From Freezing Artic Waters to Steaming Jungle Rice Paddies

During the sixteenth century, Italian inventor Leonardo Da Vinci made drawings of an ornithopter flying machine.  Some experts say this inspired the modern day helicopter. In 1784, a year after the first successful ascent in a hot air balloon, French inventors Launoy and Bienvenue created a toy with a rotary-wing that could lift and fly.  This may have been inspired by the “Chinese Top” principle and proved the concept of helicopter flight.  In 1863, the French writer Ponton D’Amecourt was the first person to coin the term “helicopter” from the two words “helico” for spiral and “pter” for wings.

The very first piloted helicopter was invented by Paul Cornu in 1907; however, his design was not successful. French inventor, Etienne Oehmichen built and flew a helicopter about a half mile in 1924. Another early helicopter that flew for a decent distance was the German Focke-Wulf Fw 61.  The inventor of that machine is unknown. 

The Piasecki Helicopter Corporation was founded in 1940 by Frank Piasecki as the P-V Engineering Forum. The PV-2 was the second helicopter flown in the United States (after Sikorsky’s VS-300), and was designed and flown by Frank Piasecki in 1943. 

The company was a designer and manufacturer of helicopters.  It was located in Philadelphia, PA and Morton, PA, in the late 1940s and the 1950s.  Piasecki Helicopter was renamed Vertol Corporation in early 1956.  Vertol was acquired by Boeing in 1960 and renamed Boeing Vertol. 

Piasecki Helicopter designed and sold to the United States Navy a series of tandem rotor helicopters, starting with the HRP-1 of 1944. The HRP-1 was nicknamed the “flying banana” because of the upward angle of the aft fuselage that ensured the large rotors did not strike each other in flight. The name would later be applied to other Piasecki helicopters of similar design, including the H-21. 

The USS Core was commissioned during World War Two as an aircraft carrier.  On June 27, 1943 she transitioned from a training carrier and sortied as the center of Task Group 21.12, a hunter-killer group.  Such groups provided cover for the movement of convoys and made a great contribution towards winning the Battle of the Atlantic.  The innovation represented by their formation was a striking development in antisubmarine warfare.  In 1945 as the war in the Atlantic was winding down, the Core was transferred to the Pacific Theater. 

Piasecki’s company first became known as Piasecki Helicopter in 1946. 

In 1949, Piasecki proposed the YH-21A Workhorse to the United States Air Force, which was an improved, all-metal derivative of the HRP-1.  After its maiden flight in April 1952, the USAF ordered 32 H-21A SAR models and 163 of the more powerful H-21B assault transport variant. With its improved capabilities, the H-21B could carry 22 fully equipped infantrymen, or 12 stretchers, plus space for two medical attendants, in a medivac role. With its Arctic winter capabilities, the H-21A and H-21B were put into service by both the USAF and the Royal Canadian Air Force to maintain and service Distant Early Warning radar installations. 

On 24 August 1954, with the assistance of inflight refueling provided by a U.S. Army U-1A Otter, an H-21C known as Amblin’ Annie became the first helicopter to cross the United States nonstop.

In June of 1955 the Core was redesignated as a helicopter escort carrier (CVHE-13). 

The uprated 1425 hp Wright engine used in the H-21B was also used in subsequent variants sold to both the U.S. Army (as the H-21C Shawnee) and the military forces of several other nations. In 1962, the H-21 was redesignated the CH-21 in U.S. Army service.  The CH-21 was used for Artic rescue because of its excellent low temperature performance. 

In July of 1958 the USS Core was redesignated as a utility carrier (CVU-13).  In May of 1959 the Core was again redesignated, this time as an aviation transport (T-AKV-41).  On December 11, 1961, the USS Core docked in the Port of Saigon to unload 33 Vertol H-21 Shawnee helicopters. Also on board were 400 U.S. soldiers from the 57th Transport Company from Fort Lewis, and the 8th and 9th Transport Companies from Fort Bragg, who would operate and maintain the helicopter fleet. 

The relatively slow CH-21 was hampered by vulnerable cables and fuel lines.  It was rumored that it was so susceptible to small arms fire that a CH-21 had been downed by a Viet Cong spear.

On February 4, 1962 the first United States Helicopter was shot down during the Vietnam War. The helicopter which was shot down was one of fifteen helicopters that were ferrying South Vietnamese Army troops into an area of the Mekong Delta near the village of Hong My for a battle.  That helicopter had arrived in South Vietnam on the ferry carrier USS Core a few months earlier.  The crew was assigned to airlift Vietnamese Army troops into combat. 

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