By Ted and Joan Rajchel
Frank Piasecki, an aviation pioneer, invented the tandem-rotor helicopter that has carried soldiers into battle and saved the lives of thousands of people from disasters. The helicopter he developed, the Army’s Chinook and the Navy’s Sea Knight, are now built by the Boeing Company’s Rotocraft Division. In Ridley Township, a Philadelphia suburb, in 1943, Pilasecki became the second American to build and fly a helicopter, following Igor Sikorski, who flew his first helicopter in 1941. Frank Piasecki, an inventor of one of the first helicopters, was the first to develop a tandem-rotor helicopter, the so-called flying banana capable of carrying large cargo loads or troops into combat.
Early Life and Education
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 24, 1919, he was an American engineer and helicopter aviation pioneer. His parents were born in Poland; his father was a tailor. Piasecki worked for Autogyro Manufacturers while still attending Overbrook High School. He then studied mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania before graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree from New York University. In 1940 he formed P V Engineering Forum with former Pennsylvania classmate, Harold Venzie. He built a single-person, single-rotor helicopter designated the PV-2 and flew it on April 11, 1943. This helicopter impressed the United States Navy sufficiently to win Piasecki a development contract. The name P V Engineering was changed to Piasecki Helicopter-Corporation in 1946. After a boardroom dispute, he left Piasecki Helicopter in 1955 and formed The Piasecki Aircraft Company. At Piasecki Aircraft, he participated in the development of the Piasecki 16 H-1, the world’s first shaft driven compound helicopter, the PA-59K/VZ-8P Flying Geep, the Piasecki PA-97 Helistat Heavy Vertical Airlifter, and the Piasecki X-49 experimental compound helicopter. Piasecki married Vivian O’Gara Weyerhaeuser on December 20, 1958. They had seven children: Nicole, Frederick, John, Lynn, Frank, Michael, and Gregory. His son, John W. Piasecki is now president and CEO of Piasecki Aircraft. His son, Fred W. Piasecki is Chairman of the Board and chief technology officer of Piasecki aircraft. His daughter, Nicole Piasecki, is Vice President and General Manager of Propulsion Systems for Boeing Commercial Airplanes.
First Helicopter Pilot to have a License
Piasecki was the PV-2’s first pilot, by happenchance. He was slitting in the aircraft while testing its systems when the tether broke and the helicopter became airborne. Despite having only 14 hours of flight tlme in fixed-wing aircraft and no experience in helicopters, Piasecki managed to bring the aircraft to safe landing. Soon after he became the first person in the United States to quality for a helicopter pilots license.
The “Flying Banana”
Piasecki’s efforts attracted the attention of a few private investors, most notably the US Navy, which gave Piasecki a contract to design a large tandem-rotor helicopter capable of carrying heavy loads. In 1945 the HRP-1 first tandem-rotor helicopter and the first helicopter designed for the US Navy, emerged. It was popularly called the “Flying Banana”. Piasecki’s tandem-rotor design laid the groundwork for many of today’s successful helicopters, including the CH-47 Chinook.
Chinook Helicopter Central to Military Operations
Frank Piasecki, whose development of twin-rotor helicopters made him one of the world’s great aviation pioneers. His Chinook helicopter has been central to the military operations of at least 16 western nations since the 1960s. With their distinctive stub noses, raised tails, and counter-rotating blades,
early versions of the Chinook first made their mark on the public imagination during the Vietnam wars; they were introduced by the US Army in 1965 as jungle troop transporters, though others were later adapted as attack gunships. In May 1982 the loss of four out of five British Chinooks aboard the Atlantic Conveyor changed the course of the Falklands Conflict—without them, British Royal Marines and paratroopers would have a harder time in the course of the Falklands Conflict. The Chinook has played a key support role with Britain’s forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. His tandem rotor technology led to the development of the CH-46 Sea Knight and the CH-40 Chinook, which played a critical role in Vietnam and all major conflicts after it. In 1955 preferring to continue research and development, Piasicki left his own company, which was renamed the Vertol Aircraft Corporation, taking its title from the acronym for vertical take off and landing. In its turn this company was bought by Boeing in 1960 and became the Boeing Helicopter Division in 1987. Meanwhile Piasecki renamed his company The Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, “Pioneers in Vertical Flight”, which has continued to work on advanced helicopter technology, improved survivability and reduced operational costs. One of its most ambitious projects was what Piasecki called the “world’s largest aircraft”, which aimed to use four modified helicopters and a helium airship to carry exceptionally heavy loads.
