Tag Archives: Bell Helicopter Company

7 September 1965

Bell Model 209 prototype, N209J, in flight with skids retracted. (Bell Helicopter Co.)
Bell Model 209, N209J, prototype of the AH-1G Huey Cobra attack helicopter, in flight with landing skids retracted. (Bell Helicopter Company)

7 September 1965: First flight of the prototype Bell Model 209 attack helicopter. Test pilot William Thomas (“Bill”) Quinlan was in command. The duration of the flight was twelve minutes.

The Model 209 was a private venture, built in just seven months and rolled out at Fort Worth, Texas, 2 September 1965. The prototype aircraft combined the drive system, rotors and tail boom of the production UH-1C gunship with a streamlined fuselage which placed the two pilots in tandem.

The prototype was equipped with retractable landing gear which gave the 209 increased speed, but the expense and complexity were enough that this feature was not included on production aircraft.

This helicopter would be developed into the famous AH-1G Huey Cobra.

N209J,the Bell Model 209 prototype, shown in camouflage colors. (Bell Helicopter Company)
N209J, the Bell Model 209 prototype, shown in camouflage colors. (Bell Helicopter Company)

The second prototype, AH-1G 66-15246, was used by the Army for flight testing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, from 3 April to 21 April 1967.

66-15246 had an overall length of 52 feet, 11.65 inches (16.146 meters) with rotors turning. The fuselage was 44 feet, 5.20 inches (13.433 meters) long, and it was 3 feet, 0 inches (0.914 meters) wide. The HueyCobra had a short “stub wing” with a span of 10 feet, 11.60 inches (3.343 meters). Its angle of incidence was 14°. The wing’s area was 27.8 square feet (2.6 square meters). 66-15426 had an empty weight of 5,516 pounds (2,502 kilograms) and maximum gross weight of 9,500 pounds (4,309 kilograms).

Bell Model 209, N209J, prototype of the AH-1G Cobra, with landing skids extended. (U.S. Army)

The two-bladed Model 540 “door-hinge” main rotor was 44 feet, 0 inches (13.411 meters) in diameter. The blades had a chord of 2 feet, 3 inches (0.686 meters) and 10° negative twist. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise when viewed from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) Normal rotor r.p.m. (power on) was 314–324 r.p.m., and power off, 304–339 r.p.m. The minimum transient rotor speed, power off, was 250 r.p.m.

The two blade tail rotor assembly had a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters) with a chord of 8.41 inches (0.214 meters). There was no twist. It was mounted on the left side of the pylon in a pusher configuration and turned counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is above the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor pylon was cambered to allow aerodynamic forces in forward flight to “unload” the tail rotor.

Bell AH-1G Cobra three-view drawing. (U.S. Army Aviation Systems Test Activity)

The AH-1G was powered by a Lycoming LTC1K-4 (T53-L-13) turboshaft engine rated at 1,400 shaft horsepower, though it was derated to the helicopter’s transmission limit. The T53-L-13 is a two-shaft free turbine with a 6-stage compressor (5 axial-flow stages, 1 centrifugal-flow stage) and a 4-stage axial-flow turbine (2 high-pressure stages, 2 low-pressure power turbine stages). The T53-L-13 is 3 feet, 11.9 inches (1.217 meters) long, 1 foot, 11.0 inches (0.584 meters) in diameter and weighs 549 pounds (249 kilograms).

The speed of the Cobra was effected by the armament configuration, whether “clean”, light or heavy scout, or “heavy hog.” At 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), the cruise speed in the clean configuration was 138.0 knots (158.8 miles per hour, 255.6 kilometers per hour); light scout, 134.0 knots (154.2 miles per hour, 248.2 kilometers per hour); and heavy hog, 127.0 knots (146.2 miles per hour, 235.2 kilometers per hour). The maximum airspeed in level flight was 149.0 knots (171.5 miles per hour, 276.0 kilometers per hour); 144.0 knots (165.7 miles per hour, 266.7 kilometers per hour); and 136.5 knots (157.1 miles per hour, 252.8 kilometers per hour), respectively.

