The First Helicopter Flight in the World

Engineer Ján Bahýľ

Even though this particularly talented man wasn´t born in Bratislava, his biggest life achievement relates to our capital city. Ján Bahýľ was born in Zvolenská Slatina into a peasant family, but more than farming was young Ján fascinated by the idea of flying and machine constructions. He became an excellent draughtsman and in rather young age created various design enhancements for army technique. This was no surprise, in 1869 he graduated from the Mining Academy of Banská Štiavnica with a diploma in technical drawing. After the studies he dedicated his talent to the enhancement of the mostly military machines – for example he enhanced artillery technique or introduced the Steam Tank purchased by Russian Army. 

Although the area of military engineering had a better financial potential and the inventor himself spent a lot of time in the army, Bahýľ also paid attention to the hydraulics, heating effectivity, or lifting systems. His superior officers recognized the talent of young soldier and allowed him to study at Vienna Military Academy. As a military engineer, Bahýľ was send to all corners of the Empire, and even beyond, to supervise the process of modernization of technical equipment and the construction of new military objects. During this time, he visited Kharkiv, Kiev, Lviv, Dubrovnik and St. Petersburg. After all he decided to settle in Bratislava, where he himself designed and constructed his own house and found a job in factory. 

Ján Bahýľ was really a self-sufficient man with a clear vision of life and of his surroundings that besides designing his own house he also designed his own tombstone, which you can see at the Evangelical Cemetery at Kozia brána in Bratislava. 

World´s First Helicopter

Ján Bahýľ had almost 20 technical patents but what brought him the biggest fame was a prototype of a helicopter. It was a visit of the aeronautical exhibition in Vienna in 1888 that made him think of flying machine. After 6 years he introduced his first design of a man-driven helicopter. At the same year he tested, and also was granted a patent, for balloons combined with an air turbine, which was undoubtedly a good sign to achieve his helicopter dream. 

Even though his first helicopter design has never been realised, young inventor persisted in pursuing his dream and continued to work on the concept. During his stay in Bratislava Bahýľ worked in the Marshall Factory, which owner became his helping hand. Both men were enthusiastic about the new technology and a factory director Anton Marshall cooperated with Bahýľ on the construction of the first petrol-powered automobile with a car-battery in Slovakia.  Even more interesting moment was a construction of the second prototype of a helicopter named Avion in 1903, which managed to fly to the height of 1,5 meter and two years later Bahýľ himself flew 1,500 metres in his machine at a height of four metres. It wasn´t a heavy machine, its weight was only 50 kilograms with skeleton from metal pipes, petrol-powered engine and opposing propellers. This attempt was recorded by the International Aeronautical Organisation, local press, and the Hungarian Registration Office but there is no evidence about the destiny of this prototype. No army or foreign investors showed no interest so without a financial support Bahýľ couldn´t continue in the further development. This fact probably contributed to his withdrawal from the forefront as the invention of the helicopter is assigned to the French inventors. Ján Bahýľ is however almost a forgotten personality also in his birth country – in Slovakia. The Slovak Republic dedicated him a postal stamp, an award for young inventors was named after him, but still there is no mention of this progressive engineer and inventor in children’s history books.