1 September 1953: The Societé Anonyme Belge d’Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne (SABENA) began scheduled international passenger service flying the Sikorsky S-55, a commercial variant of the military H-19 Chickasaw. It carried 8 passengers.
For just over three years, since 21 August 1950, SABENA flew mail from Brussels to Antwerp, Liege, and Turnhout using the Bell Model 47D-1.
The Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation S-55 was flown by two pilots in a cockpit placed above the passenger/cargo compartment. The most significant design feature was moving the engine from directly under the main rotor mast to a position at the front of the helicopter. Installed at an angle, the engine turned a drive shaft to the main transmission. The engine placement provided space for a large passenger/cargo compartment. The aircraft was constructed primarily of aluminum and magnesium, with all-metal main and tail rotor blades.
The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of hollow aluminum spars, with aluminum ribs. Spaces within the blade were filled with an aluminum honeycomb. The blades were covered with aluminum sheet. The hollow spars were filled with nitrogen pressurized to 10 p.s.i. An indicator at the blade root would change color if nitrogen was released, giving pilots and mechanics an indication that the spar had developed a crack or was otherwise compromised. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) Flapping hinges were offset from the main rotor axis, giving greater control response and effectiveness. The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left.
The helicopter’s fuselage was 42 feet, 2 inches (12.852 meters). The main rotor had a diameter of 53 feet (16.154 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 8 inches (2.642 meters), giving the helicopter an overall length with all blades turning of 62 feet, 2 inches (18.948 meters). It was 13 feet, 4 inches (4.064 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 11 feet (3.353 meters). The S-55 had an empty weight of 4,785 pounds (2,173 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 7,200 pounds (3,271 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 185 gallons (698 liters).
The S-55 commercial helicopter and H-19/HO4S and HRS military variants used an air-cooled, supercharged 1,301.868-cubic-inch (21.334 liter) Wright Aeronautical Division 871C7BA1 Cyclone 7 (R-1300-3) 7-cylinder radial engine with a compression ratio of 6.2:1. The R-1300-3 was also a direct-drive engine, but was rated at 700 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m., Normal Power, and 800 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. for Take-Off. The engine incorporated a large cooling fan to circulate air around the cylinders. The R-1300-3 was 49.68 inches (1.261 meters) long, 50.45 inches (1.281 meters) in diameter, and weighed 1,080 pounds (490 kilograms).
14 August 1968: At 10:28:15 a.m., Pacific Daylight Time, Los Angeles Airways Flight 417, a Sikorsky S-61L helicopter, departed Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) on a regularly-scheduled passenger flight to Disneyland, Anaheim, California. On board were a crew of three and eighteen passengers. The aircraft commander, Captain Kenneth L. Waggoner, held an Airline Transport Pilot certificate and was type-rated in the Sikorsky S-55, S-58 and S-61L. He had a total of 5,877:23 flight hours, with 4,300:27 hours in the S-61L. Co-pilot F. Charles Fracker, Jr. had 1,661:18 flight hours, of which 634:18 were in the S-61L. Flight Attendant James A. Black had been employed with LAA for nearly ten years.
At approximately 10:35 a.m., while flying at an estimated altitude of 1,200–1,500 feet (370–460 meters) above the ground, one of the helicopter’s five main rotor blades separated from the aircraft which immediately went out of control, started to break up, and crashed in a recreational park in Compton. All twenty-one persons on board, including the 13-year-old grandson of the airlines’ founder and CEO, were killed.
The Sikorsky S-61 was registered N300Y. It had been the prototype S-61L, serial number 61031. Los Angeles Airways was the first civil operator of the S-61, purchasing them at a cost of $650,000 each. As of the morning of 14 August 1968, 61031 had accumulated a total of 11,863.64 hours flight time on the airframe (TTAF). It flew an estimated 3.17 hours on the morning of the accident.
