April 2015

2015 AprilUS Army Air Corps/Sikorsky R-4
World’s first helicopter medical evacuation in a combat zone: April 26-27, 1944 (YR-4B)
XR-4A first flight: January 14, 1942 (XR-4A)

US Army Air Forces (USAAF) pilot 2nd Lieutenant Carter Harman flew a YR-4B helicopter 500 miles (800 km) from a base in Lalaghat, India to rescue three wounded British Commandos and a USAAF pilot from a Stinson L-1 fixed-wing light observation aircraft who were stranded behind enemy lines near Aberdeen, Burma after being shot down by enemy gunfire. 

Lt. Harman removed the copilot’s seat and carried 21 gallons (80 L) of fuel in four Jerri cans and a foldable stretcher for the long trip. Lt. Harman made short flights from the USAAF Air Commando with extra stops enroute to refuel. The limited capabilities of the YR-4 required Carter to take one person at a time to a sand bar where they were flown to a hospital in a Stinson L-5 fixed-wing liaison aircraft.

After the second rescue, the engine overheated requiring an overnight stay on the sand bar. The next day, he rescued the third wounded British Commando and returned to pick up the pilot and return him to the USAAF Air Commando Forward Base at Aberdeen.

(Photo via Sikorsky Archives; text by Roger Connor)

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