While WWII saw technological developments that included radar, ballistic missiles, jet aircraft, and the atomic bomb, it also marked the rise of the Helicopter. Both the Axis and Allied powers didn’t miss the opportunity to use them to strengthen their military prowess. World War II helicopters were used for troop transport, casualty evacuation, airborne command posts, search and/or rescue operations, and attacking ground targets. Different models and designs of helicopters during World War II were used, serving purposes for which they were intended, aiming only at one thing– to win the war.
The early helicopters used gas-powered reciprocating engines to power their rotors. These engines tended to have low power to weight ratio and as a result, they didn’t have the lift capability to carry much more than the pilot and fuel.
Nevertheless, their performance even on a limited scale in the Second World War, indicated that helicopters would become very important for militaries around the world, with the US becoming the most extensive employer of these aircraft for military and civilian applications
Flettner Fl 282 Kolibri (Hummingbird)
First on the list is a helicopter of German origin, specifically by Anton Flettner, hence the name of a series of helicopter models produced after his name.
Meet the Flettner Fl 282 Kolibri (“Hummingbird“) — a single-seat open cockpit intermeshing rotor helicopter that eliminated the need for a tail rotor. The German Navy requested a naval version in 1940, and the deliveries of the Fl 282 started in 1942. Two of these prototypes were used in service just a year after. The main roles of these German helicopters were Anti-Submarine Warfare and Intelligence-Surveillance-Reconnaissance. They were able to act as spotters that could direct German destroyers to a submerged allied submarine.
Furthermore, it was also used to survey ground targets or target areas to assess threat levels, enemy strength, or enemy movement. Compared to other German helicopters, the Fl 282 was more highly developed and could fly more hours. Extensive tests and measurements were made on all the flight aspects.
After the war, Soviet helicopter designs tended to favor the intermeshing rotors and even counter-rotating rotors in powering their helicopters while the US and NATO countries tended to prefer the tail rotor designs of Igor Sikorsky.
Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 Drache (Dragon)
Another prominent World War II helicopter is the Focke-Achgelis Fa 223 Drache (Dragon). Only small numbers of this twin-rotor helicopter entered the service during World War II, and it was in 1940 that the Fa 223 made its first untethered flight. It could carry a variety of different payloads. It carried an observer’s seat, a FuG 17 radio, and an MG 16 machine gun mounted to its nose. It could also carry a rescue cradle, electric motor, and winch if needed. It also carried a hand camera mounted to its cockpit floor, the rescue equipment, and a jettison-able 300-liter fuel tank to extend its range for reconnaissance flights. This was the first medium-lift helicopter design in the world. Had the Germans put more thought into this concept they may have extended the fuselage to accommodate 10 to 20 soldiers and invented the concept of heliborne aerial assault.
It could also function as an anti-submarine aircraft. It also carries a camera and fuselage bomb racks, each capable of carrying 550 pounds of bombs. When used as a cargo aircraft, it had a load-carrying beam with the capacity to carry heavy loads on cables. The heaviest load that it could carry was around 2,830 pounds.
Talk about versatility and multi-functionality. This one’s a sure champ.
The PV-2 helicopter is powered by a four-cylinder, air-cooled Franklin engine, developing ninety horsepower. The engine is mounted with its crankshaft upright.
Frank Piasecki was the test pilot, teaching himself to fly the PV-2 helicopter with only 14 hours of previous flying time in a fixed-wing airplane. On Oct. 20, 1943, he demonstrated the machine’s precise finger-tip control characteristics before military and commercial operators in Washington, D.C.
This World War II helicopter was developed for prototyping, technology demonstration, or research/data collection.
From these humble beginnings, some pretty great things came about. Piasecki was the inventor of the Tandem Rotor design which placed a rotor at the front and rear of the airframe. By 1952, Piasecki’s helicopter company was building hundreds of his tandem rotor H-21 Shawnee cargo helicopters for countries all over the world. It was famously called the “Flying Banana” because of its shape and was first deployed to Vietnam in 1961. Boeing went on to develop the Chinook from this tandem rotor design and Piasecki Aircraft is still in business making helicopters and now drones for the military and civilian sectors.
Making it to the cut in our list is the Sikorsky R-4 — a two-seat helicopter with a single, three-bladed main rotor. The Sikorsky R-4 was used primarily by the United States Army Air Force and Coast Guard, and the British Royal Air Force. Its introduction was at perfect timing during the height of World War II. It came in handy during search and rescue operations in the Burma campaign and other areas that were not accessible terrain-wise.
This was the only helicopter from the Allies that served during the war, and it became the very first helicopter worldwide to enter series production, with a total of 131 R-4s built.
Sikorsky Aircraft is probably the largest and most famous of all helicopter makers in the US. Sikorsky was a Russian immigrant(Piasaki was a Polish immigrant)and designed his first helicopter in Russia in 1909 if you can believe.