The Sikorsky S-61L was a civil variant of the United States Navy HSS-2 Sea King, and was the first helicopter specifically built for airline use. The prototype, N300Y, first flew 2 November 1961. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. Although HSS-2 fuselage is designed to allow landing on water, the S-61L is not amphibious, having standard fixed landing gear rather than the sponsons of the HSS-2 (and civil S-61N). The S-61L fuselage is 4 feet, 2 inches (1.270 meters) longer than that of the HSS-2. The S-61L is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 16 feet, 10 inches (5.131 meters) high, with rotors turning.
The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The tail rotor also has five blades and a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.149 meters). They each have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). At 100% r.p.m., the main rotor turns 203 r.p.m. and the tail rotor, 1,244 r.p.m. The main rotor turns counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right side.) The tail rotor turns clockwise, as seen from the left side. (The advancing blade is below.)
The S-61L was powered by two General Electric CT58-140-1 turboshaft engines, each of which was rated for 1,400 shaft horsepower for takeoff and maximum power of 1,500 shaft horsepower for 2½ minutes. The main transmission was rated for 2,300 horsepower, maximum.
The S-61 has a cruise speed of 166 miles per hour (267 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling is 12,500 feet (3,810 meters). 61031 had a maximum takeoff weight (MTOW) of 19,000 pounds (8,618.3 kilograms).
Between 1958 and 1980, Sikorsky built 794 S-61 series helicopters. 13 were S-61Ls.
The National Transportation Safety Board investigation found that most of the helicopter was contained with a small area of Leuders Park. One main rotor blade, however, was located approximately 0.25 miles (0.40 kilometers) west of the main wreckage. This blade is referred to as the “yellow” blade. (The main rotor blades marked with colored paint for simplicity, red, black, white, yellow, and blue.) Analysis found that this blade’s spindle, where it attached to the main rotor hub assembly, had failed due to a fatigue fracture. It was believed that the fracture began in an area of substandard hardness which was present in the original ingot from which the part was forged, and that inadequate shot-peening of the part during the overhaul process further weakened the spindle.
Los Angeles Airways had experienced a similar accident only three months earlier which had resulted in the deaths of all 23 persons on board. (Flight 841, 22 May 1968). L.A. Airways never recovered from these accidents and ceased all operations by 1971.
3 July 1951: With his Chance Vought F4U-4B Corsair, Bu. No. 63056, hit and on fire, Captain James V. Wilkins, United States Marine Corps, of Marine Fighter Squadron 312 (VMF-312) stationed aboard USS Sicily (CVE-118), bailed out approximately 35 miles (56 kilometers) southeast of Wonson, North Korea. He parachuted onto a mountainside in the Anbyon Valley.
Severely burned and with an injured leg, Captain Wilkins was seen by North Korean soldiers along a heavily-traveled supply route. While enemy soldiers shot at him, Wilkins tried to escape by crawling up the mountainside.
Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch, United States Navy, was a helicopter pilot in charge of a detachment of Helicopter Utility Squadron Two (HU-2), stationed aboard a former U.S. Navy Landing Ship (Tank), USS LST-488. The LST had been transferred to Japan after World War II and converted to a merchant ship. During the Korean War, it and its 45-man Japanese crew were contracted to the U.S. Navy. The LST was reconverted to a helicopter support ship, designated Q-009.
A torpedo bomber pilot during World War II, Lieutenant Koelsch transferred to Helicopter Utility Squadron One (HU-1) at NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 1949, and was trained to fly the Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter, a Navy variant of the commercial Sikorsky S-51. He had completed a combat tour aboard USS Princeton (CV-37) but rather than return to the United States with his squadron, requested a transfer to HU-2. Koelsch told his shipmates that he felt rescuing downed pilots was his mission.
When Captain Wilkins’ Corsair went down, Lieutenant Koelsch volunteered to attempt a rescue. Shortly before sunset, he and his rescue crewman, Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class George Milton Neal, boarded their helicopter, Sikorsky HO3S-1, Bu. No. 122715, and took off from Q-009 in a mist and low clouds.
Wilkins heard Koelsch’s helicopter approaching and moved back down the mountain toward his parachute. He saw the Sikorsky flying at about 50 feet (15 meters) below a layer of clouds. The helicopter was receiving heavy ground fire from the North Korean soldiers along the road. The Sikorsky was hit and Koelsch turned away, but he quickly returned. Koelsch located Wilkins and brought the HO3S-1 to a hover while rescue crewman Neal lowered a “horse collar” harness on a hoist cable. Neal then lifted the fighter pilot up to the helicopter.
