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Wed, Sep 21, 2022

Bayou State Escadrille Assigned CAF’s Sole Flying Helicopter

Historic Bell 47 to Roost at Louisiana’s HDC

Comprising over 13,000 members and seventy-units, the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) is a Dallas-based non-profit organization founded to acquire, restore, and preserve in flying condition combat aircraft for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations of Americans.

Among the newest of the CAF’s units is the Bayou State Escadrille, an assemblage of pilots and aviation enthusiasts formed in 2021 to expand the Commemorative Air Force’s presence in Louisiana.

The French loanword escadrille translates to “squadron.”

In September 2022, members of the Bayou State Escadrille traveled to San Marcos, Texas—approximately 39-nautical miles northeast of San Antonio—to pick up their newly-assigned Bell 47 helicopter. The Bell 47 is immediately and poignantly familiar to Korean War veterans and fans of the long-running, 1970s, television comedy-drama series, M*A*S*H.

The Bayou State Escadrille’s Bell 47 was donated in 2017 and is unique within the CAF’s fleet in that it is the organization’s only flying helicopter. What’s more, the machine is of a production vintage newer than that of the World War II era aircraft of which the CAF’s collection primarily consists.

With the addition of the Bell 47, the long and breathtaking story of American military aviation told by the CAF fleet broadens to include the Korean and Vietnam wars, in which the intrepid helicopter served with distinction.

The Bell 47 is a single rotor, single-engine light-helicopter. Over the course of the model’s protracted 1946 to 1974 production run, over 5,600 units were collectively produced by Bell and—under license—by Italy’s Augusta, Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries, and the United Kingdom’s Westland Aircraft. In 1946, the Bell 47 became the first helicopter certified for civilian use.

Sporting a rotor-diameter of just over 37-feet, and managing a maximum gross take-off weight (MGTOW) of only 2,950-pounds, the Bell 47—by modern standards—is a diminutive helicopter. The contraption is powered by a 280-HP, Lycoming TVO-435-F1A six-cylinder, vertically-mounted, horizontally-opposed, air-cooled, piston engine that motivates the critter to a maximum speed of 91-knots. Remarkably, on 13 May 1949, a Bell 47 set an altitude record of 18,550-feet. The aircraft’s bubble-canopy offers great all-around visibility and speaks to the Bell 47’s eminent compatibility with the medivac and scouting missions to which U.S. Army pilots dutifully plied it.

The specimen of which the Bayou State Escadrille has assumed stewardship is a 1969, civilian-market Bell 47G-4A kitted out with a 310-HP  Lycoming VO-540 power-plant. Prior to being generously donated by a CAF Colonel, the helicopter was operated by a flight school.

In a September 2022 social media posting, the CAF’s Central Texas Wing said of the Bayou-bound Bell 47G-4A: “This Bell 47 … has been living in our hangar for a few years as sort of a half-way house until the CAF could find it a more permanent home. Well, today it left for that home. It has been assigned to the CAF Bayou State Escadrille based in Hammond, LA. Members from the Escadrille traveled to San Marcos last week to pick up the helicopter and trailer it to its new home at Hammond Northshore Regional Airport. The new CAF unit in Hammond is very excited to have the helicopter as they have several helicopter pilots and mechanics in their unit and in their local community. It was sad to see it go, but nice to see it go to a good home. Join us in wishing the Escadrille luck in operating it in the future!”

FMI: www.commemorativeairforce.org/units/120

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