Ex­tra­or­di­nary util­ity

Aviation Classics - - CONTENTS - Words: Tim Call­away

The suc­cess of the Bell Huey fam­ily is an as­tound­ing achieve­ment in ro­tary winged de­sign; some of the first he­li­copters built in the 1960s are still in regular use to­day.

Firstly, I have to apol­o­gise to the read­ers who were ex­pect­ing the Huey to be the sub­ject of the last is­sue, I am afraid I broke my left arm rather badly in an ac­ci­dent so was un­able to com­plete the work in time. I would like to of­fer my thanks to Dan Sharp who filled in with the Focke-wulf Fw 190 is­sue so well, and to sur­geon Nick Gill­ham who made such an ex­cel­lent job of putting me back to­gether again. I would also like to thank my phys­io­ther­a­pist, Har­riet, for her pa­tience! To the sub­ject of this is­sue, and what a sub­ject it is. The story of Larry Bell and the com­pany he built is one of the inspiring tales of avi­a­tion his­tory, a man driven to work at the cut­ting edge of tech­nol­ogy and the in­cred­i­ble ma­chines he cre­ated. His sup­port of Arthur Young in 1941 was to kick-start the devel­op­ment of ro­tary winged flight. He­li­copters to­day have be­come a com­mon part of daily life in most cities, many dif­fer­ent mod­els fill­ing the skies as they ply their trade for the po­lice and am­bu­lance ser­vices as well as the busi­ness and TV com­mu­nity among oth­ers. Among all of th­ese var­ied ma­chines, only a few he­li­copters have be­come part of the public con­scious­ness, in­stantly recog­nis­able wher­ever they ap­pear. The Huey and its vari­ants first came to public at­ten­tion in the news cov­er­age of the Viet­nam War, re­in­forced in mod­ern cul­ture through film and tele­vi­sion shows, as well as through regular ap­pear­ances sav­ing lives or dous­ing fires on the news. The mem­o­rable scenes from movies such as Fran­cis Ford Cop­pola’s Apoca­lypse Now and Randall Wal­lace’s We Were Sol­diers are only part of the cul­tural pop­u­lar­ity of the type, the phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance of the air­craft and its un­mis­take­able sounds are just as re­spon­si­ble for its iconic sta­tus. The Huey sounds like no other he­li­copter, the early big twin bladed ro­tor mak­ing a deep repet­i­tive thud over a high pitched tur­bine howl, the tail ro­tor in­ter­fer­ing with its own beat as the as­pect of the air­craft to the lis­tener changes. The twin ro­tor gave way to the four bladed ver­sion it is true, but some­how the beat re­mains, al­beit some­what less basso pro­fundo with a slightly faster tempo. As to ap­pear­ance, from the ear­li­est in­car­na­tions the Huey had a ‘face’, a cheer­ful look and if any­thing this has in­creased in the most re­cent mod­els. Aside from this slight an­thro­po­mor­phi­sa­tion, a very hu­man trait with ma­chines, the Huey has al­ways looked solid, de­pend­able. It in­spires con­fi­dence just in the way it sits on the ground, let alone flies. The en­gi­neer­ing be­hind the air­craft is also re­spon­si­ble for its longevity in two most im­por­tant re­spects. Firstly, the cen­tral pil­lar and twin spar struc­ture en­abled the Huey to be stretched like no other he­li­copter, re­sult­ing in a flex­i­ble range of mod­els to suit widely vary­ing cus­tomer needs. It also made the Huey in­cred­i­bly strong and easy to work on, re­sult­ing in a long lived and very cost ef­fec­tive air­frame, main­te­nance costs be­ing low from the start.

Cou­ple this with the pow­er­ful, light and fuel ef­fi­cient T53 tur­bine en­gine and you have the first truly ca­pa­ble trans­port he­li­copter. Al­to­gether, th­ese traits have made the Huey popular with the public, op­er­a­tors and pi­lots, and have fur­ther trans­lated so no mu­seum seems com­plete with­out at least one of the he­li­copters in its col­lec­tion. On a per­sonal note, I have been lucky enough to both fly and fly in a UH-1H and the later 412 ver­sions of the air­craft and can tell you this, even a non-he­li­copter pi­lot such as my­self found the Huey straight­for­ward to un­der­stand and to op­er­ate. Not ter­ri­bly ac­cu­rately in my case it must be said, but that was my fault not the Huey’s! Hav­ing also been used as a res­cue dummy by both SARTU and 84 Squadron in Cyprus, I can hon­estly say there is no he­li­copter I would rather be hang­ing un­der­neath, as I said, the rep­u­ta­tion for re­li­a­bil­ity just in­spires con­fi­dence. With the lat­est ver­sion, the UH-1Y, giv­ing ex­cel­lent ac­count of it­self al­ready in op­er­a­tions in the harsh cli­mate of Afghanistan, the Huey is des­tined to be with us for many years to come and is likely to be the first he­li­copter to join the 100 club of air­craft with a cen­tury of ser­vice be­hind them. I would like to ex­press my thanks to Dana Schenk and the team at Bell He­li­copter, and my con­grat­u­la­tions to them on con­tin­u­ing to build a living leg­end.

US Navy Keith Dray­cott US Army

Above: That’ll be me then. Be­ing hoisted out of the Mediter­ranean by a Bell Grif­fin HAR Mk.2 of 84 Squadron based on Cyprus.the rep­u­ta­tion of the Huey in­stills tremen­dous con­fi­dence, a most im­por­tant fac­tor in the search and res­cue role. Top: A re­stored UH-1C in the other role that made the Huey a leg­end, that of mede­vac or ‘dustoff’ he­li­copter. Right: The clas­sic role. US troops prac­tice rappelling from a UH-1N. It is as a troop trans­port that the Huey is most widely used.

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