The helicopter continued to be targeted by ground fire and it was finally shot down. 122715 crashed on the mountainside and rolled upside down. Koelsch and Neal were unhurt and Wilkins suffered no new injuries. Koelsch and Neal carried Wilkins and they moved away from the enemy forces, heading toward the coast. The three Americans evaded the enemy for nine days before they were captured.
John Koelsch refused to cooperate with his captors. He was held in isolation and subjected to torture. He soon became very ill. Just three months after being captured, Lieutenant (j.g.) John Kelvin Koelsch died. For his actions during and after 3 July 1951, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Captain Wilkins and AM3 Neal survived the war and were eventually returned to the United States. George Milton Neal was awarded the Navy Cross.
In 1965, the Garcia-class destroyer escort USS Koelsch (DE-1049, later classified as a frigate, FF-1049, in 1975) was christened in honor of the first helicopter pilot to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
John Kelvin Koelsch was born 22 December 1923 in the family home at 2 Draycott Place, Chelsea (a borough in the southwest part of London, England). He was the third son of Henry August Koelsch and Beulah Anne Hubbard Koelsch. Mr. Koelsch was an American banker. The family returned to America aboard White Star liner R.M.S. Adriatic, sailing from Liverpool on 26 April 1954, and arriving at the Port of New York on 5 May.
In America, the Koelsch family lived in Briarcliff Manor, Westchester County, New York.
John K. Koelsch enlisted as an aviation cadet in the United States Navy 14 September 1942. He was trained as a pilot. When qualified as a Naval Aviator, Koelsch was commissioned as an ensign, 16 October 1944. He was promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) 1 August 1946.
Following the Korean Armistice Agreement, Lieutenant Koelsch’s remains were returned to the United States and interred at Arlington National Cemetery, 14 October 1955.
At 0105 hours, 31 May 1967, two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters, 66-13280 and 66-13281, from the 48th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, United States Air Force, took off from Floyd Bennett Field, New York, and flew non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean to the Paris Air Show. They arrived at Le Bourget at 1351 hours, 1 June.
The flight covered 4,271 miles (6873.5 kilometers) and took 30 hours, 46 minutes. Nine in-flight refuelings were required from Lockheed HC-130P Combat King tankers. The aircraft commanders were Major Herbert Zehnder and Major Donald B. Murras. Each helicopter had a crew of five.
Major Zehnder, in H-211, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course for helicopters, with an average speed of 189.95 kilometers per hour (118.03 miles per hour). This record still stands.¹
Both Jolly Green Giants, serial numbers 66-13280 and 66-13281, were later assigned to the 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Both were lost in combat during the Vietnam War.
66-13280, “Jolly Green 27” crashed at Kontum, Republic of South Vietnam, 15 April 1970. The pilot, Captain Travis H. Scott, Jr., was killed, and flight engineer Gerald E. Hartzel later died of wounds. The co-pilot, Major Travis Wofford, was awarded the Air Force Cross and the Cheney Medal for his rescue of the crewmembers from the burning helicopter. Captain Scott was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross.
66-13281, “Jolly Green 28,” was shot down over Laos, 24 October 1969. The crew was rescued and the helicopter destroyed to prevent capture. The pararescueman, Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith, was awarded the Air Force Cross for the rescue of the pilot of “Misty 11.” He was also awarded the Airman’s Medal.
Major Herbert Zehnder flew another Sikorsky HH-3E, 65-12785, to intentionally crash land inside the Sơn Tây Prison Camp, 23 miles (37 kilometers) west of Hanoi, North Vietnam. He was awarded the Silver Star.
