Back Piasecki H-21 Workhorse / Shawnee

Piasecki H-21C

From the all-metal PV-17 built in 1948, the following year Piasecki derived the HRP-2 Rescuer and an improved version of the Rescuer, the H-21 Workhorse. The USAF acquired 214 of the latter, and 334 of a similar model, the H-21 Shawnee, were built for the US Army. The B and C variants of the H-21 were used in Vietnam, equipped with 12.7 or 7.62mm light machine guns which were fired through the cabin doors. The H-21 used the classic single engine formula with tandem three-blade rotors. While the Navy's helicopters had a 600hp Pratt & Whitney R-1340 engine, those for the Army had a Wright R-1820. Thirty-three of the H-21A were assigned to SAR units in the Arctic and another five were sent to Canada. Foreign operators of the H-21 included the German Army (26), French Army (98), French Navy (10), Japanese armed forces (10) and Swedish Navy (11).

G.Apostolo "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Helicopters", 1984

Vertol CH-21C "Shawnee"

Developed from the US Navy's HRP-2, the Piasecki PD-22 tandem-rotor helicopter prototype (US Air Force designation XH-21) was first flown on 11 April 1952. Eighteen YH-21 helicopters had been ordered in 1949 for USAF evaluation, these being followed by an initial production batch of 32 H-21A helicopters, named Workhorse in USAF service. For use by the Military Air Transport Service Air Rescue Service, the H-21As were each powered by a derated 932kW Wright R-1820-103 engine; the first flew in October 1953. Six more were built to USAF contract but supplied to Canada under the Military Assistance Program.

The second production variant was the H-21B, which used the full power of the 1063kW R-1820-103 to cover an increase in maximum take-off weight from 5216kg to 6804kg. Some 163 were built, mainly for Troop Carrier Command, and these had autopilots, could carry external auxiliary fuel tanks, and were provided with some protective armour. They could carry 20 troops in the assault role.

The US Army's equivalent was the H-21C Shawnee, of which 334 were built. This total included 98 for the French army, 10 for the French navy and six for Canada; 32 Shawnees were supplied to West Germany, serving with the army's Heeresfliegerbataillon 300. The H-21C, redesignated CH-21C in July 1962, had an underfuselage sling hook for loads of up to 1814kg. Production deliveries were made between September 1954 and March 1959, later helicopters acquiring the company designation Model 43 when the Piasecki Helicopter Corporation became the Vertol Aircraft Corporation in 1956. The H-21 A and H-21B retrospectively became the Model 42.

Two turboshaft conversions of H-21C airframes were the Model 71 (H-21D), with two General Electric T58 engines first flown in September 1957, and the Model 105 which had two Avco Lycoming T53s. From the latter was designed the Vertol 107 (Boeing Vertol H-46 series).

D.Donald "The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft", 1997

Piasecki H-21

On April 11, 1952, the YH-21 Work Horse — Piasecki's best helicopter yet — took to the air with Len LaVassar and Marty Johnson at the controls. Winner of a USAF competition for an arctic transport helicopter, the new craft looked almost like the HRP-2, but weighed 6630kg fully loaded, more than twice the earlier machine. A 1425hp Wright R-1820 engine (derated in early models to 1150hp) and a 0.9m increase in rotor diameter to 13.4m gave it much better performance than the HRP-2. Structurally, it was a new aircraft.

The company had come up with a winner. The Work Horse could carry fourteen fully equipped troops or an equivalent weight of cargo. Features included a rescue hoist and inflatable donut-shaped floats around its wheels for landings even on marshy tundra. Winterized to support Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line radar stations far to the north, it was just the aircraft the Air Force had wanted. Extensive cold-weather testing was performed atop Mount Washington, the highest peak in New Hampshire's beautiful White Mountains, as well as in the climate hangar at Eglin Air Force Base.

J.P.Spencer "Whirlybirds: A History of the U.S. Helicopter Pioneers", 1998

The only airworthy Piasecki H-21 gets its first wheel into the air as it departed for Ramona near San Diego

In 1949 the U.S. Air Force ordered eighteen examples of the Piasecki Model PD-22 single-engined, tandem-motor helicopter for evaluation in the SAR and general transport roles. The YH-21 Work Horse, as the type was designated, made its maiden flight in April 1952. The Air Force was quite pleased with the YH-21, and eventually purchased thirty-two production H-21A SAR models and 163 of the more powerful H-21B assault transports.