The limiting airspeed (VL) was 190 knots (KCAS) (219 miles per hour, 352 kilometers per hour) below 3,000 feet (914 meters) density altitude.

In autorotation, the airspeed for the minimum rate of descent was 74.0 knots (85.2 miles per hour, 137.1 kilometers per hour) with the main rotor turning 294 r.p.m., resulting in a rate of descent of 1,750 feet per minute (8.89 meters per second).

Bell AH-1G Cobra. (U.S. Army)

The basic armament for the AH-1G Cobra was an Emerson M28 turret which could be equipped with one or two General Electric M134 Miniguns, or a combination of a Minigun with a Philco Ford M129 automatic grenade launcher, or two grenade launchers. Each Minigun was supplied with 4,000 rounds of 7.62 NATO ammunition, while a grenade launcher had 300 rounds of 40 × 53 millimeter high-velocity explosive ammunition.

Four hardpoints on the stub wing could be loaded with M18 7.62 NATO Minigun pods; XM35 pods, containing a short-barreled General Electric XM195 20 millimeter Gatling gun (a variant of the M61 Vulcan); rocket pods with seven or nineteen 2.75-inch unguided rockets.

The prototype Cobra, Bell Model 209 N209J, is in the collection of the U.S. Army Aviation Museum, Fort Rucker, Alabama, as is the second prototype, 66-15246.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 August 1990

Bell 206B JetRanger N16933, destroyed on impact, 27 August 1990. All five aboard, including famed guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, were killed. (NTSB)

27 August 1990: Four Bell JetRanger helicopters operated by Omniflight Helicopters Inc., arrived at a golf course near Elkhorn, Wisconsin, to pick up various musical artists after a concert at the Alpine Valley Music Theater and to return them to Chicago. They departed at 0040 hours, CDT.

The number three helicopter, Bell JetRanger III (Model 206B-3) serial number 2338, civil registration N16933, was piloted by Jeffrey William Brown of East Chicago, Indiana.

A last minute addition to the passenger complement was electric blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. Another passenger, Vaughan’s brother, Jimmie Vaughan, switched places with him and boarded a different aircraft.

A first-quarter Moon rose at 12:12 a.m. CST. It was very dark, with thick, patchy fog. The temperature/dew point spread was such that the pilots had to continually wipe heavy condensation from the windshields. Another of the Omniflight pilots later said that the stars were visible when looking up, but that horizontal visibility was variable, with a maximum of about one mile.

Brown, who was not familiar with the area, took off and after about 300 yards, his helicopter banked sharply to the southeast and disappeared into the fog.

The JetRanger impacted a 150-foot hill (45 meters), 0.6 miles away (1 kilometer). It was completely destroyed. All on board were killed. In addition to Brown and Vaughan, the others were Bobby Brooks, Nigel Browne and Colin Smythe, members of Eric Clapton’s tour.

Although the weather was such that the pilot could have reasonably expected to encounter instrument meteorological conditions, Brown did not have an Instrument-Helicopter rating and the Bell 206-series helicopters were not certified for instrument flight.

Below is the accident summary from the National Transportation Safety Board:

NTSB Identification: CHI90MA244 .

The docket is stored on NTSB microfiche number 43569.
Nonscheduled 14 CFR
Accident occurred Monday, August 27, 1990 in ELKHORN, WI
Probable Cause Approval Date: 09/11/1992
Aircraft: BELL 206B, registration: N16933
Injuries: 5 Fatal.

NTSB investigators traveled in support of this investigation and used data obtained from various sources to prepare this aircraft accident report.

FOUR HELICOPTERS WERE BEING USED AT NIGHT TO TRANSPORT A CONCERT GROUP FROM A GOLF COURSE AREA NEAR ELKHORN, WI, TO CHICAGO, IL. AS THE THIRD HELICOPTER (N16933) WAS DEPARTING, IT REMAINED AT A LOWER ALTITUDE THAN THE OTHERS, AND THE PILOT TURNED SOUTHEASTERLY TOWARD RISING TERRAIN. SUBSEQUENTLY, THE HELICOPTER CRASHED ON HILLY TERRAIN ABOUT 3/5 MI FROM THE TAKEOFF POINT. ELEVATION OF THE CRASH SITE WAS ABOUT 100 FT ABOVE THE GOLF COURSE AND 50 FT BELOW THE SUMMIT OF THE HILL. NO PREIMPACT PART FAILURE OR MALFUNCTION WAS FOUND DURING THE INVESTIGATION. PILOTS OF THE OTHER HELICOPTERS REPORTED VFR FLIGHT CONDITIONS WITH SOME FOG. A GROUND WITNESS NEAR THE CRASH SITE REPORTED HAZE AND GROUND FOG OF VARYING INTENSITY WITH PATCHES OF LOW CLOUDS, BUT SAID STARS COULD BE SEEN THROUGH THE FOG.

The National Transportation Safety Board determines the probable cause(s) of this accident as follows:

IMPROPER PLANNING/DECISION BY THE PILOT, AND HIS FAILURE TO ATTAIN ADEQUATE ALTITUDE BEFORE FLYING OVER RISING TERRAIN AT NIGHT. FACTORS RELATED TO THE ACCIDENT WERE: DARKNESS, FOG, HAZE, RISING TERRAIN, AND THE LACK OF VISUAL CUES THAT WERE AVAILABLE TO THE PILOT.

Stevie Ray Vaughan
Stevie Ray Vaughan

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 August 1976

The prototype Bell 222 hovering during its first flight, 13 August 1983. (Bell Helicopter)
The prototype Bell 222 hovering during its first flight, 13 August 1976. (Bell Helicopter)

13 August 1976: At the Bell Helicopter facility at Arlington, Texas, the prototype Model 222 twin-engine helicopter, registration N9988K, made its first flight. During the 42-minute flight test pilots Donald Bloom and Lou Hartwig flew the aircraft through a series of hovering maneuvers and transitions to forward flight. A Bell spokesperson described it as, “One of the most successful prototype flights we’ve ever had.”

The Model 222 was Bell Helicopter’s first completely new helicopter since the Model 206 JetRanger series. Classified as a light twin, the aircraft was originally powered by two Lycoming LTS101-650C3 turboshaft engines producing 592 horsepower, each. The two-blade main rotor was similar in design to that used on the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters. The first four prototypes were built with a T-tail configuration, but problems discovered early in the test program resulted in a change to the arrangement used in the production version.

Bell Model 222 prototypye, N9988K, in flight. Note T-tail configuration. (Bell Helicopter)
Bell Model 222 prototype, N9988K, in flight. Note T-tail configuration. (Bell Helicopter)

The Bell 222 is used as an executive transport, a utility transport and an aeromedical helicopter. It can carry a maximum of ten persons, and is operated with either one or two pilots. The 222 is certified for Instrument Flight Rules. The standard aircraft has retractable tricycle landing gear but the Model 222UT replaces that with a lighter weight skid gear.

During early production, problems were experienced with the LTS101 engines, which were also used on the Sikorsky S-76 and the Aérospatiale AS-350D A-Star. This seriously hurt the reputation and sales of all three helicopters. Bell Helicopter’s parent corporation, Textron, bought the Lycoming factory to improve the engine. (The engine is now owned by Honeywell Aerospace.) Operators began to replace the two Lycoming engines with a pair of Allison 250-C30 turboshafts, and eventually Bell Helicopter modified the aircraft, marketing it as the Model 230. A four-bladed variant with a longer cabin is called the Model 430.

After the test program was completed, the first prototype, N9988K, was used as a prop on the popular television series, “Airwolf.”

