Tag Archives: Helicopter

23 January 1971

Captain Eugene A. Cernan, U.S.N., in the cockpit of NASA 947, a Bell 47G-3B-1, as it hovers in ground effect, circa 1970. (NASA)
Eugene A. Cernan, backup commander, Apollo 14. (NASA)

23 January 1971: NASA Astronaut Eugene Andrew (“Gene”) Cernan, backup commander for Apollo 14, was flying NASA 947, a 1967 Bell Model 47G-3B-1 helicopter, (N947NA, serial number 6665), on a proficiency flight. He intended to practice vertical approaches as a warmup for a lunar landing.

With full fuel tanks, NASA 947 was heavy. Cernan decided to burn off some fuel by flying along the Indian River before the vertical approaches:

     “That gave me a reason to loaf around the sky for a while and invest the extra fuel in some fun flying.

     “Small boats dotted the clear water below and bright islands mounded here and there on the river. Hardly a ripple disturbed the mirrorlike surface. After so many months of hard work and concentration, I couldn’t resist the temptation for a bit of mischief known among pilots as ‘flat-hatting.’ So I nosed over and swooped down from a couple of hundred feet to dance the chopper around island beaches and among the boaters, steadily getting closer to the surface. . .

     “Without realizing the danger, I flew into a trap that was the plague of seaplane pilots. Without ripples, the water provided no depth perception and my eyes looked straight through the clear surface to the reflective river bottom. I had lost sight of the water. But I was in control, or at least I thought so. . . until the toe of my left skid dug into the Indian River.

     “. . . I twisted the collective with my left hand and  applied more power, pulling back on the controls, trying to get the machine to climb out of trouble. A plume of water erupted beneath the skid, then the canopy struck and a rushing tidal wave filled my vision as the helicopter lost any semblance of aerodynamic design. In a single flashing instant, it went from a speed of 100 knots to flat zero with a lurch as severe as any I had ever felt landing on an aircraft carrier or staging in a spacecraft. I crashed with a spectacular explosion.”

The Last Man on the Moon, by Eugene Cernan and Don Davis, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999, at Page 258

Gene Cernan hovering one of NASA’s Bell 47 helicopters, circa 1971. (NASA via The Drive)

The Bell 47 was torn apart by the impact. The cabin section, with Cernan still strapped inside, sank to the bottom of the river. As a Naval Aviator, he was trained in under water egress. He freed himself from the wreck and made his way to the surface. Gasoline from the ruptured fuel tanks was floating on the water and had caught fire. Cernan suffered some minor burns, but was otherwise unhurt. He was rescued by fishermen who were nearby.

The location of the crash was in the Indian River near Malabar, Florida.

An accident investigation board, led by Astronaut James A. Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, concluded that the accident was pilot error, in that Cernan had misjudged his altitude when flying over the water.

Colonel James A. McDivitt

A week after the flight crew for Apollo 17 was announced, in a meeting with Dr. Robert R. (“Bob”) Bob Gilruth, Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center, and Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., Deputy Director of MSC and Director of Flight Operations, Colonel James Alton McDivitt, U.S. Air Force, NASA’s Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program (and who had commanded Gemini 4 and Apollo 9), insisted that Gene Cernan be grounded for poor judgement and not assigned as commander of Apollo 17.

Chris Kraft wrote:

  “Why didn’t you ask me about this crew?” he [McDivitt] demanded. “Cernan’s not worthy of this assignment, he doesn’t deserve it, he’s not a very good pilot, he’s liable to screw everything up, and I don’t want him to fly.

     I was shocked at how strongly Jim was reacting. “Why didn’t you ask me” he pleaded. “Why didn’t you ask me?” Then he shocked me further. “If you don’t get rid of him, I’ll quit.”

     . . . I called McDivitt and told him that Cernan was staying. . .

     “Thank you,” he said. “You’ll have my resignation shortly.”

Flight: My Life in Mission Control, by Christopher C. Kraft and James L. Schefter, Dutton, New York, 2001, Chapter 23, at Pages 346 and 347

Gene Cernan, along with Ronald E. Evans and Harrison H. Schmitt, lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center aboard Apollo 17, 7 December 1972. On 11 December, he and Schmitt landed at the Taurus-Littrow Valley at the southeastern edge of Mare Serenitatis.

