Looking for Sean McLachlan? He mostly hangs out on the Civil War Horror blog these days, but feel free to nose around this blog for some fun older posts!

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Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Balloons and helicopters at Spain's Air Museum

Welcome to my fourth installment about the Museo del Aire in Madrid. First we're going a bit retro with an artist's reconstruction of a daring attempt at flight in 1793. Spanish inventor Diego MarĂ­n Aguilera decided it would be fun to make a pair of flapping wings complete with bird feathers and jump off the top of a castle. He did his calculations correctly and managed to make it 360 meters before landing. Well, actually he crashed, but as the old pilot's saying goes, "Any landing you walk away from is a good landing" and Aguilera walked away with only a few bruises. It's doubtful that his flapping did much good; he had really developed a decent glider. Not bad for someone who herded sheep for a living. Unfortunately the ignorant peasants he lived with thought he was a heretic and burnt his contraption before he got to improve it.

Here's a diorama of the Spanish balloon brigade. There wasn't any information on this in the display, but it appears from the uniforms to be a reconstruction of the late nineteenth century. Most European powers had balloon brigades by then because balloons had proved useful in the American Civil War and Franco-Prussian War. If anyone has more information about these guys I'd love to hear about it.
Here's the product of another Spanish inventor, Juan de la Cierva. He developed the first stable autogyro, the predecessor to the helicopter, in 1923. That helicopter was called the C4 prototype, and the machine pictured above is a replica of a C6. Some improvements had been made but as you can see, it still looks very much like an airplane. None of the earlier autogyros flew very far or very well, but the C6 was able to make a distance of seven miles, proving that this alternative to the airplane had potential. The flight left from Cuatro Vientos (Four Winds) airfield outside of Madrid, next to where the Museo del Aire stands today. The C6 is nine meters long, weighs 900 kilos, and has a maximum velocity of 100km/hr.
I had to take this photo because my son has a helicopter much like this, complete with spinning rotors and a retractable stretcher. He runs search-and-rescue operations in our living room all the time. This is a Sikorsky-Westland S-55, an American helicopter introduced in 1949 and one of the first truly viable helicopters for regular use. Compare it with the C6 above and you can see how much progress aviation engineers made in 26 years. It has a maximum velocity of 180 km/hr, is 12.71 meters long, and 4.03 meters high.
I love retro Soviet stuff, although the Stalin bus in St. Petersburg is going too far. This Mil Mi-2 Hoplite is just the ticket, incorporating drab green Soviet chic with a timeless hammer-and-sickle motif. Introduced as a military helicopter in 1965, it is still in wide use today for basic transport, forestry, air ambulance, and fire protection missions. Some developing countries, notably North Korea, still use these for military purposes.

Coming up tomorrow: biplanes!

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