From its introduction to warfare in the 1940s to its role in Middle East operations, the helicopter has had a profound effect on military tactics and techniques. It has evolved from a means of transport to a precise component of the Special Operations Force. Apart from the challenges its design faced on the battlefield, this rotary-wing aircraft also faced opposition from the very military that employed it.
I’ve tried to lead the readers through production designs and their connection to specific military strategies that helped the helicopter define its role in combat. In doing so, I assigned cardinal importance to three of the early helicopter pioneers in the United States-Igor Sikorsky, Frank Piasecki and Arthur Young in the establishment of the industry. I also note that as the industry grew larger, as procurement quantities increased, and as the services became more demanding in their requirements, the efforts of such pioneers was diluted. Considerations of logistics, spare parts, modifications, and per unit cost began to drive the design parameters, forcing a more corporate guise upon the industry. Still, it is important to recognize that the influence of the three pioneers-Sikorsky, Piasecki and Young-can still be seen today in service helicopters.
although its contributions to reconnaissance, transport, assault, and attack made it an invaluable tool during warfare, the helicopter suffered from the different services’ focus on other arms and technology. I was very frustrated that due to several equally patriotic, well-intended leaders who had different agendas and priorities, the current helicopter design is still outdated by thirty to forty years. This has led to an unacceptable number of casualties. Since Vietnam, there has been no correspondence whatsoever between the advances in tactical fixed wing aircraft design with the advances in stealth, precision guided munitions, speed and range, and the changes in helicopter design. And the difference in these advances is magnified by the fact that current fixed wing tactics can keep the pilot and the aircraft miles from the target, while the helicopter is still required to fly into hot landing zones, prey to everything from rifles to rocket propelled grenades to guided missiles.
throughout the book, I try to highlight the great strides that the helicopter has made and pay honor to those who have believed in its potential. I paid special tribute to Vietnam’s DUSTOFF crews, who flew into the middle of combat to rescue wounded soldiers. Crediting General Bill Creech with revolutionizing the Tactical Air Command, Boyne points out how this one man’s contributions are continuing to serve American troops well in the Middle East. He emphasizes that the lack of a single leader such as Creech has handicapped the development of the helicopter, and suggests that a new approach to helicopter procurement be made. The new approach should avoid inter- and intra-service rivalries, avoid trying to incorporate too many new advances into a single design, and to depend more upon the industry’s view of what it can deliver versus what the services think they want.
From all of its advancements to its setbacks, the history of the military helicopter is a fascinating ride from invention to adaptation. One of the more interesting, and perhaps unique, aspects of helicopter development is that its ultimate success derived from advances made by a rival technology which it ultimately displaced. That rival technology was the autogiro, which in only a few years advanced important ideas that ultimately brought success to the helicopter. With that success, of course, the autogiro, never a military or commercial triumph, withered away.
I expect to generate a lot of controversy with this book, from both helicopter advocates and those who are less favorable to rotary wing aircraft.
HOW THE HELICOPTER CHANGED MODERN WARFARE – by Walter J. Boyne
*HISTORY / Military / Aviation
384pp. 6×9 Appendixes Notes Index
77 b/w photos
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