On 14 December 1972, Eugene Andrew Cernan was the last human to stand on the surface of The Moon.

Eugene A. Cernan at the Taurus-Littrow Valley during the third EVA of the Apollo 17 mission. (Harrison H. Schmitt/NASA)

The Bell Model 47, designed by Arthur M. Young of the Bell Aircraft Corporation, Buffalo, New York, was the first helicopter to receive civil certification from the Civil Aviation Administration, predecessor of the Federal Aviation Administration. On 8 March 1946, the aircraft received C.A.A. Type Certificate H-1.

The Bell 47G was the first helicopter manufactured by the Bell Aircraft Corporation at the company’s new plant at Fort Worth, Texas. It was also produced under license by Agusta, Kawasaki and Westland.

Bell 47G-3B1 NASA 822 (N822NA, s/n 6670) in the original factory paint scheme. (NASA EC82-18422A)

The Bell Model 47G-3B-1 was issued Type Certificate 2H-3 on 25 January 1963. It is a 3-place, single-engine light helicopter, operated by a single pilot. The helicopter has dual flight controls and can be flown from either the left or right. The airframe is constructed of a welded tubular steel framework with a sheet metal cockpit. The landing gear consists of two lateral, horizontal tubular cross tubes, and two longitudinal “skids,” curved upward at the front. Ground handling wheels can be attached to the skids. The most distinctive feature of the Bell 47 is the large plexiglass “bubble” canopy. The main rotor flight controls use a system of bell cranks and push-pull tubes. The cyclic and collective are hydraulically boosted. The tail rotor is controlled by pedals and stainless steel cables.

NASA 822, one of NASA’s Bell Model 47G-3B-1 helicopters (N822NA, s/n 6670), photographed 12 August 1977 at the Dryden Flight Research Center. Chief Pilot Donald L. Mallick is in the cockpit. (NASA EC77-8296)

With rotors turning, the Bell 47G-3B-1 has an overall length of 43 feet, 5.55 inches (13.247 meters). From the forward tip of the skids to the aft end of the tail rotor guard, the fuselage is 32 feet, 7.40 inches long (9.942 meters). The main rotor has a diameter of 37 feet, 0.50 inches (11.290 meters). The tail rotor diameter is 5 feet, 10.1 inches (1.781 meters). Height to top of main rotor mast is 9 feet, 3.7 inches (2.837 meters).

The Bell 47G-3B-1 has an empty weight of approximately 1,820 pounds (826 kilograms), depending on installed equipment. Its maximum gross weight is 2,950 pounds (1,338 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, 6.8 inches (2.611 meters). The pilot’s inputs to the cyclic stick are damped through a series of mechanical linkages and hydraulic dampers before arriving at the pitch horns on the rotor hub. The result is smoother, more stable flight, especially while at a hover. The stabilizer bar action is commonly explained as being “gyroscopic,” but this is incorrect. (A similar system is used on the larger Bell 204/205/212 helicopters.)

The Bell 47G-3B-1 used tip-weighted high-inertia metal main rotor blades. The airfoil is symmetrical, using the NACA 0015 profile. The operating range of the main rotor is 322–370 r.p.m.

The working parts of this Agusta-Bell 47G-3B-1 are clearly visible in this photograph. (M. Bazzani/Heli-Archive)

The 47G-3B-1 used an AVCO Lycoming TVO-435-B1A, -B1B, -D1A, or -D1B engine. The TVO-435 is an air-cooled, turbosupercharged 433.976-cubic-inch-displacement (7.112 liter) vertically-opposed, six-cylinder overhead-valve engine with a compression ratio of 7.30:1. It is equipped with a Garrett AiResearch T-1108 turbosupercharger, which provides a constant manifold pressure with decreasing pressure altitude. The engine idles at 1,500 r.p.m. Its normal operating range is 3,000 to 3,200 r.p.m. (3,100–3,200 r.p.m., above 10,000 feet, or 3,048 meters). The TVO-435-B1 has a maximum continuous power rating of 220 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m., with a manifold pressure of 27.5 inches Hg (0.931 Bar); and a maximum 270 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. at 32.8 inches Hg (1.111 Bar) (-B1) or 32.0 inches (1.084 Bar) (-D1) at Sea Level, for takeoff (5-minute limit).

