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Faster Helicopters of Tomorrow | Scott Williams

Scott Wiliams, a retired 20-year Army veteran, has proudly served in many missions, including Operation Iraqi Freedom.   “I’ve been shot at … and have shot back,” Scott shares.  He has logged over 2,200 hours in helicopters, the astounding equivalent of 126 days in the cockpit or effectively circling the globe 8 times!  He most recently commanded an Apache Longbow, an incredibly complex, intimidating, and rugged machine.  “It’s easier than playing video games,” Scott claims.  “My son beats me at Xbox.”

In his illuminating talk animated by his young daughter, Scott shares his enthusiasm for the unique attributes of these flying machines, and explains the principles behind helicopter flight in language that can be understood by fans of all ages.

In the early 1900’s aviation enthusiasts began to experiment in earnest with “vertical flight”, but it was not until Igor Sikorsky developed the piston powered R-4 helicopter in the mid-1940s that today’s flying machine was born.  Yet, it was the turbine engine that truly enabled the valued performance of the helicopter.

What is so cool about these powerful machines?  They can take off anywhere, fly straight up and down, and backwards and forwards. Uniquely, they can hover to complete a task, which is especially useful for rescue missions in dangerous places, tight spaces, or congested areas.  Helicopters serve very effectively during natural disasters, like Super Storm Sandy, or in putting out forest fires.

But there remains a limitation to helicopter performance: speed — the average speed is only 220 miles per hour vs. 1300 miles per hour for an F18.  Why can’t a helicopter fly ‘really’ fast?  By explaining the basic aerodynamics of helicopters, Scott notes that the speed differentials for the advancing and retreating rotors prevent significant lift and forward motion.

To increase speed, Scott shows us that there are innovative helicopters being developed.  For instance, some “hybrid” models have a combination of plane wings and helicopter rotor blades that allow it to take off like a helicopter and then fly like a regular plane.

Considering all the unique attributes of helicopters and their broad utility to society, Scott poses a final question:  Do we really need them to go fast?  Or are they perfect just as they are?