President Ronald Reagan
In 1986 President Ronald Reagan awarded Piasecki the USS highest technical honor, The National Medal of Technology, and when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, President George Bush, Sr. asked him to return to his country of origin to help Poland reestablish its aircraft industry. In 2005 he received the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Lifetime Achievement Award. Some of his early helicopter designs are displayed in the museum.
When the Second World War Ended
Piasecki formed the Piasecki Helicopter Corporation, designating himself chief executive, chief engineer, and chief test pilot. In addition to building helicopters for the US Navy, Air force and Marine Corps, he exported the model to the Royal Canadian Air Force, the French Navy, and the West German Defense Force. In 1953 he designed the world’s first twin turbine helicopter, the YH-16, capable of carrying a payload of 40 passengers. His tandem rotor technology led to the development of the CH-46 Sea Knight and the CH-40 Chinook, which played a critical role in the Vietnam Conflict and all major conflicts after it.
Aeronautical designer, engineer, pilot, and founder of the PV Engineering Forum in 1940 that developed transport helicopters and vertical lift aircraft; he flew the PV Engineering Forum’s first helicopter, the PV-2 on April 11th, 1943. It was the second successful helicopter to fly in America. In 1945 he flew the world’s first successful tandem rotor helicopter, the first designed for the US Navy, was the first person to qualify with the Civil Aeronautics Administration (now FAA) as a helicopter pilot prior to receiving his fixed wing pilot’s license, designed and flew the heli—stat, a hybrid dynamic-static heavy lift aircraft. In 1994 he was engaged in improving the speed, range, maneuverability and agility of the AH-64 Apache and the AH-1w Super Cobra by adding a wing and his “ring-tail”. During the first half of the twentieth century, Pennsylvania was a hotbed of aircraft activity. The state’s Delaware River Valley was home to some of the period’s top aircraft manufacturers and the City of Philadelphia was at the center of the American autogyro industry, a short-lived movement that combined both rotary-wing and propeller technologies . Growing up in the midst of all this aviation progress was Frank Piasecki. He has been involved with rotary=wing aircraft for more than 50 years. His accomplishments have helped usher the helicopter from its humble beginnings as a near-novelty to its current, almost ubiquitous status, and through it all, he has done things his own way; never faltering in the face of adversity or bowing out because of the bottom line. He is one of the founding fathers of modern helicopters and we are proud to enshrine him in the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Piasecki was awarded more than 20 patents and received numerous other awards, honors, and memberships, including Fellow of the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences, Honorary Fellow of the American Helicopter Society, recipient of the Helicopter Foundation International’s Heritage Hall of Fame Award and donor of the Dr. Alexander Klemin Award, given annually by the American Helicopter Society for outstanding work in rotary-wing aeronautic’ Philip H. Ward, Jr. medal from the Franklin Institute in 1979. Piasecki never retired, even on the day he died his chief test pilot was flying his latest development, the Speed hawk, which has aducted fan replacing the helicopter’s familiar vertical tail rotor to increase its speed and manoeuvrability. Piasecki died at his home on February 11, 2008 after a series of strikes. He was 88 years old.
- Frank Piasecki—Wikipedia
- Boeing: Frank Piasecki
- Boeing CH-47Chinook Helicopter News
- Piasecki, Frank—National Hall of Fame
- Frank Piasecki, 88; Pioneered the Tandem-Rotor Helicopter
- Obituary: Frank Piasecki/Technology/The Guardian
- Frank Piasecki, A Pioneer in Helicopters, is Dead at 88