World’s Second Helicopter Built in Manitoba in 1937-38
November 15, 2007 By Shirley Render
Canada’s first controlled manned vertical flight occurred on a farm in the Homewood area of Manitoba.
The Froebe Helicopter
Canada’s first controlled manned vertical flight occurred on a farm in the Homewood area of Manitoba. While Leonardo de Vinci was the first to design what we know as a helicopter, it was three brothers in southern Manitoba who designed, built and flew the world’s second helicopter in 1937-38, a few months after a German-built helicopter was flown.
The brothers, Douglas, Nicholas and Theodore Froebe had a keen interest in flight and learned to fly the aircraft of the day and then began to experiment with designing their own “flying machines,” in early 1936, focusing on a helicopter rather than fixed wing.
They built the frame from aircraft chrome molybdenum steel tubing purchased from McDonald Aircraft Supply in Winnipeg. Other parts were either handcrafted or taken from farm machinery. The finished product was left uncovered since they considered it experimental.
The brothers purchased a used 4-cyclinder air-cooled Gypsy engine from a plane dealer in Los Angeles for $100. It was installed in the forward section of the fuselage and connected it to the rotor shaft through a right-angled drive. Fuel was contained in a small tank behind the pilot’s seat for better weight and balance. Two concentric counter-rotating blades located 5-6 feet above the fuselage provided lift, with directional control in the upper rotor assembly.
Although the helicopter easily lifted off the ground, it vibrated severely and only short directional flights were achieved. Numerous flights were attempted throughout 1937-39 with the last logbook entry being March 2, 1939. A total flying time of 4 hours and 5 minutes was logged. With no financial support and world war pending, further tests were suspended. In 1957, the National Research Council of Canada expressed interest.
The design was very similar to designs of the 1970s and 1980s – a tribute to the advanced thinking of the brothers. Unfortunately they never registered their design at the patent office with the result that Canada received no recognition of having designed one of the world’s first helicopters.
Source: The Encyclopedia Of Manitoba
For more on the Froebe helicopter, visit the Western Canada Aviation Museum