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Aviation History Month Day 29 - 29th of November 1945

After several aircraft accidents in the blog over the last few days, today it is time for a daring rescue from the air in the early days of rotor-wing rescues. Actually the first rescue by helicopter of people in danger!

A Sikorsky YR-5A (© US Air Force Museum Dayton, Ohio)

During a winter storm on this day in aviation history, in the middle of the night, a barge broke its moorings and drifted out to sea at Fairfield, Connecticut (roughly 100 km / 62 miles to the North East of New York).

The two-man onboard fired their emergency flares to warn people of their desperate situation. People on shore saw the flares but could not render assistance due to the weather. The local police called the nearby Sikorsky helicopter factory and asked them for help. Two men, Dimitry Viner (Chief PIlot Sikorsky) and Capt. Jackson Beighle (US Army Air Force) jumped in a helicopter (records don't say which type) and flew to the barge. As they were unable to land on the barge they quickly returned to the factory to swop aircraft. One of the new YR-5A helicopters for the army had been equipped with a hoist and they intended to take this aircraft to attempt a rescue. The YR-5A was pre-flighted (and even had one of its rotor blades quickly installed) and prepared for the rescue mission.

Once they arrived over the barge Viner hovered the helicopter in the high winds while Beighle operated the hoist, and lowered the rescue hoist.

One of the seamen being hoisted of the barge by Jimmy Vinner and Capt. Beighle (© Sikorsky)

The first sailor (Seaman Penninger) looped the leather harness under his arms. He was hoisted up but Beighle could not pull him into the cabin. With Penninger in the strap hanging in the outside of the helicopter, Viner flew to the beach and dropped of Penninger. They quickly returned to the barge to pick up the second sailor, Captain Pawlik. while hoisting him up the hoist jammed and Pawlik hung in the strap 30 feet (9 meters) below the helicopter. Viner carefully manoeuvred the helicopter back to the beach and slowly lowered Pawlik to the sand.

Viner slowly lowering the helicopter with Captain Pawlik suspended below the helicopter hanging on the jammed hoist cable. (© Sikorsky)

For the first time in aviation history, a helicopter was used to hoist people out of a dangerous situation!

Specifications of the YR-5A;

  • Crew: 1 or 2

  • Capacity: two stretchers in external panniers

  • Length: 57 ft 1 in (17.40 m)

  • Height: 13 ft 0 in (3.96 m)

  • Empty weight: 3,780 lb (1,715 kg)

  • Gross weight: 4,825 lb (2,189 kg)

  • Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior 9-cylinder air-cooled radial piston engine, 450 hp (340 kW)

  • Main rotor diameter: 48 ft 0 in (14.63 m)

  • Main rotor area: 1,810 sq ft (168 m2)


  • Maximum speed: 106 mph (171 km/h, 92 kn)

  • Range: 360 mi (580 km, 310 nmi)

  • Service ceiling: 14,400 ft (4,400 m)

  • Time to altitude: 10,000 ft (3,000 m) in 15 minutes

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