2017 Year at a Glance

2017 Year at a Glance

Early US Navy Helicopters
Front-to-back: Bell HTL-1, Sikorsky HO3S-1, Piasecki HRP-1, Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey, December 1948

In December 1948, the majority of the US Navy’s helicopter fleet consisted of Bell HTL-1s, the Sikorsky HO3S-1s, and the Piasecki HRP-1s. Naval Air Station Lakehurst, New Jersey had been the home of the Navy’s squadron VX-3, which was established in July 1946 to train helicopter pilots, evaluate helicopters, and develop operational uses for them. Its work was done by April 1948, so it was disestablished in favor of operational squadrons; however, helicopter-pilot training continued to be accomplished at Lakehurst by the US East Coast utility helicopter squadron, HU-2, until December 1950.

During World War II, the US Navy had relied primarily on Coast Guard evaluation and demonstration of helicopters developed by the Army. The HRP, however, was the result of a Navy helicopter program initiated to provide for the rescue of a crew of a ship sunk by a U-Boat. The payload, eight rescuees, was far beyond that of any helicopter then envisaged but Frank Piasecki proposed using two rotors in tandem to provide the required lift. He received a contract on January 1, 1944 for the XHRP, which was first hovered in March 1945. The war was over before production HRPs were delivered — the first one flew on August 15, 1947 — but they were repurposed to evaluate a new mission: Marine Corps vertical assault.

In the meantime, on February 16, 1946, Sikorsky had first flown an improved single-rotor helicopter, its S-51, that could carry a pilot and three passengers. It was a solution in search of problems; one that the helicopter proved to be perfectly suited for was carrier-based plane guard. The Navy allowed a Sikorsky-owned helicopter equipped with a rescue hoist and flown by Sikorsky chief test pilot D.D. (Jimmy) Viner to go aboard the carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt for liaison missions and to fly alongside during takeoffs and landings. Several rescues were accomplished within a few weeks, the first one on February 9, 1947. The Navy had already procured a handful of S-51s as its HO3S utility helicopter. It quickly ordered more for assignment to every aircraft carrier and initiated a program to develop a bespoke helicopter for the plane-guard role with greater payload capability.

Bell had certified the first civil helicopter, its Model 47, in March 1946. It soon became the standard training and light utility helicopter for the military services, originally designated R-13 by the Army Air Forces and subsequently re-designated H-13. The Navy acquired 10 Model 47s as HTL-1s in 1947 and continued to buy small quantities of the type for several years.

Description: Tommy H. Thomason
Photo credit: NHHS - SDASM Archives

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