MCMINNVILLE, Ore – Tues., Aug. 2, 2006— The Evergreen Aviation Museum is famous for the biggest flying boat, the Howard Hughes’ Spruce Goose, and the fastest aircraft ever built, the SR-71 Blackbird, but now visitors can also see one of the smallest – the Hiller Rotorcycle. This Korean War-era helicopter was designed by Stanley Hiller to help downed pilots evade enemy capture. Small enough to fit into a pod slung under an aircraft, the collapsible Rotorcycle could be dropped by parachute and assembled in minutes with no special tools. Pilots could conceivably strap themselves into the craft for a quick and safe getaway.
One man assembles a Hiller Rotorcycle, while another flies above - Courtesy Hiller Aviation Museum
“It’s a one-man machine,” Aaron Warkentin, the museum’s registrar, said. “It’s like a motorcycle for the sky.”
The Rotorcycle’s dimensions speak for themselves; the aircraft measures in at less than 19 feet long and less than 8 feet high with a weight of only 290 pounds. Compared to other helicopters, the Rotorcycle is modest. The 1952 Bell OH-13E utility helicopter, as seen in the TV show “M*A*S*H,” measures about 27 feet long, 10 feet high and weighs 1,730 pounds by comparison.
In fact, the Rotorcycle may fool passers-by as it has few characteristics of a stereotypical helicopter. There are no doors, windows, or enclosed space. The craft resembles an oversized chair with a tail, rotor and, suspended above the pilot, a long pole for steering.
Hiller won the 1954 Navy Bureau of Aeronautics contract to build a one-person helicopter because of the innovative design featuring his patented “Rotormatic” gyro-stabilization system which connects to the main rotor and allows for easy flying. The Rotorcycle also utilized a Nelson H-59, two cycle, 40 horsepower, four-cylinder engine rather than an air-cooled engine.
Plans for the Rotorcycle saw it not just as an escape craft but also as a vehicle from which infantrymen could descend to the ground quickly for strategic missions. The expectation was that a pilot could fly the helicopter after just eight hours of instruction.
The first Rotorcycle flew in 1957. English aircraft manufacturer Sanders Roe was contracted to build 10 more between 1959 and 1961; Evergreen Aviation Museum’s Rotorcycle is the third built of those 10. Only a handful of these helicopters are in existence as the military canceled testing before the Rotorcycle entered service and halted production at number 12. Several Rotorcycles are unaccounted for or missing, and just a couple are in museums.
The Rotorcycle is on loan from Hiller’s son, Stephen Hiller, in San Carlos, Cal. It can be viewed at the Evergreen Aviation Museum daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
The Evergreen Aviation Museum is best known as the home of the world’s largest wooden airplane, the Spruce Goose, SR-71 Blackbird, the Titan II SLV Missile and the Grumman F6F-3 Hellcat. In addition, there are more than 80 historic aircraft and exhibits on display, along with artwork, traveling displays, the Spruce Goose Café and the newly remodeled Rotors, Wings & Things store. The Evergreen Aviation Museum’s hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m, daily except when it is closed for Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day and Easter. The Museum is located at 500 NE Captain Michael King Smith Way, across the highway from the McMinnville Airport and about three miles southeast of McMinnville, Ore., on Highway 18. Regular visitor admission is required. Call (503) 434-4180 for more information.
About Stanley Hiller
Stanley Hiller Jr. developed and flew his first helicopter in 1944 at the age of 19, just one year after he founded United Helicopters, later called Hiller Aircraft Corporation. Researchers at his company Hiller Helicopters had a reputation for ingenuity in vertical flight. Hiller’s accomplishments include the first helicopter flown in the western U.S. – a fabric-covered craft that he flew himself without having trained or even seeing a helicopter fly before. Hiller Helicopters later became the first American company to produce helicopters without military sponsorship. Hiller began studying at the University of California at Berkeley at age 16 but only stayed there for a year before focusing on aviation. He died on April 20, 2006.
Source: Evergreen Aviation Museum
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