Military, Products

Heli-Expo Show Day: Pioneer Frank Piasecki Passes

By Ernie Stephens | March 1, 2008

FRANK PIASECKI, A PIONEER OF THE tandem-rotor design, died Feb. 11 at his Haverford, Pa. home. He was 88.

Piasecki was born and raised in Philadelphia and quickly developed an interest in vertical flight. He attended the University of Pennsylvania and earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from New York University.

By 1940, Piasecki was an engineer at the Platt-LePage Aircraft Co. and simultaneously designing a helicopter with business partner Harold Venzie.


One of his first designs was the single-seat, single-rotor PV-2. Its flights made him the second American (after Igor Sikorsky) to build and fly a fully functioning helicopter. By his 27th year, Piasecki had created Piasecki Helicopter, and sold the U.S. Navy a fleet of HRP-1 "Flying Bananas," so named for their banana-shaped fuselage. The HRP-1’s massive forward and aft rotors let it carry thrice the payload of any helicopter flying at the time.

Piasecki gave up control of his company in 1950, but his tandem-rotor designs were developed further by subsequent owners Vertol Aircraft and Boeing. This led to the highly successful CH-46 and CH-47 families.

Piasecki Aircraft, his latest venture, has been developing the X-49A, a Sikorsky Aircraft UH-60 fitted with short, mid-fuselage wings and a vectored-thrust ducted propeller on the tail. "Pi was really a visionary," said Joseph Cosgrove of his friend and colleague, "a creative engineer with a lot of energy and imagination."

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