Friday, July 27, 2012

Korean Dragonfly

In Tuesday's post, we featured an official Navy photo of a Sikorsky HO3S-1, so it seemed natural for today to follow-up with an unofficial snapshot of the Army's version of the same helo, the R-5/H-5 Dragonfly. The small print has no indication of where or when this was taken, but it appears to be at in Korea, likely a field hospital. (Yes, the song Suicide is Painless is indeed running through my head as I write this post.)

I have confess that I'm a bit intrigued by what's going on...the tail rotor is spinning, so chances are that this ship just landed, rather than is getting ready to take off (not to mention the fact that there's a soldier kneeling down near the tailrotor, apparently taking a photo - anyone in that are would be a huge safety violation in today's world). The large crowd is being drawn by something, but what?

The Dragonfly shown is serial 47-484, one of 11 R-5Fs built. The R-5 (known as the H-5 after 1948) was based on Igor Sikorsky's earlier R-4. The prototype first flew in 1943, but development was too slow for practical use during WWII. But in Korea, the idea of a machine that could be used to rescue injured soldiers and downed aviators behind enemy lines blossomed. It became the first helo widely used by the military, and the first to be used as a rescue ship in Korea. By the middle of 1953, Army helicopters rescued 1,273 injured in a single month, according to an article in Aviation History magazine.

For all its successes, though, the H-5 was still a very early helo, and naturally had a lot of limitations. Though powered by a 450-horse Pratt R-985 radial engine buried inside behind the cabin, it was still quite under-powered. It had CG issues as well, and each came equipped from the factory with two iron bars wrapped in canvas that the pilot could move around to balance the ship out, depending the load. Such accessories were frequently lost, of course, so pilots would resort to bags of sand, bottles of water, or even rocks. If nothing was available, the top speed was limited to a pokey 25 knots.

Maj. Richard Kirkland (ret) was an H-5 pilot in Korea, and told The Army Times in 2011, “By today’s standards, it had limited lifting capacity and short range. For its time, though, the H-5 marked a revolution. It enabled us to fly behind enemy lines, land almost anywhere, and pick up a ‘friendly’ who needed rescuing.”

The intense work that the H-5 was subjected to in Korea led to rapid improvements in helicopter design, which were reflected in the H-19 Chickasaw, the next major SAR design used by the military, and the ultimate replacement for the Dragonfly. Production ended in 1951, and by 1957, all the the H-5s had been retired.

Note the external medivac stretcher pod

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