Piasecki was ‘pioneer in establishing helicopter industry’

Aviation pioneer Frank Piasecki, inventor of the tandem-rotor helicopter used in troop-transport missions and land and sea rescue flights, has died. He was 88.

Piasecki’s wife, Vivian, was with him when he fell ill and died on February 11 at his home in Havertown, Pennsylvania. The cause of his death had not been determined but he had suffered several recent strokes, his son, John Piasecki, said afterwards.

Piasecki was born in 1919 in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, and was involved in the earliest days of helicopters. Igor Sikorsky became the first American to build and fly a helicopter, in 1941, and Piasecki became the second, in 1943.

”He was one of the original inventors of the helicopter and a pioneer in establishing the helicopter industry,” John Piasecki said. ”He was the last of that generation that really created an entirely new industry.”

In the 1940s, Piasecki invented the twin-rotor craft that was developed into the Army Chinook and Navy Sea Knight helicopters still operating today. The Chinook was used for long-distance troop-ferrying in Vietnam in the 1960s, and newer models continue to fly special-operations missions.

Piasecki eventually left Piasecki Helicopter Company. In 1955, he formed Piasecki Aircraft to continue exploring new technology. Piasecki Helicopter became Vertol Aircraft and was acquired by Boeing in 1960. Boeing now manufactures the Chinook and Sea Knight helicopters at its Ridley Township plant.

Piasecki was still chief executive of Piasecki Aircraft, and testing is under way on his latest invention. In place of a sideways-facing tail rotor, the Speed Hawk helicopter has a rear-facing ducted propeller designed to improve stability and forward speed.

”He continued working up to the end — an incredible mind — the unique combination of a great imagination and sense of possibility coupled with the perseverance to bring those ideas to reality,” John Piasecki said.

Though he lived most of his life in Delaware county, Piasecki was strongly aware of his family’s Polish ties. At president George Bush Snr’s request, he traveled to Poland after the fall of the Berlin Wall to help its aircraft industry. — Sapa-AP

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