When it comes to aircraft, the sleek lines and lightning-fast speeds of airplanes can easily amaze people. Bulky, oddly-shaped helicopters rarely incite the same kinds of feelings. Once you learn about what helicopters can do, though, you might think twice the next time you see one!

Unlike airplanes, helicopters feature spinning wings called blades or rotors on top. As a helicopter’s blades spin, they create a force called lift that allows the helicopter to rise into the air. A helicopter’s rotors perform the same function as an airplane’s wings.

In addition to the rotors on top, helicopters also have a rotor in the back. The rear rotor can face different directions, allowing the helicopter to move forward, backward and sideways.

Helicopters can do many things that airplanes cannot. For example, helicopters can move straight up or down and hover in the air without moving. They can also fly backwards and sideways. They can even take off or land without a runway!

These capabilities make helicopters ideal for many tasks. They’ve been used by the military for many years to move troops, deliver supplies and serve as flying ambulances. Their mobility allows helicopters to get to people in hard-to-reach places, such as mountains and oceans.

Helicopters are also used often by the media to report on breaking news and traffic. Because of their ability to hover and land without a runway, helicopters are ideal for moving large objects. They can also be used to carry large loads of water to fight forest fires.

The father of the modern helicopter is Igor Sikorsky, a Russian aeronautical engineer who later came to the United States. He first filed a patent for a helicopter design in 1931. The first working prototype of his design didn’t take flight until eight years later, though.

Think you’d like to fly a helicopter some day? We think you can do it! It will take quite a bit of training, though. Flying helicopters is a lot harder than flying airplanes. Did you realize you need both hands and both feet to fly a helicopter successfully?

70 Join the Discussion

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  1. I never knew most of that stuff about helicopters. I would never want to fly a helicopter it sounds way too hard. Igor Sikorsky sounds like a very interesting man. I really like how you guys use different WONDERs in other WONDERs.

    I think tomorrow’s wonder will be about where you get the wonder ideas, how well you guys work together, or one of the most nominated wonders!

    • Check out all the new information you’ve learned today, Wondergirl101! We’re so proud of you and all the WONDERing you’ve been doing on your own! It’s great that you find the others Wonders helpful when you’re reading or watching the Wonder of the Day®! It makes us so happy to hear that you really enjoy your time at Wonderopolis! Virtual high five for you!

      Thanks for your super ideas for the next Wonder… we sure hope to see you tomorrow!

      Don’t forget that you can nominate a Wonder of your own right here: http://wonderopolis.org/nominate-wonder/ ! :)

  2. Hi Wonderopolis I’m back and I have to say that you guys come up with some awesome wonders!

    I never knew that rotors preform the same as airplane wings.
    And when it spins it creates a force that allows it to go up.

    Thanks a lot I learned so much!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • WOW, thanks so much, Wonder Friend curiosity! We’re so glad that today’s Wonder made you feel like you were floating in thin air! We think you did a great job of summarizing all the new things you learned at Wonderopolis today– WOOHOO! We hope you’ll join us for more fun very soon! Have a terrific Tuesday! :-)

  3. Dear Wonderopolis,
    We really enjoyed the video today. We are WONDERing what the first helicopter looked like. We didn’t know that you had to use both hands and both feet to fly a helicopter. That is so cool! We have also been WONDERing how cartoon animation works. We would love to watch a video about that soon! Thanks for helping us WONDER!

    Sincerely,
    Mrs. Reasor’s 4th Grade Class

  4. They work from their blades that spin round and round on the top and then the pilot pulls the airplane up with his controller then the next thing you know it’s in the air and that’s how I think how it works.

    • You’ve got a great idea of how a helicopter works, Aniyah! Thanks for sharing your comment with us! We bet you’d LOVE the Wonder video today– it shows a group of engineers who are working on a human-powered helicopter! Thanks for stopping by Wonderopolis today! :)

    • Great point, Carla! We hope that Collin is okay, but we bet he jumped right back in the helicopter after they repaired it! Very cool! :)

    • Wasn’t that an amazing Wonder video, Henry!? Collin and Henry must be very powerful to get the helicopter so high off the ground! Phew! We’re glad you liked WONDERing with us today! :)

  5. I think that they pushed themselves to the maximum and they deserve to get the money! It looks pretty easy to get it to fly but it also looks pretty easy to crash.

