The Confederacy Had A Crazy Plan To Turn The Tide Against The Union (Helicopters)

The Confederacy Had A Crazy Plan To Turn The Tide Against The Union (Helicopters)

Michael Peck

Security, Americas

America’s first aerial assault.

Key point: It turns out that a Confederate engineer actually did design a helicopter back in 1862.

It’s the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 and Union forces on Cemetery Ridge await the final Confederate assault. But instead of witnessing serried ranks of rebels marching across a mile of open ground into the maws of Yankee cannons, the bluecoat regiments are shocked to hear the thud of rotor blades.

It is the the sound of Confederate general George Pickett’s 13,000-strong division landing behind Union lines.

Is this a neo-Confederate dream? The Red Badge of Courage meets Apocalypse Now?

No, it turns out that a Confederate engineer actually did design a helicopter back in 1862.

William C. Powers was an architectural engineer in Mobile, Alabama. Frustrated by the Union blockade of Mobile and other Southern ports, which prevented the Confederacy from exporting cotton and importing weapons, Powers resolved to devise a way to destroy Union ships.

The Confederate Navy was far too weak to confront the Union fleet, even with a primitive submarine like Hunley. Both the Union and Confederacy had aerial balloons for observation. However, the balloons were neither maneuverable nor had enough lift to carry any real armament.

So, Powers designed a steam-powered maritime strike helicopter to rain bombs down on Union heads. It drew upon many of the ideas of Archimedes and Leonardo da Vinci, according to Tom Paone, a museum specialist in the Aeronautics Department of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Paone described the helicopter in an article for the museum:

The engine was located in the middle of the craft and used two smokestacks, which can be seen in the drawings. Two Archimedean screws on the sides gave the helicopter forward thrust, similar to how a propeller works on a ship in water, and two mounted vertically in the helicopter gave it lift. A rudder was added to the rear of the craft in order to provide steering.

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