The SH-3A Sea King (Sikorsky S-61) first flew 11 March 1959, designed as an anti-submarine helicopter for the U.S. Navy. The prototype was designated XHSS-2 Sea King. In 1962, the HSS-2 was redesignated SH-3A Sea King. Many early production aircraft were upgraded through SH-3D, SH-3G, etc. In addition to the original ASW role, the Sea Kings have been widely used for Combat Search and Rescue operations. Marine One, the call sign for the helicopters assigned to the President of the United States, are VH-3D Sea Kings.
The Sikorsky HH-3E (Sikorsky S-61R) earned the nickname Jolly Green Giant during the Vietnam War. It is a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter flown by the U.S. Air Force, based on the CH-3C transport helicopter. The aircraft is flown by two pilots and the crew includes a flight mechanic and gunner. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. It has retractable tricycle landing gear and a rear cargo ramp. The rear landing gear retracts into a stub wing on the aft fuselage. The helicopter has an extendable inflight refueling boom.
The HH-3E is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 18 feet, 10 inches (5.740 meters) high with all rotors turning. The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The main rotor turns at 203 r.p.m., counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The tail rotor also has five blades and has a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). The blades have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor turns 1,244 r.p.m.
The HH-3E has an empty weight of 13,341 pounds (6,051 kilograms). The maximum gross weight is 22,050 pounds (10,002 kilograms).
The Jolly Green Giant is powered by two General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines, which have a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower, each, and Military Power rating of 1,500 shaft horsepower. The main transmission is rated for 2,500 horsepower, maximum.
The HH-3E has a cruise speed of 154 miles per hour (248 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour), also at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The HH-3E had a maximum range of 779 miles (1,254 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.
The Jolly Green Giant can be armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.
Sikorsky built 14 HH-3Es. Many CH-3Cs and CH-3Es were upgraded to the HH-3E configuration. Sikorsky built a total of 173 of the S-61R series.
25 May 1889: Ігор Іванович Сікорський (Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky) was born at Kiev, Ukraine, Russian Empire, the fifth of five children of Professor Ivan Alexeevich Sikorsky and Doctor Mariya Stefanovich Sikorskaya.
He studied at the Imperial Naval Academy, St. Petersburg, from 1903 until 1906, when he left to study engineering, first in Paris, and then at the Kiev Polytechnic Institute.
Flying an airplane of his own design, the S-5, on 18 April 1911, he received a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale pilot’s license from L’Aéro-Club Imperial de Russie (Imperial Russian Aero Club).
He was chief aircraft engineer for Russko-Baltiisky Vagonny Zavod at St. Petersburg and continued to develop airplanes. In 1913, he flew the twin engine S-21 Le Grand, to which he added two more engines, and it became the Russky Vityaz.
Igor Sikorsky married Olga Fyodorovna Simkovich. They had a daughter, Tania. The couple soon divorced, however.
Following the October Revolution, Sikorsky emigrated to the United States. Departing Le Havre, France, aboard S.S. La Lorraine, he arrived at New York on 31 March 1919. With financial backing from composer and conductor Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff, he founded the Sikorsky Aero Engineering Company at Long Island, New York, in 1924, and continued designing and building airplanes.
In 1924, Sikorsky married Elisabeth Semion, who was also born in Russia, in 1903. They would have four children. In 1928, he became a citizen of the United States of America.
Beginning in 1934, Sikorsky Aircraft produced the S-42 flying boat for Pan American Airways at a new plant at Stratford, Connecticut.
Interested in helicopters since the age of 9, he directed his creative effort toward the development of a practical “direct-lift” aircraft. The first successful design was the Vought-Sikorsky VS-300. Using a single main rotor, the VS-300 went through a series of configurations before arriving at the single anti-torque tail rotor design, the VS-316A. This was put into production for the U.S. military as the Sikorsky R-4.
The company which Igor Sikorsky founded has continued as one of the world’s biggest helicopter manufacturers. Recently acquired by Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky continues to produce the UH-60-series of Blackhawk medium helicopters, the large CH-53K King Stallion, and the civil S-76D and S-92. A variant of the S-92 has been selected as the next helicopter for the U.S. presidential air fleet, the VH-92A. This helicopter is planned to be operational by 2020.
Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky died at Easton, Connecticut, 26 October 1972 at the age of 83 years.