    • These students and pilots have really tried their hardest, great point, Kamaria! We hope they are successful and win the prize for their awesome invention! We bet they are working hard to create a safe, soft landing for the helicopter and the pilot! :)

    • We certainly agree, Pablo! We bet it takes a great deal of determination to succeed- we hope those students and the pilots win! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! :)

  6. I loved that they put all that effort to bulid a helicopter to go 10 feet in the air. I also like that they tried a bunch of tools to make a helicopter fly. I think that would be the amazing thing to do if I created it.

    • We really liked today’s Wonder, too, Azhir! We think the students and the pilots worked together like a team to reach their goal! We learned so much from today’s Wonder and we’re glad to hear that you did too! We Wonder if you will create something like a human-powered helicopter in the future!? :)

    • We agree, Jauquin! We bet it took a great deal of hard work, planning and determination to build that helicopter! It’s pretty awesome to see it flying with the help of the pilots! :)

  7. I think that you are working hard to make that Helicopter and then when the Helicopter broke you don’t give up on fixing the Helicopter and that was amazing that Henry made to 8 feet.

    • We’re so excited that today’s Wonder was right up your alley, Jason! We can’t take credit for creating the helicopter, but we are so proud of the hard work the students and the pilots have shown! We hope they keep up the hard work to reach 10 feet with their human-powered helicopter! It’s so much fun to Wonder with you, Jason! :)

    • What a great word to describe the helicopter team, Julian! Nice work! They are a group of people with a lot of perseverance! We hope they succeed in reaching the 10 foot requirement– it would be a great accomplishment! Thanks for WONDERing with us, Julian! :)

  8. I thought today’s wonder was very cool!!! I don’t think I will ever fly a helicopter, but I might! Great Wonder!!! Thanks!
    =Bryleigh=
    :) :D :( :P ;)

    • You never know, Bryleigh, you could be the next great helicopter pilot! We like that you checked out today’s Wonder and learned something new! Thanks for joining the fun today– we’ll see you soon! :)

  9. I think that is really cool that a person is able to fly and control a helicopter. Also how can you not crash the helicopter when you have to land? I’m surprised that Henry got up to 8 feet.

    • We were very impressed by today’s Wonder, Emily! It was fun to watch the team work together to reach a goal– especially when the helicopter and pilot reached 8 feet in the air! We know they are working on a safer, smoother landing and we hope they reach the 10 foot requirement, too! Thanks for WONDERing with us, Emily! :)

  10. I think it was cool when it was flying to 8 feet high. Then it was even more cool when it reached 8.6 feet high. I noticed that it took a lot of people and work to build the helicopter.

    • There were so many people working together to help the helicopter and the pilot get off the ground! It was so incredible to watch! We’re happy that today’s Wonder was right up your alley, Michael! Thanks for sharing your comment at Wonderopolis today! We sure hope to see you soon, Wonder Friend! :)

    • We certainly agree with you, Katelyn! We are very impressed with the helicopter itself and the pilots who lift it off the ground! There is a lot of hard work involved! We are really glad this was a Wonder you enjoyed! :)

  11. I’m really impressed on how you guys never gave up even when it broke down. You guys just went on and fixed it and I’m really amazed. I think you guys can get to the 10 ft mark. You guys are great. Great wonder!

    • We LOVE your enthusiasm, Santino! We can’t take credit for the helicopter, but we’re excited that you enjoyed today’s Wonder! We aren’t the team of engineering students, but we’re glad to share some cool information about helicopters with you! We think they are fearless and determined! :)

  12. I was excited to see your helicopter. How long did it take you guys to make the helicopter? I love who you guys made the helicopter. You guys must have used lots of leg power.

    • We can’t take credit for today’s Wonder video, Jordan, but we are very impressed by the hard work of the helicopter team! We are so excited that today’s Wonder was right up your alley! Thanks for WONDERing with us today, Jordan! :)

  13. I thought that today’s wonder looked really interesting and fun! It is probably really hard to do. I liked today’s wonder! Thanks!

