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Topical Budget 739-1: Towards the Stars - by Windmill! (1925)


Main image of Topical Budget 739-1: Towards the Stars - by Windmill! (1925)
35mm, black and white, 64 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

Air Minister Sir Samuel Hoare inspects a prototype helicopter, believed to be Juan de la Cierva's C-6 Autogiro. The Autogiro is shown taking off, hovering and landing.

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The title card of this Topical Budget item is itself a fascinating slice of history, showing the inventiveness of the caption writers when confronted with something for which they had no established vocabulary. The "weird machine" being compared to a windmill is in fact a prototype autogyro, also known as a gyrocopter.

To the untrained eye, it looks like a primitive helicopter, but it operates on quite distinct principles. A helicopter's motorised rotorblades push air downwards, thus lifting the craft, but an autogyro relies on auto-rotation, where the blades are turned by aerodynamic forces. As a result, it needs a separate method of propulsion, which at that time would have been a propellor-based engine.

Topical's newsreel shows the then Air Minister, Sir Samuel Hoare (1880-1959) inspecting what is believed to be the C-6 Autogiro, invented by Juan de la Cierva (1895-1936). In 1924, de la Cierva had achieved the first flight by a stable rotary-wing aircraft, having been working on the project since 1919. The following year, he set up operations in Britain with backing from the Scottish industrialist James G. Weir. The pilot is Captain Frank T. Courtney (1894-1982), a celebrated war ace, and the flight is believed to have taken place at the Royal Aircraft Establishment near Farnborough during tests for the British Air Ministry in October 1925.

De la Cierva continued to develop the autogyro, but lost ground to the helicopters being manufactured by the rival Sikorsky company, which were perceived (not necessarily correctly) as being safer and more efficient. After his death in a plane crash in December 1936, large-scale commercial development of the autogyro was virtually abandoned, though the design remains popular with hobbyists to this day.

Michael Brooke

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