29 November 1945: During a storm, Texaco Barge No. 397 broke loose and drifted onto Penfield Reef, approximately one mile (1.6 kilometers) off shore Fairfield, Connecticut. The storm was breaking the barge apart and the two crewmen, Captain Joseph Pawlik and Steven Penninger, were in danger.
On shore, witnesses has seen the flares fired during the night by the two seamen, but with the stormy conditions were unable to effect a rescue. Local police called the nearby Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation factory at Bloomfield, where new R-5 helicopters were being built for the U.S. Army, and asked if they could do anything.
Sikorsky’s chief test pilot Dimitry D. (“Jimmy”) Viner and the U.S. Army representative at the factory, Captain Jackson E. Beighle, U.S. Army Air Forces, took an available helicopter, flew to the scene and assessed the situation. Viner was not able to land the helicopter on the barge, so they returned to the factory where a new Army YR-5A had recently been equipped with an external rescue hoist. The R-5 was quickly prepared for flight (which involved reinstalling one of its three main rotor blades) and then Viner and Beighle flew it back to the barge.
While Viner hovered in the high winds, Captain Beighle operated the rescue hoist, lowering it to the barge where Seaman Penninger looped the leather harness under his arms. Beighle raised the harness with Penninger to the cabin but could not pull him inside. Penninger hung on to Beighle while Viner flew the helicopter to the beach.
After lowering Penninger to the beach, Viner took the R-5 back to the barge to pick up Captain Pawlik. When Beighle attempted to raise the hoist it jammed, leaving Pawlik suspended 30 feet (9 meters) below the helicopter. Viner again returned to the shore and carefully lowered Pawlik to the sand.
The United States Coast Guard had demonstrated the use of the rescue hoist a few months earlier, but this was the first time it had been used during an actual emergency.
The rescue can be seen in this YouTube video, beginning at about the 16-minute mark:
The Sikorsky YR-5A (Model S-48) was a single-engine, two-place helicopter. The cabin was built of aluminum with plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction. The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of wood spars and ribs and covered with fabric. The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) 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.
YR-5A 43-46608 was one of one of twenty-six service test helicopters built between November 1944 and July 1945. There were slight changes from the earlier five XR-5A prototypes. The R-5A went into production in July 1945 and more than 300 had been built by the time production ended in 1951.
The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 7.5 inches (12.687 meters) long. The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.2.565 meters), giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters) with rotors turning. It was 13 feet, 1.5 inches (4.001 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet (3.7 meters). The R-5A had an empty weight of 3,780 pounds (1,714.6 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 4,900 pounds (2,222.6 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).
The helicopter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Jr. T1B4 (R-985 AN-5) direct-drive, nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 46.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.
The R-5 had a maximum speed (Vne) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).
© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes