Enrico Forlanini

Enrico Forlanini was born on 13 December 1848 and grew up in Milan, Italy, where he attended a technical school. He studied to be a sapper at the Military College of Turin, before studying engineering in Milan. In 1877, his interest in propellers led him to develop a rudimentary helicopter model. Powered by a small steam engine, it used two contra-rotating rotors to reach a height of about 13 metres. In order to devote more time to his inventions, Forlanini resigned from the military and started his own company. He applied his aeronautical knowledge to the world of hydrodynamics and invented the hydrofoil. His radical new design allowed boats to effectively ‘fly’ above water, reducing resistance and increasing the craft’s potential speed. In 1901, Forlanini began development of his first airship, which happened to be the world’s first semi-rigid airship, the F1. He named this aircraft the ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ and it completed its maiden flight in 1909. The airship had a keel beam, which meant that it was lighter than a rigid airship, but stronger than a non-rigid airship. Its passenger cabin was integrated into the balloon, improving aerodynamics. The F1 was powered by a 40 hp engine and was 40 metres long. Due to the popularity of the F1, Forlanini was able to build faster and improved airships. When it seemed that airships were becoming obsolete, due to technological advancements in conventional aircraft design, Forlanini continued developing his airships. Up to the time of his death on 9 October 1930, he was working on an advanced airship, controlled by air jets, not unlike the way modern spaceships are controlled. Over the years, he had become a pioneer in helicopter design, hydrofoils and airship development.

1848 - Born in Italy
1877 - Developed and displayed a working helicopter model
1998 - Invented hydrofoils
1901 - Began development of semi-rigid airships
1907 - First flight of the F1 ‘Leonardo da Vinci’
1930 - Died at the age of 81