Post WW2 Aicraft »

Bell 47-G ‘Sioux’ Helicopter

The Bell 47 prototype, which had been designed as a reconnaissance and observation aircraft and a training helicopter, first flew in December 1945, and by 1948 over sixty of the type had been ordered by the US Army.

NZ3706 was delivered to the RNZAF in January 1966 and was finally retired in 2012. The aircraft is now part of the collection at the Air Force Museum in Christchurch (New Zealand).  Photo: © Historical Aviation Film Unit

The ‘Sioux’ as it had become designated in Army service, could also be fitted with two medivac panniers. In this guise the type became synonymous with the Korean War through the emergency ambulance exploits of the type on the long-running television series M*A*S*H. During the war it was also used in reconnaissance and observation roles, and continued in this role until early in the Vietnam war (it was replaced in that conflict by the Hughes OH-6 Cayuse in 1966).

The Royal New Zealand Air Force first ordered six Bell-47s in 1965 and they were allocated to No. 3 (Battlefield Support) Squadron which was based at Hobsonville in Auckland.This unit was a combined Air Force, Army and Navy squadron which was responsible for training Army and Navy helicopter pilots. The RNZAF had been training Army officers to fly Tiger Moths, and later Austers, since 1947 and in the 1960s it was realised that the helicopter was likely to become a significant battlefield vehicle.

This picture of the pilot's position in the Sioux, shows how relatively sparten the cockpit area is. In this image the distinctive bubble canopy has been covered by an olive parachute to allow the controls to be photographed.  

No 3 Sqn RNZAF trained some Army personnel to fly the Sioux, and also used the aircraft to train both Army and Air Force staff in the best practices for working in a combined role. During the 40 plus years of service that the New Zealand Bell 47s provided, they were operated in Australia, Fiji and Malaysia, and in addition to pilot training they were also employed in the roles of visual reconnaissance, battlefield liaison, and general utility work.

By 2014 the remaining Sioux aircraft in the RNZAF had been retired in favour of the new Augusta A109 helicopters.

Prior to its retirement, one of the RNZAF's last remaining Sioux helicopters, NZ3706, performed at a display at the Royal New Zealand Air Force's 75th Birthday celebration airshow at RNZAF Ohakea.

While most people know these helicopters as the 'Sioux', it turns out that the Korean M.A.S.H. helicopters were not Bell 47's, but rather H-13's or OH-13's that were called "Sioux". The Bell 47 was the civilian model of the aircraft.

The H-13 Sioux was the first US Army helicopter to carry an Indian name and started the tradition of naming helicopters after different Indian tribes (for example, Iroquois, Apache, Chinook and so on).

From 1946 a total of over 2400 of these aircraft were built and they featured a top speed of 168km/h and a range of around 430km. The engine used was a 280 hp Lycoming TVO-435.

Ardmore Helicopters Ltd operates the Siouz helicopter, and is one of the leading pilot training schools in New Zealand, specializing in helicopter flight training, and charter, since 1996. The company is renown throughout the industry for comprehensive training programmes and job placement and Chief Flying Instructor, Frank Parker, has been involved in flying helicopters since 1970 and has an extensive background in military and civil helicopter operations.

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