The TVO-435 is 34.73 Inches (0.882 meters) high, 33.58 inches (0.878 meters) wide and 24.13 inches (0.613 meters) deep, and weighs 464.00 pounds (178.26 kilograms) to 481.00 pounds (182.89 kilograms), depending of the specific engine variant.

Engine torque is sent through a centrifugal clutch to a 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 on the forward face of the engine to provide cooling air.

Instrument panel of an Agusta-Bell 47G-3B-1. (M. Bazzani/Heli-Archive)

The Bell 47G-3B1 has a maximum cruise speed of 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour) from 1,000 to 4,500 feet (305–1,372 meters). This decreases to 70 miles per hour up to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 50–60 miles per hour (80–97 kilometers per hour) up to 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). The helicopter’s maximum speed (VNE) is 105 miles per hour (169 kilometers per hour) from Sea Level to 4,500 feet (1,372 meters). Above that altitude, VNE is reduced 7 miles per hour (11.3 kilometers per hour) for every 1,000 foot (305 meters) increase in altitude. Above 15,000 feet, the VNE continues to decrease at 5 miles per hour (8 kilometers per hour) per 1,000 feet (305 meters).

The Bell 47G-3B-1 demonstrated the ability to over in ground effect (HIGE) at a gross weight of 2,850 pounds (1,293 kilograms) at the summit of Pike’s Peak, 14,115 feet (4,302 meters), in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. The Density Altitude was approximately 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). At the same gross weight, it hovered out of ground effect (HOGE) at 9,000 feet (2,743 meters), Density Altitude. The helicopter has a maximum altitude limitation of 20,000 feet (6,096 meters).

Fuel is carried in two gravity-feed tanks, mounted above and on each side of the engine. The total fuel capacity is 61.6 gallons (233.2 liters), however, usable fuel is 57 gallons (216 liters). The helicopter has a maximum range of 273 miles (441 kilometers).

In production from 1946 until 1974, more than 7,000 Model 47 helicopters were built, worldwide. Production of the Model 47G-3B-1 began in March 1962 and a total of 337 of were built. The initial sales price was $46,950 (equivalent to $436,325 in 2022 dollars). NASA bought two -G-3B-1s in 1967. Another 415 were built for military customers, designated TH-13T.

This Bell TH-13T-BF Sioux, 66-4292, was in military service from 1966–1972. It is currently registered as N666SM with the civil designation of Bell 47G-3B-1. (FlugKerl2/Wikipedia)

In 2010, the type certificates for all Bell 47 models were transferred to Scott’s Helicopter Service, Le Sueur, Minnesota, which continues to manufacture parts and complete helicopters.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

14 January 1942

Les Morris at the controls of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A (XR-4, serial number 41-18874) on its first flight at Stratford, Connecticut, 13 January 1942. (SikorskyHistorical Archives)
Les Morris at the controls of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A (XR-4, serial number 41-18874) on its first flight at Stratford, Connecticut, 14 January 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

14 January 1942: Chief Test Pilot Charles Lester (“Les”) Morris (1908–1991) made the first flight of the Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A at Stratford, Connecticut. The first flight lasted approximately 3 minutes, and by the end of the day, Morris had made 6 flights totaling 25 minutes duration.

“One-half left front close-up head-and-shoulders view of test pilot Charles L. “Les” Morris posed seated in the cockpit of the Sikorsky VS-300 helicopter (r/n NX28996), March 29, 1943.” (Hans Groenhoff Photographic Collection, Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum NASM-HGC-1408)

The VS-316A (which was designated XR-4 by the U.S. Army Air Corps and assigned serial number 41-18874), established the single main rotor/anti-torque tail rotor configuration. It was a two-place helicopter with side-by-side seating and dual flight controls.

The fabric-covered three-blade main rotor was 38 feet (11.582 meters) in diameter and turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted to the aft end of the tail boom in a tractor configuration, and rotated counter-clockwise when seen from the helicopter’s right side.

The VS-316A was 33 feet, 11.5 inches (10.351 meters) long and 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters) high. It weighed 2,010 pounds (911.7 kilograms) empty and the maximum gross weight was 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms).

