Whatever Happened to… Beer Can Helicopters?

We were wandering down a Portsmouth neighborhood street heading for some kind of pot shop celebration of some sort or another at Best Buds across from New Seasons back in the summer of 2018. The other part of this “we” prefers to be anonymous. Hey, we were just educating ourselves besides they were offering information booths, samples, music and live pro wrestling—well, maybe semi-pro wrestling. It didn’t seem like a half bad plan to visit for part of an afternoon. As we headed down an alley after parking the car, I looked up and noticed a beer can helicopter hovering up tall poles.

Beer can helicopters are the best. Besides being a resourceful use of recyclables for art, they’re more interesting to me than the real thing. I didn’t expect a ride from a can helicopter but a random discovery is always appreciated. So what’s happened to these? It’s a safe bet they’re still there catching wind gusts and spinning their wheels when they can to continue their quest to keep that Portsmouth neighborhood’s unique yard art going.

Then it occurred to me. I look back at memories and they become distorted. It’s good to have photographic evidence but I had assumed the cans used in these kinetic sculptures were beer cans. I’d also forgotten about the bike tire whirligig. What can be more Portland than finding creative ways to use bike parts? Looking over the cans in my photos, I wasn’t seeing beer cans. The cans were bigger, not the usual soda size. I spotted ice tea, energy drinks and malt liquor cans. I’ve been stuck on my description because beer can helicopter sounds better in the title. Perhaps can helicopter is more accurate.

Beer can aviation replicas have a long history. It doesn’t predate the invention of the aluminum can of course. It couldn’t have taken long before the cans inspired art. Eventually someone saw the possibilities in this mixed media use of gears, bike parts and aluminum resulting in these sculptures. The only thing missing the day I saw them was wind. It’s the only way to get the full effect. Head out to Portsmouth some windy day. This helicopter will surely be spinning its propeller bladed, can powered wheels looking for a place to land beside its whirligig pal who has stood by him all these years.

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