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.

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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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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.

Hiawatha Oakes, e-mail, 07.09.2008reply

Another fact; one of the first group of helicopters that departed the U.S. in December of 1961 heading to Viet Nam were from the 1st Infantry Div 1st Aviation Co Fort Riley Kansas. I shiped out from the 1st Av Co Fort Riley, in July 62 and arrived in country 3 August 62. I was so very dissapointed that the aircraft and peronel of the 1st Av Co of the Big Red One was renamed the 8th Trans; and then renamed the 117th in June or July of 63. Needles to say I was as proud as any one could be to have been a part of the "Big Red One". Also not to be forgoten is that personel of the 25th Inf Div. arrived in Viet Nam in 63 and some of them became door gunners for the 8th Trans, and other units in country. At first we crew chiefs were not happy to have our assistant crew chiefs (and Door gunners) replaced with the 25th folks however it all worked out in the long run, and we all became one big band of brothers. Please note that my memory of events have fadded, however anyone feeling that any of my statements are incorect please feel free to correct me. Thanks and my very best to all of my brothers in arms.

Hiawatha Oakes, e-mail, 07.09.2008reply

A fact of interest. The 8th Trans removed both Vertical stabilizers on all It's Helicopters. and 30 cal's in both doors with M-1 carbines as secondary weapon plus any thing else you could get yor hands on. I had a Tompson sub 45 cal great weapon but heavey.

Hiawatha Oakes, e-mail, 07.09.2008reply

8th Trans Aug 1962 July 63. Technical Insp & Crew chief. I named my chopper the Blue Angel I cannot remember the tail number. Is any one out there who served with the 8th who remembers me or the Blue Angel? please give me info about what the tail number was. Or better yet any Photo of my aircraft.

Colin McKeeman, e-mail, 18.02.2022 Hiawatha Oakes

I think your 'bird' was 56-2087, as per my records (early history below):-

Completed by Vertol at Morton, PA by 10 /05 /1957 under US Army Contract AF-31537; accepted on 27 /06 /1957 and delivered to the US Army on 10 /07 /1957; Served in the Vietnam War, with 8 Transport Co /117 Assault Helicopter Co, in 1962-63, named "Blue Angel" and 1963 /64 named "Dragon Wagon".

I am an aviation historian presently researching the individual history of all H-21s constructed and would welcome any additional information on the type that you might have.

Colin McKeeman


Herman Howard, e-mail, 28.07.2008reply

I was a airframe repairman on H-21 in the 18-CHFM attached to the 65th 06-60 to 09-62 We were at Ft Eustis,VA then shiped to Ft Wainwright,AK Our ships were painted white with day glow nose and tails in Alaska.Looked like they were Coast Guard. Any of the old crew out their? e-mail me

