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

Comments1-20 21-40 41-60 61-80 81-100 101-120
dave dunstan, e-mail, 17.02.2016reply

dave dunstan-H21 Mech- Elmendorff anchorage Alaska 1960-1967

Chuck Calhoun, e-mail, 09.01.2016reply

I was in the 57th Trans. co Ft. Lewis Wa we were the first H-21 off the USNS core at the head of todo st. I belive it was Sgt Barlow who picked five of us to be the first door gunners in the 57th I think it was the ones he didnt like. I seen one name on this site I reconized Don Franklin. It would be interesting to see if there are any of that crew still around I am getting a little long in the tooth.

Michael Bower, e-mail, 04.08.2015reply

Jerry Jordan I just read your story about a man by the name of Charles Bramer and the man you described sounds exactly like my grandfather right down to the briefcase full of his favorite beverage...I'm guessing it was beer. He gave me my first taste of PBR when I was just a little shit and I've been hooked ever since. Could you please contact me if you see this? Thank you and thank all of you for your service and sacrifices for this great country.

Michael Bower, e-mail, 04.08.2015reply

looking for friends, army buddies of my grandfather...CWO W-2 Charles L Brameier.I know he flew the H-21 in Korea. I believe he was in one of the first company that were assigned to the region. Would love to hear from anyone who may remember him. I also have a couple of pictures I would like to share from his time in country. Thank you for your time.

Douglas Nelms, e-mail, 28.05.2015reply

I'm currently writing a feature for Professional Pilot magazine on the Army's VIP flight detachment (12th Avn. Bn) at Davison Army Airfield. Looking for any historical information I can find on the VH-21s that were there in 1968 when I arrived as a CW-2 straight out of Vietnam. We flew them out to Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona in 1969 to be replaced with Hueys. Did anyone fly the VH-21s at Davison who can provide a bit of history on them?

Colin McKeeman, e-mail, 18.02.2022 Douglas Nelms

I am an aviation historian currently researching the individual history of all H-21 produced and wonder did you get any response to your query on the VH-21s at Davison AAF?
If so, I would like to see that article you were writing for Professional Pilot magazine.
Colin McKeeman


Jonathan Flowers, e-mail, 22.05.2015reply

05.21.2015 Drafted, 2 /3 Dec 65, trained at Fort Rucker on UH-1 and Ch-21, arrived in Alaska, in the old 80th, became TMHC so, 19 Avn Bat. Enjoyed working on the aircraft. Served under 1st Sgt Lowery.

Thomas McAlpine, e-mail, 07.09.2021 Jonathan Flowers

1964-1966, 19th aviation battalion, 33 4th trans. Det. Fort Richardson, I remember sgt. Lowery, it was good duty up therefore


Albert, e-mail, 21.05.2015reply

I love this Chopper...I was in the 80th trans. co. Ft. Rich, Alaska, 11 /62 - 10 /64...WSMR, NM. 11 /64 - 6 /65...I enjoyed the "BIG BABY" !!!

Jon Stillman, e-mail, 14.01.2013reply

120th. Read Al DeMello's comments and it brought back a number of memories. I was a Lieutenant with first the 57th Trans Company that got redesignated to become the 120th. Tom Stewart and I arrived the same day in March of 1963. We had been in flight school together. Captain Bernie Quedens was our first boss as the operations officer. I remember the day that a server wind storm hit and knocked over a number of our H-21s. Remember another day when we were staging out of My Tho and we were shut down on the air strip waiting for orders to crank up. Along came this guy with two ammunition containers along with a couple of machine-gun belt of ammo over his shoulders. Came up to our ship , dropped the cans on the floor of the ship and and asked where do you want me? You may have guessed it - that guy was General Stillwell. So many great memories. Spent three tours in Vietnam but the one with the greatest memories was the first with super folks and the CH-21. Have a lot more stories.

Donald RAY FOSTER, e-mail, 14.11.2014reply

These plain are so amazing.