    • WOHOO, we’re excited that you liked today’s Wonder, Berkleigh! We bet flying a helicopter with your arms and legs is tough and challenging, but very rewarding! We’re glad today’s Wonder made you smile, Berkleigh! Thanks for commenting! :)

  14. We learned today that the man was pedaling the helicopter and it was so cool! We learned that the helicopter was designed by Sikorsky, a Russian engineer. When it crashed they still kept trying and trying. They believed in themselves. The video taught us that you never give up, even if it breaks. We learned that helicopters are different than airplanes because they can go up and down. Maybe we will design our own helicopters! We would like to drive a helicopter.

    • WOW, what a SUPER comment from our friends, the Tigers1stGrade/K! We think you did a great job of summarizing the hard work of the team! “They believed in themselves.”

      You are so right– it’s important to never give up and take on a challenge, even if you doubt yourself. We learned what the word “perseverance” means today, too! We’re so happy to Wonder with you– we are smiling ear-to-ear! Have a terrific Tuesday! :)

  15. We all loved seeing the helicopter Wonder! 6 of us would like to be a helicopter pilot. All of us would love to ride in one!

    We are still wondering about tomorrow’s Wonder!
    From Merrick

    Could it be a review of the all time favorite Wonders?

    • We are so excited that you enjoyed today’s Wonder, Mrs. Thomas’s Tigers! How exciting that some of our Wonder Friends are going to be pilots when they grow up! That’s WONDERful! :) We hope you all have an opportunity to ride in helicopter in the future, too!

      We can’t wait to find out what tomorrow’s Wonder, Merrick! It’s going to be a great one for sure! :)

    • WOW, how cool, Daniel C! We are so impressed with your interest in helicopters– way to go! We hope your remote control helicopter turns out great… make sure you tell us how it went! :)

  16. So I’ve known a lot about helicopters and people call them choppers and are used in war to deploy units of men and also fight in wars if you have a chopper gunner.

    • WOW, thanks for sharing so much information about helicopters, Wonder Friend T! We can’t believe all the different types of helicopters that exist! We are glad that you liked today’s Wonder– we hope you have a terrific Tuesday! :)

    • Awesome, we’re glad you liked today’s Wonder Ryleigh! We can’t take credit for the Wonder video today but we hope the group of students reached the 10 foot requirement! They have been working so hard! :)

  17. Dear Wonderopolis,
    Great WONDER! We are learning about force and motion. How does a helicopter use force and motion? We really liked the picture of the first helicopter. Is it difficult to peddle the human helicopter? How does the helicopter go up? Thanks for a great WONDER!

    Mrs. Higgins’ class

    • HOORAY, we’re so glad you are WONDERing with us today, Wonder Friends in Mrs. Higgins’ Class! How cool that our helicopter Wonder connects to your lesson today! The forward movement the helicopter needs in order to take off comes from the rotation of the rotor blades! We Wonder if you can do some more research of your own about helicopters’ use of force and motion! Keep up the great work, Wonder Friends! :)

    • Hey there Aidan, helicopters transport lots of cargo, so they need to be large enough to carry all of that! Thanks for sharing your comment! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How do helicopters work?
  • What can helicopters do that airplanes cannot?
  • What are some of the special jobs helicopters can do?

Wonder Gallery

HelicopterVimeo Video

Try It Out

Want to make your own helicopter? Great! First, you’ll need some basic things to get started. A powerful engine would be a good place to start. Then you’ll need several hundred pounds of high-strength steel…

What? Don’t have those things around the garage? Not to worry! Here’s a simpler version you can try instead. With just a few common items, you can make a paper toy that behaves just like a mini-helicopter!

If you get a chance, take a video of your mini-helicopter in action. Post it to Facebook for all your Wonder Friends to see. We can’t wait to see it fly!

Still Wondering

Check out Illuminations’ Rescue Mission Game lesson to play a game to learn about the four forces of flight: lift, drag, thrust and gravity.

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