Jerry Jordan USARET, e-mail, 06.07.2008reply

Marley Johnson ,you crewed H-21 s in west tx 57-58.I wwas assgined to ACR out of Hunter Leggit CA assigned to Ft Rucker,al in 1958,we had a few H-13s,2 H-19s 1 H-34 and 1 H-21 we had ablacksmith shop that built all our weapon racks and had a heck of a lot of fun trying to kill our selves,I was just a 17 year old punk out of West Tx{Lubbock},we had our share of wreaks with a few fatalities,I started out as an assistant c /e. We had a tty trip coming up at Ft.Bliss,tx the h21 crewchief cann't think of his name came around a few days before we were to go and asked if I would like to take the flight,well guess what!Now we will find out who is lifers who ain't,The H-21 pilot was and is CW2 Charlie Bramar,he was an old pilot,so I'm not afraidof offending him,but unbeknown to a 17 yr old kid he travelled with a brief case well stocked with his favorite bevs.Now don't get me wrong Charlie was one of best and fairest H-21 Drivers I ever flew with and believe me I have known and flown with a lot of the best.Back the you could swap assignment with just about anyone ,a kid came up on orders to Korea,Iswapped with him and headed to Korea After a long cold boat ride we landed in Inchon as we were going a shore in LSTsonother was carrying troops out for return to the world,As we were going in we passes an old junk with pappason hanging his bare but for the whole world to see,scared the hell out of me,I really started to wonder just what this kid was in for.after processig at AScom city we was loaded on a troop train.I was assigned the 151st fld Maint Det.w /CW2 CRoul co.I spent 18 months there and was reasigned to 3rd Trans at Ft Belvior,Va.Igot the re insept 60 .I was assigned to 153dr Fld Maint I was a brightyoung sp5ssgned to a SFC Mitchell as shop foreman.He let me know in no uncertain terms that he would put me in jail.Needless to say that made up my mind to reup fast,I still have orders to the day reducing to e-3 reuping and permoted back toe-5 all on one order.Mitchell hsd s wall eyedfit I couldn't do that He was going to jail me bal bal.I went back to Korea assigned to the Lucky 13 Trans Co.Istarted crewing 162,I stayed at the 13th{Hotel1}until 61whenLaos got warm I was moved down south to hotel6 6Trans Co.I was there until thanksgiving day 1962 the 5 years at the 13th and 6th trans was probably the highlights of my 20 years.Icame back toFt Belvoir,Va,I could't get away fromthat place. In 1963 I meet and married my wife of 44 years.Just after getting married, afriend and I was talking one Morning Flight school had bustewide open so,we got our stuff to gather went took the test got boarded,go everything oked and boom we both busted the damd test on self evulation..Col Woods was the airfield co.He called us in and chewed till there was nothing left.Fred was a sp6 so he came up with the hair braine ieda to go to OCS no way He went and pulled 2-3 tours with big Red and retired about 1982.Late 1965 CWO Elmer Cook called me one morning at the break room and said"jerry,do you still want to go to flight school"Now that was like asking a kid if he wanted to be locked in a candy store.Itold him that I had flunked the test and couldn't take it again,He laughed and said you have a waver and to make arrangements for a physical,he phy surgon a davidsonhand carried me through with flying colors.I talked another kid from Lubbock into going to usaphs.Iwas assigned toclass66-17to start inMarch 66.I hate it but I didn't complete the course after the 6 weekon the line I started getting morning sickness,went to the meds and doc asked if my wife was pregnet,Not to my knowledge,I wnet back a flew for a few more days and couldn't make it.I was sure were I would go so when I field out my dream seet I asked for Alaska,knowing I would never get it,I DID.I went to Fairbanksfor 21 /2 years.Got there and the unit had only on1 pilot a I became a plt sgt and my mainof function was left seat driver for the most my tour.that was my last connection with the 21 after a little over 15 years.For not having any idea as to what a helicopter was for,I can not think of any thing I could have done that would be more rewarding

Bob Reinhard, e-mail, 24.06.2008reply

Re "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.", I was in the 120th Avn Co, stationed at Tan Son Nhut; we were the last helicopter company to utilize the 21's; we transitioned to the UH-1 in the Spring 0f 1964. There were no 21's flying in VietNam in 1965.

George F Beaston, e-mail, 08.06.2008reply

Would love to get my hands on a model of the H-21C Shawnee. Flew one from Morton PA. (Piasaki) to Ft. Ord, CA in 1957.(33rd Trans. Co. Lt Hel)

Luca Casamassima, e-mail, 25.03.2008reply

Can I correspond with former H 21 gunners / Crew chief that served in Vietnam ?
Very best,

Mick, 13.03.2008reply

Any Microsoft Flight Simulator users out there? I made an H-21C add-on that's available as a free download, compatible with FSX (the current version of MS Flight Sim). There's also a lesser-featured version that's compatible with FS9. You can get it at

Don Franklin, e-mail, 25.01.2008reply

Served with the 57th Lt Hel company in South Vietnam and
we were stationed at Tan Son Nhut airport (Saigon) This
aircraft was seriously underpowered in hot weather. Our
pilots called our alightment to earth"controlled crash landings." Hello out there Mr. Eakins, Mr. Dunbar, Capt. Rudd. I gunned this bird with a lot of these pilots. We
were first in and the weapons were old WWII 30 cal. mg.
firing .30-06 ammo..

Jack Robertson, e-mail, 02.01.2008reply

I would like to hear from anyone that was in the 80th. trans. co. or the 334th. trans. det. from 1957-61

Donald R. Fox, e-mail, 12.12.2007reply

Was a Crew Chief on H-21C. 93d Trans Co (Lt Hel) (H-21) organized at Fort Riley, Kansas. Temporary duty (6 months) at Douglas, Ariz. This unit particpated in recovery work Grand Canyon Collision, two comercial airliners, June 30, 1956.
Also, served with the old 13th Hel Company (H-21C) in Korea, 1959-1960.
Loved this ole aircraft. Regards, Donald R. Fox, retired US Army

Mike Killarney, 23.11.2007reply

The Classic Rotors Museum in S. California has a beautiful CH-21 that they were flying to west coast air shows. I saw it fly at the Hiller Museum Vertical Challenge show about six years ago. They had it make some passes accompanied by a CH-47D and a CH-46. I crewed a CH-47A back in the 60's so this was a thrill.

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