The Flying Banana
Contributor: Barry Fetzer
This historical aviation vignette brings back memories of my time flying CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters. The Piasecki/Vertol H-21 is strangely reminiscent of the CH-46 Sea Knight and many of the H-21’s design features (affectionately called the Flying Banana) were obviously used by Boeing to design the CH-46 (affectionately called the Frog). And some of the design flaws that limited the effectiveness of the H-21 in Vietnam, were fixed and improved upon in the CH-46, an aircraft that also saw service in Vietnam.
I was too young to participate in combat operations in Vietnam. But those who preceded me…those on whose wings I ride…did. According to History.com, on this day in aviation history, “The first U.S. helicopter was shot down in Vietnam. It was one of 15 helicopters ferrying South Vietnamese Army troops into battle near the village of Hong My in the Mekong Delta.
“The first U.S. helicopter unit had arrived in South Vietnam aboard the ferry carrier USNS Core on December 11, 1961. This contingent included 33 Vertol H-21C Shawnee helicopters and 400 air and ground crewmen to operate and maintain them. Their assignment was to airlift South Vietnamese Army troops into combat.”
According to Wikipedia, “The Piasecki H-21 Workhorse/Shawnee was the fourth of a line of tandem rotor helicopters designed and built by Piasecki Helicopter. Commonly called ‘the flying banana’, it was a multi-mission helicopter, capable of being fitted with wheels, skis or floats. The H-21 was originally developed by Piasecki as an Arctic rescue helicopter. The H-21 had cold-weather features permitting operation at temperatures as low as −65 °F (−54 °C) and could be routinely maintained in severe cold weather environments.
“Consequently, the H-21 performed poorly in the hot weather of Vietnam. Despite being capable of carrying 20 passengers, it could lift only nine when operating in Vietnam. Pilots reported that engines that were rated for 600 hours of flying time were lasting only 200 hours or less in Vietnam. The shooting down of a CH-21 Shawnee near the Laotian-Vietnamese border with the death of four aviators in July 1962 were some of the U.S. Army’s earliest casualties in the Vietnam War.”
According to Boeing, “Initially designated Piasecki Model 44, the Shawnee was designed by Frank Piasecki, founder of the P-V Engineering Forum, later the Piasecki Helicopter Corp. After Piasecki left the enterprise in 1955, it became the Vertol Aircraft Corp. Boeing bought Vertol in 1960.
“The H/CH-21 Shawnee/Vertol 44 was the first helicopter to make a nonstop transcontinental flight across the United States.”
A Shawnee over rice paddies in Vietnam. Courtesy Wikipedia.