 1930 Collier Trophy. 
  • Sikorsky Aircraft retirees gather around a 1/4 scale model of the VS-300Igor I. Sikorsky Memorial Airport, Stratford, Connecticut, USA (2013)
    Many important aircraft were developed and tested at this field and the adjacent Vought-Sikorsky aircraft plant, including a fighter, the XF4U, that later became the Corsair. But this site is best known for the work done here from 1939-1942, with the design, construction, testing and demonstration of the first practical helicopters flown in the United States. Igor Sikorsky and his team pioneered the VS-300 helicopter, featuring the configuration that has since become the convention for most helicopters. Their work placed the helicopter in the public consciousness to the degree that by 1943, the U.S. was experiencing a “helicopter craze,” with literally hundreds of entrepreneurs seeking to imitate them, thereby establishing the U.S. helicopter industry.

The Sikorsky Airport event was the last ceremony for the AIAA Historic Aerospace Sites Program, which has now been discontinued. As a result, AHS International has initiated the Vertical Flight Heritage Sites Program to carry on the tradition of recognizing the most important historical sites for the vertical flight community. 

Last updated: January 2, 2014

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