Father Of The "Flying Banana" Was 88
Aviation pioneer Frank
Piasecki, who developed the tandem-rotor, heavy-lift helicopters
now in service with US armed forces throughout the world, has Gone
Igor Sikorsky flew his first helicopter in 1941; Frank Piasecki
built and flew his helicopter in 1943, making him the second
American to do so. Piasecki continued on and developed the
tandem-rotor helicopter -- known initially as "the flying banana,"
due to the curved rear fuselage necessary to elevate the rear rotor
above the forward one.
Variations on Piasecki's design are in service today -- you may
know them better as the US Army's CH-47 Chinook, and the Naval
CH-46 Sea Knight, now produced by Boeing.
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Piasecki, 88, fell ill
Monday at his home while his latest creation -- a ducted fan to
replace tail rotors on conventional helicopters -- was in the air
finishing phase-one testing. He remained active as chief executive
of Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, working with his vice presidents
in the company, sons John and Fred.
"He's the father of Boeing Rotorcraft," said J. Patrick
Donnelly, director of advanced rotorcraft with Boeing, during an
October 2007 celebration of Piasecki's 87th birthday. "We would not
be where we are without his mind and entrepreneurial skills ... He
struggles physically, but we still have conversations with him
about our work. His mind is very fertile."
Piasecki believed in the development of new technology -- so
much so, he gave up control of his first company, to continue
building and creating new designs. In 1955, the company changed
names from Piasecki Helicopter Co. to Vertol Aircraft Corp. when
Piasecki became frustrated by investors wanting to make a buck off
the tandem-rotor concept, and he left the company he founded.
Vertol was later acquired by Boeing in 1960.
Piasecki formed Piasecki Aircraft Corp in 1950 and proceeded to
make many firsts in vertical take-off aircraft technology. His
latest design was an adaptation of ducted tailrotor technology,
intended to improve control and maneuverability in helicopters. The
technology was being tested on a heavily-modified Sikorsky Black
Hawk, dubbed the "Speed Hawk" (shown below) in a Boeing hanger on
New Castle County Airport.
Six years ago, ANN reported on a special
"Tribute to Frank N. Piasecki" held in June 2002 at Hiller Aviation
Museum -- where the culmination of the day's events was a
first-time hover and flight of four generations of Tandem Rotor
Helicopters... a fitting tribute, to a true pioneer.
While Frank Piasecki has now passed, his best-known innovation
will continue to live on for years to come. Boeing says Piasecki's
creation -- which came into its own in the 1960s, transporting
soldiers to remote parts of Vietnam -- will keep flying well beyond