The original engine installed in the VS-316A was an air-cooled, normally-aspirated, 499.805-cubic-inch-displacement (8.190 liter) Warner Aircraft Corporation Scarab SS-50 seven-cylinder radial  engine with a compression ratio of 5.55:1. The SS-50 was a direct-drive engine, with a maximum continuous power rating of 109 horsepower at 1,865 r.p.m., and 145 horsepower at 2,050 r.p.m. at Sea Level for takeoff. 73-octane gasoline was required. The SS50 was 2 feet, 5 inches (0.737 meters) long, 3 feet, 0-9/16 inches (0.929 meters) in diameter and weighed 306 pounds (139 kilograms).

gor Ivanovich Sikorsky and Charles Lester Morris with the XR-4 at Wright Field, Ohio, May 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Orville Wright and Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky with the XR-4 at Wright Field, Ohio, May 1942. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

Numerous modifications were made, including lengthening the main rotor blades, covering them with metal, and upgrading the engine to a 200 horsepower Warner R-550-1 Super Scarab. The XR-4 was redesignated XR-4C. This would be the world’s first production helicopter. It is at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Sikorsky XR-4C 41-18874 at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
Sikorsky XR-4C 41-18874 at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

12 January 1962

ARVN soldiers run to board U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee helicopters. (LIFE Magazine)
ARVN soldiers run to board U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee helicopters. (LIFE Magazine)

12 January 1962: The first helicopter assault of th Vietnam War, Operation Chopper, took place when 33 United States Army CH-21C Shawnee transport helicopters of the 8th and 57th Transportation Companies airlifted 1,036 soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) into battle against an insurgent Việt cộng (National Liberation Front) stronghold, approximately 10 miles (16.1 kilometers) west of Saigon. The landing zone was 150 yards by 300 yards and surrounded by tall trees.

A flight of U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee helicopters over South Vietnam, 1962. (LIFE Magazine)
A flight of U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee helicopters over South Vietnam, 1962. (LIFE Magazine)

The Piasecki Helicopter Company CH-21C Shawnee was a single-engine, tandem rotor transport helicopter. It had a flight crew of three with one or two gunners, and could carry up to 20 soldiers under ideal conditions.

With rotors turning, the ship’s overall length was 86 feet, 4 inches (26.314 meters) and it was 15 feet, 9 inches (4.801 meters) high. The rotors were 44 feet (13.411 meters) in diameter and the fuselage was 52 feet, 7 inches (16.027 meters) long. The empty weight was 8,950 pounds (4,059.7 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 15,200 pounds (6,894.6 kilograms).

The forward rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The rear rotor turns the opposite direction. Normal operating speed for the main rotors was approximately 250 r.p.m. The counter-rotating rotors cancelled out engine torque, eliminating any need for a tail rotor.

The H-21 was powered by a single air-cooled, supercharged, 1,823.129-cubic-inch-displacement (29.875 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division Cyclone 9 863C9WD1 (R-1820-103) nine-cylinder radial, mounted inside the fuselage at midship, and drove the front and rear rotors in opposite directions through drive shafts and gear boxes. The Wright R-1820-103 engine was rated at 1,275 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., and 1,425 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m., for takeoff. This direct-drive engine had a compression ratio of 6.80:1 and required 100/130 aviation gasoline. The engine was 4 feet, 0.50 inches (1.232 meters) long, 4 feet, 6.95 inches (1.396 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,350 pounds (612 kilograms). Wright built 971 R-1820-103s from November 1950 through 1957.

The CH-21C had a maximum speed of 127 miles per hour (204 kilometers per hour) and a range of 265 miles (427 kilometers). It’s service ceiling was 19,200 feet (5,852.2 meters).

A U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee over the Landing Zone west of Saigon, 12 January 1962. (U.S. Army)

The Piasecki H-21 Workhorse was developed for the U.S. Air Force as an air base support and search and rescue helicopter in cold weather operations. A total of 707 were built for the U.S., France and Germany, as well as civil operators. 334 were built for the U.S. Army as the H-21C Shawnee, redesignated CH-21C in 1962.

