French helicopter association l'Union française de l'hélicoptère (UFH) has kicked off a year of celebrations to mark the centenary of the first vertical flight in 1907.

Speaking at a press conference in Paris to launch the series of events, Gérard David president of UFH member association Groupement français de l'hélicoptère (GFH), acknowledged the US-French rivalry over other aviation milestones, adding "luckily no one in the world denies that vertical flight was invented in France."

Three French aviation pioneers - Maurice Léger, Louis-Charles Bréguet and Paul Cornu saw their prototypes briefly get off the ground in 1907 (Bréguet-Richet Gyroplane No. 1 pictured below)  but it was not until 1924 that the first kilometre (0.54nm) of flight was achieved.

Breguet gyroplane No1 W445
© UFH 

The centenary is being marked by events around the world, including Héliventure, which will see 15 teams flying from France to the USA in July to arrive as guests of honour in formation with the Dassault Falcon 7X and Airbus A380 at the US Experimental Aircraft Association AirVenture general aviation air show held in OshKosh, Wisconsin.

In November a new helicopter hall at the Musée de l'Air et de l'Espace at Le Bourget will be inaugurated. In March the Aérospatiale Alouette III JBL from Chamonix will arrive to take its place at the museum to symbolise the lives that have been saved by rescue helicopters.  But David stresses the importance of innovation as well as celebrating historic achievements: "the helicopter is one of the most important vehicles for the future."

And a stamp celebrating the centenary is being issued, showing the Eurocopter EC130 next to the primitive helicopter designed by Paul Cornu. The stamp will be available later this month from French postal service La Poste.

Twenty-five students from the ESTACA engineering school in Paris are working on the construction of the first replica ever of the helicopter with which Paul Cornu achieved his first flight in november 1907. The life-size model will be ready for presentation at Le Bourget in June.

More images from the pre-1914 era of powered flight can be found at the Flight Archive project pages of historical aviation photos.