Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


I’VE BEEN RIGHT UP next to a Sikorsky Chicksaw helicopter, admittedly a stripped example in residence at Musée d’Art Populaire Chez Manual. This fabulously eclectic collection is just north of the French city of Poitiers, four hours southeast of Paris, about two hours south of Le Mans.

This was my sole encounter with a real Sikorsky Chicksaw. It was at Musée D’Art Populaire Chez Manuel.]

My visit to Musée Chez Manuel was years ago, a day of early retirement after having attended a Le Mans 24-hour race.

However, imagine my surprise yesterday leafing through the book 1950s British Classic Cutaways and finding this wonderfully detailed Westland Whirlwind helicopter.

The Westland Whirlwind. Image from 1950s British Classic Cutaways, paperback, published by The Aeroplane, 2005.

Sikorsky Chicksaw? Or Westland Whirlwind? This resemblance called for some helicopter research, new to me because of previous rotary-wing bias taught to me by fixed-wing friends. “Helicopters don’t really fly,” it’s said, “they’re just so ugly that the Earth repels them.”


The H-19 Chicksaw, in-house designation S-55, was designed by Sikorsky without government sponsorship. It served as a testbed for several novel features that optimized load-carrying ability and straightforward maintenance.

A U.S. Army UH-19D Chicksaw.

The Chicksaw’s first flight was on November 10, 1949, less than a year after the program start. In April 1950, the U.S. Air Force was its first customer, quickly followed by the U.S. Navy in August 1950, the U.S. Marines in April 1951, and a licensing deal with Britain’s Westland Aircraft in May 1951.

So, in fact, the Westland Whirlwind is, indeed, a licensed variant of the Sikorsky Chicksaw. A total 1728 examples were manufactured between 1950 and 1969: 1281 by Sikorsky, another 447 by Westland, SNCASE in France and Mitsubishi in Japan.

Sikorsky S-55. Image from

A Nose-mounted Radial. I confess I had no idea where helicopters put their engines, but the Chicksaw’s nose-mounted air-cooled nine-cylinder radial was innovative. Its forward location put the main cabin, and its potential cargo load, close to the craft’s center of gravity and to its main rotors’ rotational axis. This translated into optimizing balance with differing loads.

Half of its clamshell opened, the Chicksaw’s engine is accessible for maintenance. This H-19 is at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Dayton, Ohio.

The nose-mounted engine was readily accessed at ground level through dual clamshell doors. An entire engine could be swapped out in only two hours. The radial was oriented backwards relative to a typical prop-plane’s application, thus offering convenient access to engine accessories.

The Art of the Cutaway. I have profound respect for artists of cutaways. Even before I researched the Chicksaw/Whirlwind, cutaway drawings of the design fascinated me because of this helicopter’s engine location, its angled driveshaft housing splitting the cockpit, and its main gearbox directly below the rotor assembly.

Sikorsky H-19 Chicksaw. Image from

I can lose myself for hours with a cutaway, a proper glass enlarging its intricacies. How about you? ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018


  1. jlalbrecht64
    December 12, 2018

    One of the things that drew me to R&T as a young lad was looking through my dad’s issues and pouring over the cutaways that were above the test results. In engineering school I loved drafting. This was back in the day when things were just starting to be computerized, so there was still a lot of FBD drawn on green engineering pads. I still have some of those papers all these years later.

    • simanaitissays
      December 12, 2018

      Agreed. I also recall a basic drafting course at WPI in the early 1960s called “Developmental Geometry” or some such.

  2. Bob
    December 12, 2018

    Oops! You have three helos here, Dennis … not just Brit and US versions. The first pix in Paris is of an H-34: a later outgrowth variant with a larger engine – R1820 vs. R1340 with more than double the hp. My first helo ride was in a H-19 as a military school kid in Chateauroux, France. We needed inoculations (no parental consent/protests for military kids) and the base was a quagmire of mud with wood pallets for sidewalks. We were picked up on a bit of high ground at the school, and shuttled a few hundred yards to a concrete pad next to the dispensary.My time with the H-34 was tied to my French speaking talent. That got me sent to VietNam in ’63 to train VietNamese on our AD Skyraiders, and I also flew as a door gunner in VN H-34s. Folly of youth. The enclosed pix are of me in my combat role, and training VietNamese. When the US got officially involved in ’65, the new UH-1s took over, mostly because of the more powerful and reliable PT-6 turbine. (same as used by Parnelli Jones at Indy!) The reliable H-34 also got a turbine installed at the end of its life, and most of its Brit Westland Wessex versions are turbines … and at times flown by Royals in their military service!The “Huey” is really a UH-1 officially named Iroquois. I think while the military brass may have been insensitive and politically incorrect in applying vaunted native American names to helos, I’ll contend that the troops using the helos were smart enough to foresee the current protests and unrests, and avoid those non-PC names. Instead, they used “Huey” (Named after the UH-1 rudder pedals), “Banana.” “Hooker,” … instead of the official “Choctaw” we called the H-34 “Dogs” while the Navy called them “Horses!”That’s my story, and I’ll stick to it!Cheers, Bob

  3. Gordon Craig
    December 12, 2018

    Brings back memories of my part time employment as a ticket and ramp agent for SFO Helicopter Airlines at San Francisco Int’l. Airport, 1964-65. I was attending S.F. State and had all my classes Tuesdays and Thursdays 8 am to 10 pm so I could work Friday through the weekend to Monday. SFO Helicopter used civilian versions of S-55s and the larger S-61s flew “helotaxi” runs to various Bay Area destinations.

    It was always a cluster f*** checking in and boarding AA, United, TWA and Pan Am incoming passengers who were “guaranteed” seats on these flights, along with their luggage, every 15 minutes on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday evenings. Just nuts.
    There were two Operations/Load Planners burning up slide rules to keep the helos in trim right up to the last second of often domino effect departures as delayed airline flights landed and disgorged hordes of jet lagged passengers to our little waiting room at Gate 56. Hats off to those LPs, never had a mishap on that score. Often we had to provide taxi vouchers as the airlines overbooked us, or a helo would have an occasional mechanical right at the gate, then the fun began. Not only that we wore grey pants, red vests, white shirts, black ties and blue blazers to match the chaos, there was no blending in to escape the finger pointing. For the most part, those choppers held up in all kinds of weather, but the company folded after a year and a half, too expensive to operate. If it were a model railroad, would have been perfect.

    cheers, gordon

  4. simanaitissays
    December 12, 2018

    Many thanks to you both for these wonderful recollections. (And I used to believe the Earth repelled helicopters….)

  5. David Lourenco-Evans
    May 31, 2019

    The first picture is not an S-55, it is an S-58, it’s successor. The Westland Whirlwind was a licence built S-55, and except for the very early HAS.21 and HAS.22 models had different engines, including with the series 3 Whirlwind twin turbine engines

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