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Human Interest

Interview by Brad McNally, Contributing Editor - As we wrap up the Rotorcraft Pioneers Series I was lucky enough to have a chance to talk with one of the few people who have been involved with helicopters in North America from the beginning, Mr. Sergei Sikorsky.  He’s crossed paths with more than few of the people profiled in the Pioneers Series and I had the chance to ask him about helicopters, his father’s legacy and his encounters with some of the people I profiled.

One name more than any other is synonymous with helicopter development, Igor Sikorsky.  Often regarded as the father of the helicopter, Sikorsky was actually an incredibly talented aeronautical engineer who twice established himself as one of the world’s greatest designers of fixed wing aircraft before he built a successful helicopter.  After designing, building and flying the first successful North American helicopter, Igor Sikorsky led the company which still bears his name through over forty years of helicopter innovation.

By Brad McNally - In 1957, Columbia Helicopters started with one helicopter flying primarily in Oregon.  That first year the company grossed $20,000.  Forty years later the company grossed $100 million (Bernstein, 2009).  Today Columbia Helicopters employs 700 people and has over 20 helicopters operating around the world.  The story of how Columbia Helicopters grew to be one of the premier heavy lift and heli-logging companies, operating the world’s only commercial tandem rotor helicopter fleet starts with its founder Wes Lematta.

By Brad McNally - In the 1920’s the Autogiro was the cutting edge of aviation technology.  A Spanish engineer by the name of Juan de la Cierva got the Autogiro into the air by solving several fundamental rotary wing flight problems.  An American businessman by the name of Harold Pitcairn partnered with Cierva to bring the Autogiro to the United States and further developed it.  Their work was sometimes collaboration and sometimes competition but it directly led to the development and rapid advance of the helicopter in the late 1930’s and 1940’s.

By Brad McNally - Hollingsworth Franklin Gregory was born in Rockwell, TX in 1906.  Frank Gregory as most people knew him, graduated from high school in Shelby, MS in 1923.  After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Mississippi in 1926, Gregory worked for several years as a Mississippi high school principal (Official Air Force Biography, 1956).

By Brad McNally - As you read this article it is almost a certainty that somewhere on the high seas there is a helicopter belonging to one of the U.S. naval services conducting naval operations.  For the past 60 years these operations have been commonplace.  That was not the case in the early 1940s when helicopters were in their infancy.  No one tried to apply the helicopter’s unique capabilities to the naval environment until mid World War II.  This all changed thanks to a group of dedicated individuals who saw the significant contributions that helicopters could add to the Coast Guard, Navy and Marine Corps.  This article showcases three true Naval Rotorcraft Pioneers.

By Brad McNally, Contributing Editor - An essential characteristic of anyone starting out in a new venture is determination and no one in the rotorcraft industry better exemplifies this than Charles Kaman.  In the mid 1940s, working in the emerging helicopter industry with an unproven idea and little financial support, he was able to persevere despite many challenges and establish a successful helicopter company.  The hard work of the team that he assembled led to major advancements in helicopter design and the development of several successful production helicopter models.  Largely due to his determination, the company he founded still exists today with a long list of impressive accomplishments.

By Brad McNally, Contributing Editor - Arthur Young grew up outside of Philadelphia, PA.  His father was a landscape painter and his mother was also an artist.  As a child he was very interested in science and understanding how things worked but had no specific interest in aviation.  After graduating with a mathematics degree from Princeton in 1927, his curiosity led him in search of a complex problem that he could apply science and math to in the hope of developing a better understanding of the world around him.  He traveled to several large cities and visited their libraries looking for problems that he could use for his endeavor.  On one such visit to Washington, D.C. he found his challenge.  While doing research in the Library of Congress, he came across a book by Anton Flettner called, “The Story of the Rotor.”

By Brad McNally, Contributing Editor - In the early 1940s the American Helicopter Industry was emerging in the northeastern United States.  Igor Sikorsky was building helicopters in New England, Frank Piasecki was closing in on the second successful American helicopter in Philadelphia and in upstate New York Arthur Young and Larry Bell were laying the frame work for the first commercially produced helicopter.  On the west coast a young man by the name of Stanley Hiller Jr. was also beginning to develop an aircraft capable of vertical flight.  Like all of these men Stanley Hiller’s quest to develop a helicopter was full of challenges.  He overcame these challenges to design several successful helicopter models along with creating one of the most innovative research and development programs of its time.  To see how someone so young and so far away from the epicenter of the emerging American helicopter industry was able to become so successful you need to go back to the start.

By Brad McNally - Frank Nicolas Piasecki was born in Philadelphia on October 24, 1919. From a young age he was fascinated with aviation and spent his spare time building models and reading aviation magazines. When he was seven years old his father paid for him to go flying with a barnstormer and he got his first ride in an airplane. In high school he was president of his school’s aero club and was able to gain an introduction into the Philadelphia aviation industry that few people his age could acquire.

By Ron Whitney - Have you ever witnessed something so extraordinary, so surprising, and so incredible that you just had to sit back and ask yourself, “Did I really just see that?” Have you ever been around when a normal, routine flight operation went bad, nearly tragically bad? Have you ever had the opportunity to see a side of a coworker that you really did not expect to? Well, I have. The subject of this Pilot Profile piece, somewhat reluctantly, is a man I met many, many years ago while we were Instructor Pilots at Ft. Rucker, Paul Richtmyer.

By Brad McNally - Contributing Editor - In the late 1930’s and early 1940’s few people could see the helicopter as much more than an overly complex novelty incapable of being of any real value. It took a small group of enthusiastic and determined men to make helicopter flight possible and another small group of men with an equal amount of determination and enthusiasm to make helicopter flight practical. Leading this second group was a Coast Guard officer named Frank Erickson. His vision and resolve were born out of one of the darkest days in American history; after which he made developing the helicopter into a practical tool for search and rescue his lifelong goal. His foresight and perseverance in the face of many seemingly insurmountable obstacles and persistent naysayers left an indelible mark on the history of the helicopter.

By Dave Hardin - If you walk into the AeroAmbulancia hangar at the La Isabella Airport you’ll meet up with the first HEMS company to be certified to operate in the Dominican Republic (DR). If they’re not out on a flight, you’ll shake hands with some of the finest professionals in the business. Such was my honor over the past year as I’ve watched these folks get their Helicopter EMS (HEMS) operation up and running. AeroAmbulancia is a part of the Helidosa Aviation Group who has been in the helicopter tour business for quite a few years. Their country has adopted the U.S. FAA standards for operations conducted under Part 135. AeroAmbulancia was the first in the history of the DR to receive Operations Specifications for Helicopter EMS Operations.

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