Bell 222 N34NR, an aeromedical helicopter operated by Air Angels, Inc., Bolingbrooke, Illinois. (Photograph courtesy of Chris Hargreaves)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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1 August 1977

Wreckage of KNBC television's "Telecopter", Bell JetRanger N4TV. Pilot Francis Gary Powers and cameraman George Spears were killed when the helicopter crashed at Sepulveda Basin, Van Nuys, California, 12;48 p.m., 1 August 1977. (Joe Kennedy, Los Angeles Times Staff Photographer)
Wreckage of KNBC television’s “Telecopter,” Bell 206B JetRanger N4TV. Pilot Francis Gary Powers and cameraman George Spears were killed when the helicopter crashed at the Sepulveda Basin, Van Nuys, California, 12:48 p.m., 1 August 1977. (Joe Kennedy, Los Angeles Times Staff Photographer)
Francis Gary Powers with KNBC's Bell 206B JetRanger, N4TV, (Unattributed)
Francis Gary Powers with KNBC’s Bell 206B JetRanger, N4TV. (Check-Six.com)

1 August 1977: Francis Gary Powers, a pilot and news reporter for KNBC Television (Channel 4) in Los Angeles, California, was flying the company’s “Telecopter,” a camera and transmitter-equipped Bell Model 206B Jet Ranger, N4TV. He and a cameraman, George R. Spears, had been reporting on the aftermath of the disastrous Sycamore Canyon Fire in Santa Barbara County and were returning to their base, the KNBC Heliport at the television studios near the Ventura Freeway in Burbank.

At approximately 12:35 p.m., PDT, (19:35 UTC), the JetRanger was eastbound, about 1 mile southwest of Van Nuys Airport (VNY). Powers called Van Nuys Tower and requested to land there as the helicopter was low on fuel. The last transmission was: “TV Four just lost—”

Francis Gary Powers was a highly-experienced airplane pilot. At the time of the crash, Powers had 7,193 total flight hours, with 381 hours in the Bell 206. He had attended the Bell 206B Pilot Transition Training course at the Bell Helicopter Training School at Fort Worth, Texas.

When TDiA attended the Bell Helicopter Training Academy in 1981, the crash of Power’s Jet Ranger was discussed by the school’s instructors in great detail. The high-profile accident involving Bell’s leading civil product had been thoroughly investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and by Bell’s own experts.

TDiA requested the official NTSB accident investigation report nearly two years ago, and though the request received immediate acknowledgement, the report has not yet been provided.

Powers, returning from covering the fire in Santa Barbara for Channel 4 News, flew past the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport (SBA), Oxnard Airport (OXR), and Camarillo Airport (CMA), all of which were almost directly along his course, and all of which could have provided fuel for the Bell 206.

Power's Bell 206B JetRanger was completely destroyed when it crashed August 1977. (CBS News/AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Power’s Bell 206B JetRanger, N4TV, was completely destroyed when it crashed 1 August 1977. (CBS News/AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Powers passed those airports, but just a few miles short of his destination, 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) to the southwest of Van Nuys Airport (VNY), the busiest General Aviation airport in the United States, the helicopter’s turboshaft engine stopped because of fuel starvation. The JetRanger crashed in an open field. Both Powers and his cameraman, George Robert Spears, were killed.

Examination of news photographs of the wreck show that the JetRanger was completely destroyed on impact. It appears to have struck the ground in a nose-down attitude. Surprisingly, damage to the main rotor assembly is slight, with no twisting, tearing, or failure of the doublers at the blade root, as are commonly seen.

An engine failure over a large, level open space, should have resulted in no damage to the aircraft or injuries to its occupants. The autorotation characteristics of the Bell 206-series helicopters are excellent, among the best of any helicopter. The extent of the damage to the airframe, though, when compared to the relatively slight damage to the main rotor assembly, convinces TDiA that the helicopter was not in autorotation, but in free fall. The main rotor blades were not turning within the autorotation r.p.m. range of 355–440 r.p.m.

There are reports that Powers turned the helicopter away from a group of children playing in the open field, but this would not have been possible with the main rotor turning at the very low rotational speeds demonstrated by the lack of twist damage.

Recent satellite image of the open area where Power's JetRanger. crashed (Google)
Recent satellite image of the open area where Power’s JetRanger crashed: “. . . vacant field. . . 1000 feet North of Oxnard and 941 feet East of Shoshone – Tarzana. . . .” Van Nuys Airport (VNY) is about one mile to the north east. (Google)

This crash was caused by pilot error.

