November 10, 1949
The first flight of the multi-purpose Sikorsky S-55 helicopter took place in the skies above Bloomfield, Connecticut. This helicopter was built by Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, which had been established by aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky in 1923 and originally known as Sikorsky Aero Engineering Corporation. (Sikorsky Aircraft has been part of Lockheed Martin Corporation since 2015.) Dimitry D. “Jimmy” Viner, one of Igor Sikorsky’s nephews and the chief pilot for Sikorsky Aircraft, handled the controls of the S-55 during its maiden flight.
This new helicopter quickly gained international acclaim, and orders for the aircraft were placed throughout the world. The U.S. military in particular recognized the potential value of the S-55 when it came to a wide range of tasks, and many of those helicopters were eventually included in the aircraft fleets of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.
The S-55 played a pivotal role during the Korean War, thanks to the capacity of that aircraft’s centrally located cargo compartment to carry up to a dozen passengers and more than 2,600 pounds (1179.3 kilograms) of supplies. When the helicopter was modified to function as an air ambulance, it could transport as many as eight stretchers for wounded servicemen. It was during the Korean War that the S-55 became one of the first means of airborne transportation in which medical personnel on board could actively care for the wounded while en route from battlefields to mobile army surgical hospital units and other health-care facilities.
The S-55 was also used in the Korean War to rescue United Nations aircrews stuck behind enemy lines, transport troops and supplies to critical areas of combat, conduct reconnaissance missions, and retrieve damaged vehicles. In addition, the S-55 achieved a couple of other major claims to fame. Two of these helicopters completed the first-ever transoceanic crossing of that mode of transportation when they flew from Massachusetts to Scotland in 1952. That same year, the S-55 became the first rotary-wing aircraft to be used for commercial airline links in Europe.
For more information on the Sikorsky S-55 helicopter, please check out https://www.sikorskyarchives.com/S-55.php