Its performance in the hot and humid climate of Southeast Asia was limited, restricting the troop load to 9 soldiers. It was withdrawn from service in 1964 when the Bell HU-1A Iroquois began to replace it. All CH-21Cs were retired when the CH-47 Chinook assumed its role in 1965.

ARVN troops wait while a U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee lands. (LIFE Magazine)
ARVN troops wait while a U.S. Army CH-21C Shawnee lands. (LIFE Magazine)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

10 January 1966

The prototype Bell Model 206A JetRanger, serial number 1, civil registration N8560F, hovering out of ground effect. (Bell Helicopter Company)
The prototype Bell Model 206A JetRanger, serial number 1, civil registration N8560F, hovering out of ground effect. (Bell Helicopter Company)

10 January 1966: The prototype Bell Model 206A JetRanger serial number 1, N8560F, made its first flight at at the Bell Helicopter Company plant at Hurst, Texas. This aircraft would be in production for almost 45 years. The final JetRanger to be built, Bell 206B-3 serial number 4690, was delivered in December 2010 and production came to an end.

During early production of the Model 206A, cabin sections were built by Beechcraft and Agusta then shipped to Bell at Fort Worth. (The vertical seam just to the rear of the fuel cap distinguished the two.) Oil pressure and temperature gauges for the engine and transmission, the loadmeter and fuel quantity indicator were provided by Cessna.

The  Bell JetRanger is a 5-place, single-engine light civil helicopter based on the Bell Helicopter’s unsuccessful OH-4 entrant for the U.S. Army’s Light Observation Helicopter (LOH, or “loach”) contract. It is flown by a single pilot in the right front seat. Dual flight controls can be installed for a second pilot. The helicopter was certified for VFR flight, but could be modified for instrument flight.

The industrial design firm of Charles Wilfred Butler

“. . . was responsible for the complete redesign of the Bell OH-4A prototype army helicopter (1961) into the Bell Jet Ranger (1965). He and his designers restyled the machine inside and out in the manner of automotive design, creating in the process one of the world’s most successful and beautiful helicopters.”

Encyclopedia Britannica.

The JetRanger is 38 feet, 9.5 inches (11.824 meters) long, overall. On standard skid landing gear the overall height is 9 feet, 4 inches (2.845 meters). The Bell 206A has an empty weight of approximately 1,700 pounds (771 kilograms), depending on installed equipment. The maximum gross weight is 3,200 pounds (1,451.5 kilograms). With an external load suspended from the cargo hook, the maximum gross weight is increased to 3,350 pounds (1,519.5 kilograms).

The two-bladed main rotor is semi-rigid and under-slung, a common feature of Bell’s main rotor design. It has a diameter of 33 feet, 4.0 inches (10.160 meters) and turns counter-clockwise (seen from above) at 394 r.p.m. (100% NR). (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The rotor blade has a chord of 1 foot, 1.0 inches (0.330 meter) and 10° negative twist. The airfoil is symmetrical. The cyclic and collective pitch controls are hydraulically-boosted.

The first Bell 206B JetRanger (Bell Helicopter Co.)
The first Bell 206A JetRanger, N8560F. (Bell Helicopter Co.)

The two-bladed tail rotor assembly is also semi-rigid and is positioned on the left side of the tail boom in a pusher configuration. It turns at 2,550 r.p.m., clockwise, as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor diameter is 5 feet, 6.0 inches (1.676 meters).

The turboshaft engine is mounted above the roof of the fuselage, to the rear of the main transmission. Output shafts lead forward to the transmission and aft to the tail rotor 90° gear box. The transmission and rotor mast are mounted tilting slightly forward and to the left. This assists in the helicopter’s lift off to a hover, helps to offset its translating tendency, and keeps the passenger cabin in a near-level attitude during cruise flight.

A vertical fin is attached at the aft end of the tail boom. The fin is offset 4° to the right to unload the tail rotor in cruise flight. Fixed horizontal stabilizers with an inverted asymmetric airfoil are attached to the tail boom. In cruise flight, these provide a downward force that keeps the passenger cabin in a near-level attitude.