Abstract of NTSB Report LAX77FA060. (National Transportation Safety Board)
Abstract of NTSB Report LAX77FA060. (National Transportation Safety Board)
Francis Gary Powers at Milligan College, 1949.

Francis Gary Powers was born 17 August 1929 in Letcher County, Kentucky. He was the son of Oliver Windfield Powers, a mortarman in the coal industry, and Ida Melinda Ford Powers.

Powers attended Milligan College at Elizabethton, Tennessee, from 1947 to 1950. He studied biology. He was a member of the school’s pre-med club, and was junior class manager of the intramural council. He was also on the varsity track team.

Francis Gary Powers entered United States Air Force in 1950, trained as a pilot and was commissioned in 1952. He flew the Republic F-84G Thunderjet fighter bomber with the 468th Strategic Fighter Squadron, 506th Strategic Fighter Wing, at Turner Air Force Base, Albany, Georgia. He received special training in delivery of the Mark 7 tactical nuclear weapon at Kirkland Air Force Base, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Republic F-84G Thunderjet fighter bombers of the 506th Strategic Fighter Wing, 1954. (U.S. Air Force)
Republic F-84G-25-RE Thunderjet fighter bombers of the 506th Strategic Fighter Wing, 1954. (U.S. Air Force)
Francis G. Powers, Civilian pilot of the U2 American jet plane shot down over Russia. The photo was taken some years ago when he was a U.S. Air Force pilot. Powers resigned his Air Force Reserve commission in 1956. The State Department admitted, May 7, 1956 that a high altitude U.S. jet plane made an intelligence flight over the Soviet Union, but said it was not authorized in Washington. (AP Photo)
1st Lieutenant F.G. Powers with a swept-wing Republic F-84F-50-RE Thunderstreak fighter bomber. (U.S. Air Force)

In 1956, 1st Lieutenant Powers was released from the U.S. Air Force to participate in the Central Intelligence Agency’s Project Aquatone. He was now a civilian government employee, although he was promised that he could return to the Air Force and that he would keep his seniority and would be promoted on schedule.

Francis Gary Powers gained world-wide notoriety when the Lockheed U-2A he was flying,  “Article 360,” (USAF serial number 56-6693) was shot down over Russia, 1 May 1960. Powers was captured and held prisoner at the notorious Lubyanka Prison where he underwent 62 days of interrogation at the hands of the Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security, or simply, the KGB). Powers was placed on trial in Moscow and was convicted of espionage. He was sentenced to prison for ten years.

The trial of Francis Gary Powers, August 1960. Mr. Powers is standing in the prisoner's dock at the right side of the image. (Getty Images/Popperfoto)
The trial of Francis Gary Powers, August 1960. Mr. Powers is standing in the prisoner’s dock at the right side of the image. (Getty Images/Popperfoto)

After almost two years, he was exchanged for William August Fisher, (AKA Rudolf Ivanovich Abel, Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher) a long-time Soviet intelligence officer that had been caught in the United States in 1957. [This story was recounted in the recent motion picture, “Bridge of Spies,” which starred Tom Hanks. The film received six Academy Award nominations in 2015.]

After his release from the Soviet Union, Powers was employed as a test pilot for Lockheed, 1962–1970. He then became an airborne traffic and news reporter for several Los Angeles-area radio and television broadcast stations.

CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers, in partial pressure suit, with a Lockheed U-2. Date and location unknown.
Lockheed pilot Francis Gary Powers, wearing a David Clark Co. MC-3 partial-pressure suit and International Latex Corporation MA-2 helmet, with a Lockheed U-2F high-altitude reconnaissance aircraft, N800X, (Article 342, serial number 56-6675) at Burbank Airport, circa 1963–1966. (Lockheed Martin)

Gary Powers and his first wife, Barbara Gay Powers, divorced in 1963. He then married Claudia Edwards Downey at Fraquier, Virginia, 26 October 1963. This was also her second marriage. They would have a son, Francis Gary Powers II. (Mrs. Barbara Powers remarried in 1964.)

