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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oscar brooksby, e-mail, 12.02.2012reply

I was sent Soc Trang as Aircraft Engine Mechanic Nov 1962 to Nov 1963. Was in Sagon when VN Pres Knu was killed. I was on leave in Las Vegas when Prsident Kennedy was assinated. I served with the 80th Detachment 193 Transportation Co. My job was to try to keep 20 H21C in the air with almost no replacement parts. We flew combat support for the ARVN troops. Which means we loaded 20 VN soldiers all in combat gear, Two pilots, a crew cheif and 1 door 30 caliber machine gunner. Every time the VC would hit a village we would send 20 loaded H21s sometimes carring a artillery piece under on a sling. This makes harry take of since the aircraft had to get a run to gain airspeed, sometimes running out of runway before able to get airborne with a canal runnig along side the field.
We lost a lot of Men and Helicopters that year. Many times I had to go on this missions as a gunner, but just as many times I was sent to retreive downed craft which amounted to compete engine changes in the field or repair them to get them able to fly back to base. I would like to hear from any one from the 80th trans during that time.

Jim Fuss, e-mail, 31.05.2012reply

korea-- 1959-1960 151ST Maint Det to 13th Trans Co Camp Stanley Korea-- airframe repair. on H-21

Scott Ward, e-mail, 08.06.2012reply

Does anyone know what the rotor blades were made from, i.e. composite, wood, aluminum /honeycomb construction? Working on a restoration and curious...any suggestions to make new blades...wood, what type?

Ken Boltz, e-mail, 05.12.2013reply

I served with Tom Beamon in A Co 2d inf Div in Korea. I crewed 55-4202 in Korea. I was involved with the flood rescue work during the monsoon in 66.Had my first engine failure in Aug or Sept 66 while on a test flight with SP6 John Beaty and Capt Edward D Collins in Ascom.

Larry Pitzer, e-mail, 02.08.2012reply

I served with the 6th trans co. lt. helicopter in Ota Japan, from nov56 to apr58. The company had h-19,s and transitioned to h-21's around aug56. We also had 2 h-13s and 1 L-19. Our h21s were 1955 models, and seemed a little under powered to me. Our ships had no armor and no weapons.

John Medau, e-mail, 26.12.2013reply

After helicopter maintenance school June to October 1962 Fort Rucker, Al, all of my class received orders to Vietnam. When we arrived in Vietnam we were split up between the four H-21 companies of the 45th trans bn.{later to become the 145th Av. Bn.) I was stationed with the 57th Trans. Co.(later to become the 120th Av. Co.) at Tan Son Nhut. I started flying in the H-21 as a gunner and later become a crew chief. My H-21 was destroyed on "Black Tuesday" by high winds that came through the airport shortly after we had left the flight line. 12 of our 21's were destroyed. Four of our air crew and 3 of the flight crew from the 93rd Trans. Co. were shot down and killed in Jan. 1963. Lost a friend Donald Braman, with the 93rd, in the "battle of Ap Bac" that was shot down and died before he could receive aid. Still can't match the excitement of air assaults in the 21. My favorite memories' of the 21 was tracking rotor blades, loved it. I left the 120th Av. Co., to go to training on the CH-47, in October 1963. On to the 11th Air Assault Div. and Chinooks.
Saw the CH-21 that belongs to the Classic Rotors Museum this October at an air show at Los Alamitos military base in Southern California. Still flying, can't keep the old girl down!!

Colin McKeeman, e-mail, 18.02.2022 John Medau

I am presently researching the individual history of all H-21s produced and wonder do you happen to know the tail number of your H-21 that was destroyed in SVN by the "Black Tuesday" storm, or indeed any of the machines damaged?
Hope you don't mind me contacting you.
Colin McKeeman


Al DeMello, e-mail, 25.08.2012reply

120 th. May63-May 64 Was crew chief on H-21 # 56-02091. Yes a bit underpowered but always got me home to Tan Son Nhut
I sure do miss the old girl,wish I could fly in one 1 more time before I head to that hanger in the sky. Remember"Larry" Larioso,Lt.Bullard, Rodger Rogers,Major Donovan,General Stillwell. As a test we mounted M-60's under the nose of 56-02091 and Stillwell rode left seat and burned every barrel up,all 4 of them,still have pictures of that circus. Anybody out there to trade memories e-mail me at
Al DeMello

Dale R Meneau, e-mail, 07.06.2010reply

I was a mechanic with the 80th Transportation Helicopter Co. in Alaska from March 1960 to July 1962. I still have contact with several of my fellow unit buddies form the 80th.

Lonnie Bryan, e-mail, 07.05.2010reply

For: L.H.Cutting
Have you found a model of a H-21 yet? If not,Italeri SPA, Via Pradazzo 6 /B, Caladerara Di Reno(BO) Italy makes a 1:72 scale model. Maybe you can find an e-mail site for them. If you cannot locate a model, e-mail me. I might be able to
help you get one.

Paul St Hilaire, e-mail, 19.07.2010reply

I arrived at Fort Devens in September 1957 with the 93 Transportation Co, after my training in Fort Rucker Alabama. I was with the 93rd trans co until i left for fliegohorst germany to the 503 trans co in October 1958. I mwas surprised to find some of my old buddies from Fort Devens in the late 1959. I still have fond memories of the H21, I still remember some of the tail numbers of the ships.

Colin McKeeman, e-mail, 18.02.2022 Paul St Hilaire

I am an aviation historian presently researching the individual history of all H-21s produced and would be delighted to hear of any of the tail-numbers that you can recall from your time with the 93rd TC or any other units.
Photographs would be a bonus!
Thanks and regards,
Colin McKeeman


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.

Paul Nordan, e-mail, 06.08.2023 Tom Beamon

I replied to your post a year or so ago about h-21s in korea. I was there 64 & 65 and I think we crewed the same aircraft. I lost my year books and would love to if possible to get a replacement. If you get this could you take a picture of publisher info and send me.
Paul Nordan


Paul Nordan, e-mail, 12.11.2022 Tom Beamon

I crewed CH-21's in Korea Dec 1964-Dec 1965. I think 183 was my ship as well. Somehow lost my yearbook so not sure. We were originally in 7th Infantry Div, Camp Stanley(I believe) but airfield was in I Corps, an Engineering outfit. The 7th Avn Bn, we had 16 CH21s. Mid 1965 we were all transferred to 2nd Aviation in Ascom. The Army was pulling most pilots to transition to Huey's for Vietnam. If you have pictures or yearbook I would love to see them. We had a Yearbook for the 7th and for the 2nd.


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