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Above: The VS-300 (near) is shown being piloted by Igor Sikorsky and the XR-4 (far) is shown being flown by Sikorsky test pilot Les Morris. This April 20, 1942 photo shows the first public demonstration of the XR-4, which would later become the world’s first production helicopter.


Opposite: Igor Sikorsky confers with Charles Lindbergh on October 9, 1940; the VS-300 is shown in the background. Sikorsky frequently collaborated with Lindbergh while developing his fixed wing aircraft and even allowed Lindbergh to fly the VS-300.


Photos: Courtesy of Sikorsky Historical Archives


hour, twenty minutes and thirty-nine seconds in May of 1941. On October 7, 1943, Igor Sikorsky personally donated the VS-300 to Henry Ford for inclusion in the Edison Institute Museum in Michigan. At the time of the donation this historic aircraft had just over 102 hours of flight time (Spenser, 1998).


Based on the success of the proto- type VS-300, the U.S. Army formally contracted with Sikorsky Aircraft to build a larger helicopter in 1941. This helicopter would be known as the VS- 316 or more commonly the R-4. The R-4 made the first extended cross country helicopter flight in North America when it flew from the Sikorsky factory in Connecticut to Wright Field in Ohio and was officially delivered to the Army on May 18, 1942. The R-4 would become the world’s first pro- duction helicopter with an eventual 131 being built for the American and


ROTORCRAFTPROFESSIONAL


British militaries (Sikorsky, 2007). Helicopter production led to Vought- Sikorsky being disbanded in 1943 to allow Sikorsky Aircraft to move to a larger production facility in Bridgeport, CT.


Igor Sikorsky had


long believed if a successful helicopter could be built, it could be a tremen- dously useful asset for saving human life. The R-4 was the first of many hel- icopters to prove that Sikorsky’s pre- diction was correct. In January of 1944 a Coast Guard officer named Frank Erickson flew through a fierce winter storm in a Sikorsky HNS-1 (R-4) with much needed blood plasma for sailors injured in an explosion.


Later that


year, Army Lieutenant Carter Harman conducted the first ever combat heli- copter rescue when he flew a Sikorsky R-4 behind enemy lines, into Japanese held Burma, to rescue four downed Allied soldiers (Sikorsky, 2007). Prior to the end of World War II, Igor


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Sikorsky and his team had developed two new helicopters. The R-5 was an all new design which boasted a 450 horsepower Pratt and Whitney engine with a payload of 1,500 pounds. The R-6 was an improved version of the R- 4. Before the war ended, 225 R-6s were built. After World War II military interest in the helicopter decreased, many helicopter programs were can- celled and a substantial commercial market failed to materialize. All of this caused sales to drop considerably and further delayed helicopter develop- ment. Within a few years there would be another major war and helicopters would play a much more important role in battlefield operations. Although the helicopter saw only limit- ed use for lifesaving purposes during and after World War II, it proved Igor Sikorsky’s predictions about its life sav- ing ability on a much larger scale dur- ing the Korean War. Spurred on by the success of the helicopter in Korea and increased interest in the commercial market Sikorsky Aircraft pushed ahead with larger and more capable helicop- ter designs. An improved version of the R-5, the S-51, became the second helicopter certified for civil use. The S-51 was used for the first helicopter airline in 1946 and its operations dur- ing the Korean War helped establish the helicopter medevac role. Over 330 S-51s were produced by Sikorsky Aircraft or under license in Britain. The S-51 served in all branches of the U.S. military and a dozen foreign mil- itaries. Throughout the 1950s, many new helicopter designs were produced, each one more capable than the last. Included in this development were the S-55 and S-58. Both of these helicop- ters were revolutionary designs which helped establish Sikorsky Aircraft as one of the leading manufacturers of large helicopters. The S-55 was designed and built in less than six months for an Air Rescue Service requirement (Sikorsky, 2007). Powered by a 600 horsepower engine, the S-55 saw use in both civil and mil-


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