On 24 November 1986, the Distinguished Flying Cross was awarded posthumously to Powers “For Extraordinary Achievement While Participating in Aerial Flight 1 May 1960.” After reviewing his record at the request of his son, Francis Gary Powers, Jr., on 15 February 2000, the U.S. Air Force retroactively promoted him to the rank of Captain, effective 19 June 1957, and further credited his military service to include 14 May 1956–1 March 1963, the time he was with the CIA. The award of the Prisoner of War Medal was also authorized.

On June 15, 2012, General Norton Schwartz, Chief of Staff of the Air Force, awarded Captain Francis Gary Powers the Silver Star (posthumous).

news photographer
News photographer George R. Spears in the left rear seat of a Bell 206. (Associated Press via Newseum)

George Robert Spears was born at Chicago, Illinois, 17 July 1934, the fourth of five children of William E. and Nora Neelom Spears. He married Annette A. Montalbano in Chicago, 26 May 1956. They had three children and lived at Northridge, California. He had worked for KNBC since June 1976.

N4TV was built as a Bell Model 206A JetRanger, serial number 433, at Hurst, Texas, in 1969. It was first owned by the Los Angeles, California, independent television station KTLA (Channel 5), and registered N555TV. The helicopter was later upgraded to the Model 206B standard with the installation of a more powerful Allison 250-C20 engine. When purchased by KNBC, a National Broadcasting Company affiliate, 433 was reregistered N4TV.

The Bell Model 206B JetRanger is a 5-place, single-engine, light civil helicopter based on Bell Helicopter Company’s unsuccessful OH-4 entrant for the U.S. Army’s Light Observation Helicopter (LOH). It is flown by a single pilot in the right front seat. Dual flight controls can be installed for a second pilot. The helicopter is 39 feet, 8 inches (12.090 meters) long, with rotors turning. On standard skid landing gear, the overall height is 9 feet, 4 inches (2.845 meters). The main rotor has a diameter of 33 feet, 4 inches (10.262 meters) and turns counterclockwise (as seen from above) at 394 r.p.m. (100% NR). The empty weight is approximately 1,700 pounds (771 kilograms), depending on installed equipment, and its maximum gross weight is 3,200 pounds (1,451.5 kilograms).

The 206A was powered by an Allison 250-C18 turboshaft engine rated at 370 shaft horsepower at 6,016 r.p.m., and derated to 317 s.h.p., the transmission’s limit. The later 206B and 206B-2 had a 400 horsepower 250-C20 engine, and 206B-3s had 250-C20B, -C20J or -C20R engines installed, which produced 420 shaft horsepower. The helicopter’s transmission, however, is limited to 317 horsepower input.)

The JetRanger has a maximum speed of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour). Its best rate of climb is at 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) and best glide distance is at 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 13,500 feet (4,115 meters) and maximum range is 430 miles (692 kilometers).

Note: The Model 206A-1 was adopted by the U.S. Army as the OH-58A Kiowa. Though very similar in appearance to the Model 206A and 206B, the OH-58A differs significantly. Few of the parts are interchangeable between the types.

Three view drawing of the Bell Model 206A/B JetRanger with dimensions. (Bell Helicopter TEXTRON)
Three view drawing of the Bell Model 206A/B JetRanger with dimensions. (Bell Helicopter TEXTRON)

Between 1967 and 2010, Bell Helicopter built 4,491 JetRangers and 2,275 OH-58 Kiowas. Nealy 1,000 more were built under license by other manufacturers.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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12 July 1957

President Eisenhower fastens his seat belt aboard H-13J-BF Sioux 57-2729, on the White House lawn, 12 July 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
Dwight David Eisenhower, President of the United States
Dwight David Eisenhower, President of the United States

12 July 1957: President Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first United States president to fly in a helicopter when a U.S. Air Force H-13J-BF Sioux, serial number 57-2729 (c/n 1576), flown by Major Joseph E. Barrett, USAF, departed the White House lawn enroute Camp David. Also on board was a U.S. Secret Service special agent. A second H-13J, 57-2728 (c/n 1575), followed, carrying President Eisenhower’s personal physician and a second Secret Service agent.

