Frank Piasecki, who flew the USA’s second successful helicopter, died on February 11. Born in 1919, Piasecki might not have been quite as well known as the guy who got there first – Igor Sikorsky – but the helicopters his company designed certainly are, particularly the CH-47 Chinook. Lately Piasecki Aircraft has been getting attention for its X-49A SpeedHawk – the latest incarnation of a compound-helicopter dream Piasecki pursued for five decades.
“He was one of the original inventors of the helicopter and a pioneer in establishing the helicopter industry,” his son, John Piasecki, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He was the last of that generation that really created an entirely new industry.”
Piasecki’s PV-2 first flew in April 1943, with Frank at the controls, but it was with the tandem-rotor HRP and HUP that the Philadelphia-based company made its fortune. Renamed Vertol Aircraft, the firm was acquired by Boeing in 1960 and continues to build the Chinook. Piasecki Aircraft was then formed to develop compound helicopters, the company’s 16H-1A Pathfinder II reaching an impressive 225mph in 1966.
The compound dream was not realised, but with the flight of Piasecki’s X-49A in June 2007, the concept and the company returned to prominence. With backing from the US Army and Boeing, Piasecki plans to push the SpeedHawk – a modified Sikorsky SH-60 – beyond 200mph. Thankfully. Frank lived to see his dream rekindled.
Piasecki’s pioneering PV-2……tandem-rotor HRP…..and compound Pathfinder II
My colleague John Croft was invited to Wilmington, Delaware last year to watch the X-49A fly and help Piasecki celebrate its founder’s 88th birthday. He took this picture of Frank with the Pathfinder II, flanked by two of his five sons (there are also two daughters):