The Army became aware of the H-21's potential as a medium utility helicopter soon after the type's maiden flight, and in 1952 awarded Piasecki a contract for the production of the H-21C variant. This aircraft retained the H-21B's extensive armor plating and ability to carry two external fuel tanks, but had such additional features as increased troop capacity and a 4000-pound capacity belly sling hook. The Army procured 334 H-21C Shawnees, with deliveries beginning in August 1954. In addition, the Army obtained at least sixteen H-21B aircraft from the USAF; the majority of these machines were ultimately brought up to H-21C standard, and all were known as Shawnees despite their origins as Work Horses. The Army also funded Vertol's development of the XH-21D, which was essentially a standard H-21C whose single piston engine had been replaced by two General Electric T58 shaft turbines. Two H-21Cs were so modified and flight tested in 1957 and 1958, but the variant was not adopted for production. In 1962 the H-21B and H-21C were redesignated as, respectively, the CH-21B and CH-21C.

Despite its rather ungainly appearance the H-21 Shawnee was a very capable and well-liked machine, and the type ultimately secured for itself a unique place in post-World War II Army aviation history. It was a Shawnee dubbed 'Amblin' Annie that made the first non-stop helicopter flight from one coast of the United States to the other, being refuelled in flight from a U-1A Otter. More significantly, the H-21 was the first American military helicopter type to be deployed in appreciable numbers to South Vietnam: the first four Shawnee units arrived in that country between December 1961 and September 1962. Inevitably, perhaps, the H-21 also gained the dubious distinction of being the aircraft in which America's first Vietnam casualties were killed; four Army aviators died in July 1962 when their Shawnee was shot down near the Laotian-Vietnamese border. The machine gun-equipped H-21s used in Vietnam were also, of necessity, the first American military helicopters to be fitted with door-mounted defensive weapons as a matter of course. Several additional aircraft were experimentally fitted with a variety of offensive weaponry and used as interim gunships pending the arrival in Southeast Asia of the first units of armed UH-1 Iroquois in the summer of 1963. The H-21 remained the backbone of the Army's aviation effort in South Vietnam until finally supplanted by the UH-1 in 1964, and most Shawnees were withdrawn from the active inventory within the following year.

S.Harding "U.S.Army Aircraft since 1947", 1990


- A few examples of the civil Piasecki PD-22 (Vertol 44) served with New York Airlines and other carriers.

- TYvo H-21Cs were re-engined with turboshafts, as XH-21Ds.

- Foreign H-21 operators included West Germany, France and Canada.

- Four US aviators killed in an H-21 In July 1962 are recognised by some sources as the first American fatalities in Vietnam.

- The YH-21 prototype for this series made its maiden flight on 11 April 1952.

- A total of 334 of these helicopters was produced for the United States Army.

Photo Gallery 

Piasecki H-21

Piasecki H-21

Piasecki H-21

Piasecki CH-21C Shawnee

Technical data for Piasecki H-21C "Shawnee"

Engine: 1 x Wright R-1820-103 Cyclone radial pistone engine, rated at 1063kW, rotor diameter: 13.41m, length with rotors turning: 26.31m, height: 4.7m, take-off weight: 6668kg, empty weight: 3629kg, max speed: 211km/h, service ceiling: 2360m, range: 644km

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Will OConnor, e-mail, 29.01.2015reply

The Vintage Flying Museum of Fort Worth Texas is currently restoring one of these fine aircraft for interactive static display. We received it from the former Pate Museum of Transportation in Cresson TX, where it sat in the elements for 41 years. The restoration is well under way, and is expected to be complete by 2017.

Joe Yaglinski, e-mail, 26.04.2010reply

My dad worked at Piasecki and then Boeing Vertol. He was a Rep in Southeast Asia from the late 50s to the 70s I have alot of pictures from H-21s up to the Chinooks. I have seen the H-21 flying out of Ramona Ca many times It has a very distintive sound long before you see it!!I also have an H-21 unbuilt model kit and have seen them on Ebay a few times.

Chuck Garabedian, e-mail, 06.04.2010reply

I was in the 2nd A&E class at Fort E in 1954. I was assigned to Ft. Bragg and the 82nd Airborne. I originally started out as a mechanic and rose to crew chief on a H-21. We were the first ship to try dropping airborne from a helicopter. Eventually we were named Sky Cav. I left the service in 1956 with many stories from those years

J.W. Johnson, e-mail, 03.03.2010reply

Learned to fly the H-21 at Ft. Rucker in 1961 as part of WOC Class 61-2W. Then assigned to 40th Artilary Big at the Presido of San Francisco. Wonderful aircraft and very forgiving.

H.G.McGuffey, e-mail, 22.02.2010reply

Joined the 80th.when it organised at Ft. Riley. Made the flight to Alaska. Crew chief on 62105 until sep.61 In 62 went to korea 13th Trans there when 7th div took over. Does any one have one of the 13th "Lucky Lucifer" patches? Would like a picture so I can have some made.