The helicopter was intended to rapidly move the president from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base where his Lockheed VC-121E Constellation, Columbine III, would be standing by, or to other secure facilities in case of an emergency.

Major Barrett had been selected because of his extensive experience as a combat pilot. During World War II, he had flown the B-17 Flying Fortress four-engine heavy bomber. During the Korean War, Barrett had carried out a helicopter rescue 70 miles (113 kilometers) behind enemy lines, for which he was awarded the Silver Star.

Bell H-13J 57-2729, flown by Major Barret, with President eisenhower and a Secret Service agent, departs the White House for teh first time, 2:08 p.m., 12 July 1957. (The White House)
Bell H-13J 57-2729, flown by Major Joseph E. Barrett, with President Eisenhower and a Secret Service agent, departs the White House, 2:08 p.m., 12 July 1957. (The White House)

The two helicopters were manufactured by the Bell Helicopter Company at Fort Worth, Texas, and delivered to the Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base on 29 March 1957. The presidential H-13Js were nearly identical to the commercial Bell Model 47J Ranger.

Capable of carrying a pilot and up to three passengers, the Ranger was constructed with an enclosed cabin built on a tubular steel framework with all-metal semi-monocoque tail boom. The main rotor diameter was 37 feet, 2.00 inches (11.328 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 5 feet, 10.13 inches (1.781 meters), which gave the helicopter an overall length of 43 feet, 3¾ inches (13.185 meters) with rotors turning. The height (to the top of the centrifugal flapping restraints) was 9 feet, 8 inches (2.946 meters). The H-13J differed from the civil Model 47J by the substitution of main rotor blades of all-metal construction in place of the standard laminated wood blades. The helicopter had a maximum gross weight of 2,800 pounds (1,270 kilograms).

The main rotor, in common to all American-designed helicopters, rotates counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The anti-torque (tail) rotor is mounted to the right side of an angled tail boom extension, in a tractor configuration, and rotates counter-clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is above the axis of rotation.)

The main rotor is a two-bladed, under-slung, semi-rigid assembly that would be a characteristic of helicopters built by Bell for decades. The main rotor system incorporates a stabilizer bar, positioned below and at right angles to the main rotor blades. Teardrop-shaped weights are placed at each end of the bar, on 100-inch (2.540 meters) centers. The outside diameter of the stabilizer bar is 8 feet, 6.781 inches (2.611 meters). (A similar system is used on the larger Bell 204/205/212 helicopters.)

The H-13J was powered by an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 433.972-cubic-inch-displacement (7.112 liter) AVCO Lycoming VO-435-A1B (O-435-21) vertically-opposed 6-cylinder direct-drive engine. The VO-435 had a compression ration of 7.3:1. It was rated at 220 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m., maximum continuous power, and 260 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. for takeoff. The VO-435-A1B weighed 393.00 pounds (178.262 kilograms).

Engine torque is sent through a centrifugal clutch to a 9:1 gear-reduction transmission, which drives the main rotor through a two-stage planetary gear system. The transmission also drives the tail rotor drive shaft, and through a vee-belt/pulley system, a large fan to provide cooling air for the engine.

Bell H-13J hovering over the White House lawn. (U.S. Air Force)
One of the two presidential Bell H-13J Sioux helicopters hovers over the White House lawn. (U.S. Air Force)

Fuel was carried in two gravity-feed tanks, mounted above and on each side of the engine. The total fuel capacity was 34.0 gallons (128.7 liters)

Cruise speed for the H-13J was 87–98 miles per hour (140–158 kilometers per hour), depending on gross weight, and its maximum speed was 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour). The helicopter had a hover ceiling in ground effect (HIGE) of 8,100 feet (2,469 meters). The service ceiling was 15,000 feet (4,572 meters).

Both H-13J Sioux served as presidential aircraft until 1962. They were redesignated UH-13J and continued in use for VIP transportation until 1967.

Bell UH-13J-BF Sioux 57-2729 is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum National Air and Space Museum, Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, while its sister ship, 57-2728, is at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, along with Columbine III.

The first presidential helicopter, USAF H-13J-BF Sioux 57-2729, on display at the Steven V. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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