The 206A was powered by an Allison 250-C18 turboshaft engine (T63-A-700) which produced a maximum of 317 shaft horsepower at 104% N1, 53,164 r.pm. The improved Model 206B JetRanger and 206B-2 JetRanger II used a 370 horsepower 250–C20 engine, and the Model 206B-3 JetRanger III had 250-C20B, -C20J or -C20R engines installed, rated at 420 shaft horsepower at 105% N1, (53,519 r.p.m.). Many 206As were upgraded to 206Bs and they are sometimes referred to as a “206A/B.” The Allison 250-C20B has a 7-stage compressor section with 6-stage axial-flow stages, and 1 centrifugal-flow stage. The 4-stage axial-flow turbine has a 2-stage gas producer (N1) and 2-stage power turbine (N2). These were very light weight engines, ranging from just 141 to 173 pounds (64.0 to 78.5 kilograms).

The helicopter’s main transmission is limited to a maximum input of 317 shaft horsepower (100% Torque, 5-minute limit). The engine’s accessory gear unit reduces the output shaft speed to 6,016 r.p.m. N2, which is further reduced by the transmission’s planetary gears, and the tail rotor 90° gear box.

The JetRanger has a maximum speed, VNE, of 150 miles per hour (241 kilometers per hour) up to 3,000 feet (914 meters). Its best rate of climb, VY, is at 60 miles per hour (97 kilometers per hour) and best speed in autorotation (minimum rate of descent and maximum distance) is at 80 miles per hour (129 kilometers per hour), resulting in a glide ratio of about 4:1. The service ceiling is 13,500 feet (4,145 meters) with the helicopter’s gross weight above 3,000 pounds (1,361 kilograms), and 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) when below 3,000 pounds. The helicopter has a maximum range of 430 miles (692 kilometers).

After being used as a factory demonstrator and development aircraft, N8560F was retired from flight status and used as a maintenance ground training device at Bell’s training school at Hurst.

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)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

7 January 1967

John Steinbeck aboard a U.S. Army UH-1 helicopter of D Troop, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, at Pleiku, Vietnam, 7 January 1967. (Newsday)
John Steinbeck aboard a U.S. Army UH-1B Iroquois helicopter of D Troop, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, at Pleiku, Vietnam, 7 January 1967. (Newsday)

During 1966–1967, author John Steinbeck was in Vietnam. He wrote a series of dispatches to Newsday which have recently been published as a book, Steinbeck In Vietnam: Dispatches From the War, edited by Thomas E. Barden. University of Virginia Press, 224 pp., $29.95.

On 7 January 1967, Steinbeck was at Pleiku, where he flew aboard a UH-1 Huey helicopter with D Troop, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry. He wrote the following about the helicopter pilots:

“I wish I could tell you about these pilots. They make me sick with envy. They ride their vehicles the way a man controls a fine, well-trained quarter horse. They weave along stream beds, rise like swallows to clear trees, they turn and twist and dip like swifts in the evening. I watch their hands and feet on the controls, the delicacy of the coordination reminds me of the sure and seeming slow hands of (Pablo) Casals on the cello. They are truly musicians’ hands and they play their controls like music and they dance them like ballerinas and they make me jealous because I want so much to do it. Remember your child night dream of perfect flight free and wonderful? It’s like that, and sadly I know I never can. My hands are too old and forgetful to take orders from the command center, which speaks of updrafts and side winds, of drift and shift, or ground fire indicated by a tiny puff or flash, or a hit and all these commands must be obeyed by the musicians hands instantly and automatically. I must take my longing out in admiration and the joy of seeing it. Sorry about that leak of ecstasy, Alicia, but I had to get it out or burst.”

Bell UH-1B Iroquois gunship of D Troop, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, U.S. Army. Vietnam ca. 1966–1967. (U.S. Army)
Bell UH-1B Iroquois gunship of D Troop, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, U.S. Army. Vietnam, ca. 1966–1967. (U.S. Army)
Author John Steinbeck observes the Vietnam War from a U.S. Army UH-1B "Huey" helicopter. A gunner mans an M60 7.62mm machine gun. (Associated Press)
Author John Steinbeck observes the Vietnam War from a U.S. Army UH-1B “Huey” helicopter. A gunner mans an M60 7.62mm machine gun. (Associated Press)

© 2014, Bryan R. Swopes