Frank Piasecki



             Frank Piasecki, the aviation pioneer who invented the tandem-rotor helicopter that has carried soldiers into battle and rescued thousands from disasters, passed away on 11 February 2008.

             The helicopters he developed, the Army's Chinook and the Navy's Sea Knight, are now built by the Boeing Company Rotorcraft Division in Ridley Township, a Philadelphia suburb.

             In 1943, Piasecki became the second American to build and fly a helicopter, following Igor Sikorsky who flew his first helicopter in 1941.

             At age 88, Piasecki remained chief executive of Piasecki Aircraft Corporation.

             He was busy, working with his sons, John and Fred, both vice presidents of his company, perfecting his latest creation.

             When Piasecki fell ill at his Haverford home yesterday, his chief test pilot, Steven A. Schellberg, was in the air completing phase-one tests of that invention, a ducted fan to replace tail rotors that increases speed and maneuverability.

             Advanced age and strokes had diminished his physical agility, but his mind remained sharp and his death came as a shock to coworkers.

             "He's the father of Boeing Rotorcraft. We would not be where we are without his mind and entrepreneural skills," J. Patrick Donnelly, Boeing's director of advanced rotorcraft, said in an October interview. "He struggles physically, but we still have conversations with him about our work. His mind is very fertile."

             Donnelly made the comments in an interview at party in October honoring Piasecki's 87th birthday. The event was held in Boeing's hanger at New Castle County Airport, where Piasecki is testing his latest invention on a modified Sikorsky Black Hawk combat helicopter, which he renamed the "Speed Hawk."

             "Pi," as his friends called him, "was really a visionary . . . a creative engineer with a lot of energy and imagination," said Joseph P. Consgrove, his friend and colleague since 1955, also interviewed at the birthday party.

             He did not set out to find uses for ideas that came to him, Consgrove said. Instead he was always working to solve a problem or fill a need.

             The tandem-rotor helicopter that became the Chinook and Sea Knight was invented, Consgrove said, because the military needed to lift and transport more weight than conventional single-rotor helicopters could handle.

             The first versions were dubbed "the flying banana" because of its shape. The rear curved upward to elevate the rear rotor over the forward rotor and keep the two rotors from striking.

             The Navy's Sea Knight is being replaced by the V-22 Osprey, which takes off like a helicopter, then tilts its rotors to fly like an airplane.

             But updated versions of the Army Chinook have fresh transport and special operations missions. Yet another new model is competing to become the next Air Force search-and-rescue helicopter. Boeing says Piasecki's creation, which flew soldiers to remote parts of Vietnam in the 1960s, will keep flying well beyond 2030.

             Piasecki gave up control of his first company to get funds to build the big factory in Morton, Delaware County, and produce the tandem rotor helicopter. While investors sought financial rewards of his invention, Piasecki wanted to keep creating new technology.

             In frustration, he left the company and the name was changed from Piasecki Helicopter Company to Vertol Aircraft Corporation, which in 1960 was acquired by Boeing.

             In 1950 Piasecki formed his current company, Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, and went on to achieve a long list of firsts in expanding the capabilities of vertical take-off aircraft.



          The CH-47 - 40 years old and still circling the world.


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