Joseph L. R. Pinard, e-mail, 17.09.2013reply

Here is a true historical Army Aviation accomplishment. As
ONE of the assigned Pilot to the 65th Helicopter COMPANY IN
early 1957 I was also the Unit supply office along with many other miscellanious additional duties. The army at that time did not have any Flight Helmets. I wrote a letter to the Post Safety office and a copy furnished to th
Quartermaster General at Fort Lee near Richmond for his input. Shortly thereafter we approval to get funds from the consolidated supply division at Fort Eutis Thru the safety office and approval from the Battalion Commander to
proceed to the Airforce Supply Depot in Mansfield Ohio to
pick up the FIRST ALLOTTMENT OF FLIGHT HELMETS TO BE ISSUED TO AN ARMY UNIT. I Personally flew there to pick up
our flight helmets and returned to Fort Eustis with the

ADC William Fury, e-mail, 20.11.2014reply

In the 60s ,I worked for NYA (New York Airways) Just got out of the Navy, working on the S 55s and 58s ,Hups and Bells In NYAs we had the Vertol 44 ,Civilian Model ,She had a 1820-103 Engine ,flotation Gear and Airline cabin features , flew from Airport to Airport ,off the Pan Am building & west 40th st Manhattan helo port. We would Change a Engine in 4 hours,ready for Flight! We overhauled the Transmissions and Mid Gear box in our hanger . Installing the Clutch pack was a Dousey! trying to line up those outer Plates ,to the Bells Splines We had one go down on the Van Wyck expressway service Road ,Blew a Jug ,had to tow it back to National Airlines Hanger in JFK ,to change the Engine ,put a hole in the port access door, exchanged it for a Hanger Queen ,had five of them ,carried 25 passengers, We took all the seats out and installed Movie cameras for the Filming of West Side Story ,Opening Shots of New York Sky line ,into the Bronx ,took 6 wks to get it Right ,Boy ! that Natalie Wood was a pretty Woman . We flew them for a few yrs ,and went to the S 61 ,pan Am was surposed to buy our Company ,Both went Belly up . I have a picture of the V44 on togetherweserved,com on my Profile . Your E mails have these = marks in them .got to take them out for the Address to Work

FRED GROSS, e-mail, 26.07.2010reply

i was a door gunner in nam in in june of 63 we had 30.s mg,s mounted on a bar at both doors which swang at out to let the troops in or out..... it had no stops on the pindal so you had to watch out not to shoot the rotor tips off or the landing wheels as well it was with the 8 th trans which changed to 111or 115 air btn we had gutted the insides to get lift out of them as they were built for the cold weather the pilots put the flak jackets on the floor of the cocpit for protecton we sat on low stools covered with our flak jackets as well it was called camp goldberg in memorey of the pilot shot down quion noin on the coast north of sigion south of na trang

FRED GROSS, e-mail, 26.07.2010reply

i was a door gunner in nam in in june of 63 we had 30.s mg,s mounted on a bar at both doors which swang at out to let the troops in or out..... it had no stops on the pindal so you had to watch out not to shoot the rotor tips off or the landing wheels as well it was with the 8 th trans which changed to 111or 115 117 air btn we had gutted the insides to get lift out of them as they were built for the cold weather the pilots put the flak jackets on the floor of the cocpit for protecton we sat on low stools covered with our flak jackets as well it was called camp goldberg in memorey of the pilot shot down quion noin on the coast north of sigion south of na trang the NAME WAS PINEAPPLE PRINCESS IT HAD 2 PINEAPPLES ON THE SIDE FORE KILLS

Rich Bushno, e-mail, 31.07.2010reply

I was a crew chief on 62067 at Ft. Belvoir VA in 1966-67 I loved my banana. It was always reliable. I flew many missions out of Davidson Airfield VA. Even flew in and out of the pentagon.

Ronald A Stevick, e-mail, 09.08.2010reply

Iwas in the 33rd Transportation Co at Ft Riley & Ft Ord Calif. All of 1957 to Jan. 18th 1958.

