The Bell 47

Back in the late fifties, maybe the early sixties, there was a great TV show I really enjoyed.  The name of the show was The Whirlybirds.  It was a show featuring the Bell 47.  Today, is the 65th anniversary of the Bell 47 obtaining its commercial certification from the FAA.  Bell based their design of the Model 47 on their earlier Model 30 prototype.

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It is hard to imagine this tough little helicopter has been around since the mid 1940s. Bell made the first flight of the helicopter on December 8, 1945 and the company introduced the aircraft into service in 1946.  You would never imagine helicopters being around for as long a time. 

The earlier models sported different formats.  Some had open cockpits, a few had very basic enclosed sheet metal cabins, and others featured fabric cabins.  Originally, the aircraft came with wheels for landing, four total.

It was not until 1953 with the introduction of the -G model that the aircraft took on its ubiquitous persona replete with bubble canopy, an open steel-tube empennage, and landings skids instead of wheels.

The aircraft was crewed by one or two pilots, and has the capacity to carry two litters when pressed into medical evacuation, or medevac duties.  This was a role in which the Bell 47 excelled.  In fact, during the Korean War, this helicopter and the pilots who flew them became pioneers in developing medevac procedures.  The Bell 47 was the grand-pappy of all medevac helicopters and procedures.  For the first time in the history of warfare, the Army was capable of moving a wounded soldier from the battlefield to a field surgical unit and then to a real hospital in a very short time.

The television show, M*A*S*H, opened with scenes of a Bell 47 carrying wounded soldiers to a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, hence the name M*A*S*H.  The 4077th MASH Unit, of course, was fictional.  There were however, a total of seven MASH units operating in the Korean theater. These included the 8054th, 8055th, 8063rd, 8076th, 8209th, 8225th, and the 8228th.

The aircraft was amazingly heavy with an empty weight of almost 1900 pounds.  The useful load brought the aircraft’s operating weight to a total of 2950 pounds.  This allowed for one pilot and in the case of the later models, up to two passengers.  Fuel capacity ranged from 43 gallons to 61.6 gallons based on the model of aircraft.

The -G model aircraft had engines installed that included the 200 horsepower Franklin on the lower end of the scale, to the 260 horsepower Lycoming at the high. More powerful engines were employed on later models. Approximate fuel flow amounted to approximately 12 gallons per hour to more than 14 gph.  This limited range of the aircraft to as few as 214 nautical miles.  The helicopter was not fast by any stretch of imagination.  Its top speed was 91 knots and the average cruise speed placed the airspeed needle squarely at 73 knots.

In addition to serving as a medical helicopter in Korea, the Bell 47 served as the primary training aircraft for the U.S. as well as other countries.  Today the Bell 47 is retired from military service.

Like many veterans, the old helicopter spends its time visiting old friends at air shows around the country.


© 2011 J. Clark

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1 Response to The Bell 47

  1. Ardis says:

    I remember The Whirlybirds! I used to go outside or into another room to play when it came on. I just wasn’t interested at the time. That’s probably because I didn’t know you then.

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