Robert Brandt, e-mail, 17.02.2010reply

There are two books telling the story of the H-21 helicopter. "Thunderbird Lounge" is the story of the 33rd Trans /118th in VN 1962-63 and the other book is the "Piase cki H-21 Helicopter." Both books can be ordered through Amazon, or Trafford Publishing.

L.H.Cutting, e-mail, 05.01.2010reply

WAS IN THE "3RD HERD"3RDTransportation CO.1957-1958 Stationed at Ft Richardson,AK when 80th TRANS arrived there from Ft RILEY in I guess about 1960 or 61 The 3rd was in FT Belvor VA. The American Helicpter Museum has an H-21 on display.Thats in West Chester,PA at the airport.I have a model of every Helicopter I worked on during my 20 years of ARMY service EXCEPT the H-21 have not been able to find one anywhere.

L.H.Cutting, e-mail, 05.01.2010reply

WAS IN THE "3RD HERD"3RDTransportation CO.1957-1958 Stationed at Ft Richardson,AK when 80th TRANS arrived there from Ft RILEY in I guess about 1960 or 61 The 3rd was in FT Belvor VA. The American Helicpter Museum has an H-21 on display.Thats in West Chester,PA at the airport.I have a model of every Helicopter I worked on during my 20 years of ARMY service EXCEPT the H-21 have not been able to find one anywhere.

Les Harrison, e-mail, 05.12.2009reply

Class comndr for a while in 2nd. student enlstmnt co. Ft. Eustis, Va. Tndm Rtr Sngl Eng Helicopter ( CH-21 )repair.Left there Dec.or Jan.1963,to Camp Stanley, Korea.Frwrd Suprt Pltn,
13th Trns Battn.I only worked on the A /C off and on.I was in charge of Special Tools, since none of the school trnd guys knew what they were doing or What the mchncs were doing and what they needed.some even went looking for CARB AIR. Anyone over there about that time?

Tom Beamon, e-mail, 13.10.2009reply

Arrived A Co. 2nd Aviation at Ascom, Korea late December 1965, A company had 25 CH-21C's assigned but this was reduced down to 8 aircraft by the summer of 1966. I was Crew Chief on 55-4183 until the end of 1967. The H-21 was a great helicopter and I feel very privilaged to have maintained and flown with these aircraft. I would like to hear form anyone that served with A company during those years.

JAMES PIATT, SR., e-mail, 02.10.2009reply


Al Adcock, e-mail, 13.09.2009reply

looking for photos of XH-21 D model 71 and also of ch-21 c
8th transco at Ban Me Thuot November 1963

L. Kerbs, e-mail, 14.07.2009reply

1. Am trying to make a video about my time in Vietnam flying the H-21. After rummaging through old footage and slides taken over there, have found out I really need some color H-21 footage from VN to complete the job. If you know where to locate some, please contact me. Thanks
2. Left Ft. Devans on 15 Dec. 1961 on the USNS Card with 20 mothballed on the deck. Through the Suez Canal and not knowing where we were going, landed at Subic Bay Philippines. Demothballed there, and reloaded flight ready on to a real navy ship (The Princeton). Sailed across to VN and flew the fully loaded H-21's into Danang. (93rd Trans Co). Had full Navy jet and destroyer escort and all battle stations manned. Believe we may have been the only 21's or even the only choppers ever to fly into VN.
3. After flying I Core for 8 months, had another distinction of pulling up stakes and flying and moving the company and the attached maintenance company to the other end of S.VN. That was IV Core, Soc Trang.
4. There was one H-21 still flying as of 2007 and it still may be. They claimed to be the only one in the U.S. and maybe the world still flying. It flies out of Ramona Airport about 100 clicks east of San Diego. Their biggest concern was locating spare wooden blades that may be buried somewhere in a warehouse. Even though the volenteer pilot and mechanics were Navy guys, some with H-46 Sea Knight experience, they loving painted and tagged it with perfect Army colors. You may be able to find them and their museum by typing Classic Rotars on your computer.

Bruce Gilmartin, e-mail, 09.06.2009reply

Cut my teeth with the 6th Trans in Korea 1960-61, back to Bragg and then to RVN on The Core, arriving 12 /11 /61. Moved up to Qui Nhon in 1 /62 and we actually flew sometimes with only one ship! How naive we were. I was on the first trip out of Saigon and the first person rotated out of The 8th Trans.
I took a few weeks "leave" in Saigon, had the time of my life, and the Sea Patrol rounded me up and shipped me out
I loved the -21 and trusted it 100%. They weren't half the machine in RVN as they were in Korea, but I still went out as much as I could.
Fred Bells name above sounds familiar. I've spoken a number of times with Benny Goldberg, son of WO Joseph Goldberg, KIA
7 /15 /62, along with Harold Guthrie & James Lane (crew) in the first air fatalities of the war. I knew all 3 and they were great soldiers and nice people.
I can't locate anyone from the 6th or the 8th that I know.
Write if you feel like it...I'm right here, now in Maine.