Jess Browning, e-mail, 31.08.2010reply

I went through the Transportation School at Ft. Eustice, VA in 1957, joined the 545th Trans Det. at Ft. Riley, Kansas in the fall of 1957, and was there until fall of 58. While there, a group of us were transfered to the 334th Trans. Det. and followed a bunch of H-21's to Ft. Richardson Alaska in September of 1958. I was a mechanic in airframe maintenance and our crew was kept very busy repairing landing damage and vibration cracks. When the H-21 flight first arrived at Ft. Rich, and was landing, one of the craft drifted sideways tearing off the left main gear. The craft had not settled and had to hover until a cradle could be made for it to sit on without rolling over. The repair job should have been done at a depot in the States, but the powers to be couldn't work it out. To complicate the problem, a whole new belly skin with compound curves was needed but not available. We found an that Air Force H-21 had crashed in the boonies about 100 miles north of Anchorage several years earlier, so we loaded up an H-21 with air compressor and sheet metal tools and took off to salvage the part we needed. It was a successful and very interesting trip, especially flying low across the tundra. With the new skin, we had the damaged H-21 back in the air after a few months work. Another time, a H-21 crew fighting a forest fire in the mountains south of Anchorage landed hard due to fire induced down-drafts and lost a nose gear. Again we loaded up a H-21 with compressor and tools and spent several days in the field on the mountain side repairing the nose gear. During the winter of 1958-59, our detachment spent two weeks of survival training north of Palmer where the temperature dropped to 30 below for most of the time. We used a lot of gasoline for heating and used several H-21's for delivering 50 gallon barrels of fuel to outlying camps, dropping vertically through tall stands of trees with very little rotor blade clearance to land. One day we loaded up an H-21 with high explosives and flew several dozen miles away to a frozen lake to set off a blast that would resemble an atomic bomb. I have a color picture of the H-21 sitting on the ice in its arctic colors of white and orange that I took before we reloaded and got out of there. The explosives were detonated and the simulated atomic blast was successful - it was all an impressive sight.

I had a lot of respect for the H-21 and the people who worked on them and flew them. Although I was at Ft. Rich for two years from Sept. 58 to Sept 60, I lived off base with my wife and spent most of my spare time building a house, I didn't get to know the guys in my outfit as well as I should have and as a result haven't kept in touch. So if any of you were at Ft. Rich when I was, it would be great to hear from you.

William Fury, e-mail, 06.11.2010reply

we had the Civilian Version of the 121 ,We called it The Vertol 44B ,NY Airways Helicopter Service Operated these A /C for about 4 yrs .We Overhauled most of the A /C and Components . Kinda made a Mess when the R1820-103 blew a Jug out the Side of the A /C and the Cooling Fan lost its Blades on take off .We carried 25 passengers and Cargo She was a pretty reliable A /C Worked 2 yrs for them (A /C Mech)Note: I hated Installing those Mid Case Clutches .Pain in the Butt to Line up ,Sitting Backwards

Leni, e-mail, 16.04.2020 William Fury

Dear William,

This is Leni from Shenzhen Eastern General Aviation in China.
Our company is going to build a helicopter musuem. Therefore we are looking for some historic helis to purchase for exhibition.
If you know any H21 available for sale, please let me know.

Many thanks and take care in the epidemic situation.

Best Regards,


Marvin Ficklin, e-mail, 13.12.2010reply

I transitioned into the H21C in the spring of 1955 at Fort Riley Kansas. I was assigned to the 3rd Helicopter Company, Davidson Army Airfield, Va. Did the mission to Camp David with Pres. Eisenhowr and NSC 1 Dec 1955. Great aircraft.

Ed Lauria, e-mail, 16.01.2011reply

During the Viet Nam war I was a reservist in the New York City area and I was an Instructor pilot on the CH 21 that we had stationed at Miller field Staten Island. Since I was the only pilot in the area qualified to fly it I was called on to carry each and every dignitary that arrived. Many flights from Floyd Bennett to Governors Island. (We would also land fix wing on Governors Island). The most notable of my flights was the tour of NYC I flew with Robert Kennedy. I loved that machine and would love to lift it up one more time.

H. E. Kroiz, e-mail, 17.01.2011reply

The head of engineering for Piasecki, and then Boeing Vertol, L.L. Douglas, also was the head engineer for the development of the Chinook helicopter. Interestingly, on a service problem for the French H-21's, when they were in Indo China, he was forcibly impressed into the French Foreign Legion. They refused to let him leave until the problem was solved. He stayed there for a month with them. He thus became the only Boeing employee to have ever been impressed into a foreign army. He was decorated by the French, and became an honorary member of the French H-21 Helicopter Group.

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