Gunslingers in Action (Aircraft 14)
By Lou Drendel
Publisher: Squadron/Signal Publications 1979 51 Pages
PDF 11 MB
As is often the case with an innovative invention, the offensive potential of the helicopter was largely overlooked during it's early operational employment. The vision and foresight of Army planners was stifled by several factors. The prototype Sikorsky XR-4 was tested by the Army Material Center at Wright Field, but the inherent instability of the first helicopter was discouraging, and the immediacy of mid-1942 problems dictated development of more conventional aerial gun-platforms. The helicopter gunship was not completely forgotten during World War II, for the promise of tactical mobility and firepower kept testing programs alive.
It took the creation of the United States Air Force, and the emasculation of Army Aviation to halt development programs in the United States. The Air Force jealously guarded their newly won sovereignty, and it was not until 1950 that the Army and Bell collaborated on experimentally arming the OH-13 helicopter. The first use of the armed helicopter in combat is variously credited to the U.S. Army in Korea, (an OH-13 with a bazooka) or to the French in Indochina. (Either an OH-13 with machine gunners riding the side-mounted litters, or H-21's with 20mm cannon, depending upon whose version you believe.) The French are also credited with employing a wide range of weaponry in a variety of helicopters during their abortive struggle to maintain their hold on Algeria. Several of these experiments, which were often the result of imaginative tamperings, provided the basis of later and more formal developmental work on the helicopter gunship. But without official sanction, or high-level impetus, the armed helicopter development program floundered in limbo. It took a visionary with enough faith, and enough rank, to put the program on it's feet.
Brigadier General Carl Hutton had the rank, the vision, and a healthy determination to get the Army back into the sky. The Army wasn't thinking of limited wars in 1956, but General Hutton envisioned a 100 percent armed mobile force for employment on the nuclear battlefield. He asked Colonel Jay D. Vanderpool to form the prototype unit.