Russ Planck, e-mail, 07.05.2009reply

Departed Fort Riley for Nam 11 Dec 1961 with a bunch of 21 loaded on the USNA Core. Ended up in Nahtrang. Got some pics of me working on the "christmas tree' under the cockpit. Anybody out there from those days. PS. After I left there I didn't see another 21 until I went Air Force at Langley VA.

Ken Garasz, e-mail, 09.03.2009reply

I was a crew chief on a Ch-21 in Ascom Korea,in 1967.Co A 2nd Aviation(The 1st helicopter company in ARMY AVIATION)Any former cheifs out there??

Tom Smith, e-mail, 05.03.2009reply

I flew H21 42's and 44's. All Canadian CF numbers. I would like to know where I could a flight manual?

NORMAN GARNES, e-mail, 08.02.2009reply

SERVED WITH 3rd Tans Co Lt Hel Ft belvoir 1961-1962
served with 6th Trans Co Lt Hel Korea 1962-1963 when all went Air Mobile from 8th Army to 1st Cav

Fred O. Bell, e-mail, 21.01.2009reply

I have fond memories of the old girl. Instructed in her at Ft. Rucker in '56, '57, '58 then transferred to Ft. Ord and flew her in the 33rd. Finished my last overseas tour flying her in the 8th Trans out of Qui Nhon, Vietnam. Great helicopter

Carl Norton, e-mail, 28.09.2008reply

I was trained as a helicopter repairman on the H-21 at Fort Eustis, Virgina, January 1964 through April 1964. Got my first ride in an H-21 then. Out of the 20 or so guys in my training class only two of us, Larry Black and I, were assigned to Viet Nam, both to the 120th Avn Co. I believe Larry later became a crew chief on UH-1s, can't remember if he flew in the 120th or the 145th Avn Bn. Of the other trainees, one was assigned to Hawaii, 3 or 4 to Alaska, and the rest went to Korea. Larry & I arrived in-country May 1, 1965 after being bumped from Pan Am at Clark AFB (Pan Am didn't want to get their plane shot up on the Commie holiday flying into Siagon) and flying the remainder of the flight via "Trans Wave Top" DC4 into Tan Son Nhut, Siagon (my fellow classmates bound for Korea were not so lucky, they went by troop ship both ways courtesy USN). By July 1964 all of us Helicopter Repairmen were retrained on the UH-1 and our H-21's were pickled for shipping stateside. We had two weeks of classroom training by Bell Tech Reps in our mess hall in the 120th Aviation Company compound at Tan Son Nhut and pronounced UH-1 qualified repairmen. My tour was concluded April 30, 1965 and my Army service was completed October 29, 1966. I didn't see another H-21 until I attended a 120th Avn Co. reunion in Springdale, Arkansas in 2000 and had the great fortune of flying in a fully restored H-21, courtesy of the late Max Hall (one of the original 120th Avn. Co. Razorback pilots). I missed this year's reunion but I beleive the aircraft is still flying. Maybe Bob Reinhard ( shed some light on that as well as Max's daughter, Robin Lundstrom ( . Mrs. Lundstrum keeps her father's memory alive and honors us Viet Nam vets by organizing and hosting the reunions. The H-21 was a neat aircraft to fly in but not an easy one to work on. One Sunday when our gunners were "unavailable" I was recruited by their Sergeant to fly as a gunner on a mission. We were a flight of two aircraft ferrying a Viet Namese Colonel and his troops around to various villages. Our pilots made a mistake of landing in a fenced in area in one village. When it came time to depart, it was midafternoon, hot and our pilots determined we couldn't make a normal takeoff. Since all suggestions to take down the fence were met with negative responses by the village chief we were stuck until our lead pilot decided we could possibly have enough room if we took off from corner to corner. So he fired-up the bird, lifted the backend up & backed over the fence post as far as he could, then raced toward the opposite corner on the nose wheel, yanked collective to pop over the the other fence post, came down on the ground on the other side & continued running on the nose wheel until he gained full flying speed. My pilot said , "If he can do it so can we." And we did. To this wannabe pilot it was exciting but to my pilot a lesson learned I'm sure. One of many they learned in their everyday struggle to bring their aircraft and cargo back safely. I tip my hat to all of you aircrew members who flew daily missions and survived and say a prayer for those who didn't.
Carl Norton, 98th Trans Detachment, 120th Avn. Co., 145th Avn. Bn., RVN May 1964 - April 1965.

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