By Ernie Stephens, Editor-at-Large | May 7, 2015
USAAC 2nd Lt. Carter Harman (left side, standing) flew the first combat rescue mission in an YR-4B in Burma in 1944. Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
On May 8, the National Mall in Washington will be the site of several vintage World War II aircraft fly-bys commemorating Victory in Europe (V-E) Day – the day in 1945 when victory was declared in the European theater of the war.
The event is just one of many ceremonies scheduled to be held in the nation’s capital to recognize all who served at home and abroad during the war.
Planners say that more than 40 aircraft – from cargo planes to fighters, and reconnaissance planes to bombers – will take part in the fly-by, but add that weather conditions could prevent any aircraft not properly equipped for non-VFR flight from participating. Similar events are also scheduled in many other cities around the world.
The viewing public will likely see the famed aircraft of the Allied air forces, such as the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, Douglas C-47 Skytrain, and North American P-51 Mustang pass in review. But they may not realize that rotorcraft were also flown during the conflict.
The U.S Army Air Corps (USAAC) took delivery of three Sikorsky YR-4s, the world’s first production helicopter, from inventor Igor Sikorsky on July 3, 1943. Dubbed “The Hoverfly,” the two-seat aircraft with its Warner Scarab R-550-1 radial engine, delivered 185 horsepower to the 38-foot machine, giving it a top speed of 75 knots, and enough muscle to handle a maximum gross takeoff weight of 2,540 pounds.
Although there was still a lot of testing to do on the YR-4 to prove its suitability for military applications, the USAAC occasionally used them to conduct actual search and rescue missions in Burma and Alaska prior to the end of the war. Eventually, more than 200 R-4s - and it’s later variants, the R-5 and R-6 - would be flown by the Navy, Coast Guard and British Royal Air Force before the war’s end.
The most common rotorcraft flown in WWII, however, was the autogyro. Various makes and models had been in production for nearly 20 years by then, and served as reconnaissance platforms for both Allied and Axis forces throughout the war.
Unfortunately, the majority of WWII-vintage rotorcraft are no longer airworthy, and must sit out historical fly-bys. They are, however, well-represented in many aviation museums throughout the world.
Related: Military News