The helicopter industry in Italy

The earliest origins of the invention of the rotary wing date back to Leonardo da Vinci (1483), followed by the Frenchmen Launoy and Bienvenu, who presented the first helicopter model to the French Academy of Sciences in 1784. The first experiment with a pilot on board took place during the pioneering stage of aeronautics, with Paul Cornu’s development of the first aircraft with counter-rotating rotors in September 1907.

The first modern helicopter can be said to have been invented by Corradino D’Ascanio1. After extensive experience in the US aeronautics industry2, D’Ascanio used an industrial approach in the development of helicopter prototypes which eventually led to the D’AT3, developed at the air force engineering workshops in Rome and commissioned by the Ministry of Aviation. 

In 1930, the D’AT3, equipped with a Fiat A 50 S engine gained the world record for the time3 for (i) flight duration (8 minutes 45 seconds), (ii) distance flown (1,078.60 metres), (iii) altitude (18 metres).

True industrialisation commenced in the 1940’s during the war, with Sikorsky producing 130 R-4s, followed by Bell’s commencement of large-scale production of its Model 30 in 1943.

In 1954, Costruzioni Aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta signed a licence agreement to produce Bell Aircraft Corporation’s Model 47, with the first helicopter produced in Italy, the AB47G, taking to the skies on 24 May 1954.

The inaugural flight of the Agusta A109 on 4 August 1971, the first helicopter fully designed and built by the Italian company and type-approved in 1975, marked the beginning of the rise of a company that would go on to become one of the leading OEMs globally.

  1. Vincenzo Rizzato, Il Volo Verticale. L’elicottero di Corradino D’Ascanio, Ennepilibri, 2004. 

  2. From Caproni Airlines in Detroit to the experience gained with Ugo Veniero D’Annunzio. 

  3. “13 October 1930: A record-holding Italian helicopter”, Il Sole 24 Ore, 6 February 2018.