Is it an H-5? Is it a Dragonfly? No, it’s an S-51, Part 1

The first helicopter accepted by the Canadian armed forces, the Sikorsky S-51 of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, Spring 1947. Anon., “Advertising – Canadian Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company Limited.” Canadian Aviation, August 1947, 2nd cover.

While most of the prototypes found in the aircraft collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, in Ottawa, Ontario, attract the attention of the specialised press when they first come out, the same cannot be said of the run of the mill aircraft on display or in storage. Given this state of affair, the writer of these lines was tickled pink when he came across this full page ad, published in the August 1947 issue of the monthly magazine Canadian Aviation.


The Canadian government has further established its defence services as one of the most up-to-date in the world by its recent purchase of three Sikorsky S-51 Helicopters for the Department of National Defence. Dressed in silver and bearing the familiar R.C.A.F. markings, these wingless aircraft will be used in the combined operations of the Army, Navy and Airforce. Their military value has been widely recognized and accepted for such tasks as army liaison and communication work, observation, rescue and ambulance duty.

They are also expected to prove invaluable in the newly formed R.C.A.F. Air-Sea Rescue Group which, in addition to its military duties, will protect the civilian air routes over Canada. The ability of the helicopter to evacuate injured personnel from otherwise inaccessible areas was clearly demonstrated following the unfortunate airliner incident near Gander, Newfoundland.

The helicopter, which can fly backwards, forwards and sideways, ascend and descend vertically, or hover indefinitely at tree-top level, is rapidly proving its value for many other civilian tasks. Of these tasks, surveying, photographing and mapping, dusting and spraying of crops, timber cruising, feeder airline service and transportation of cargo over rugged terrain, inaccessible to conventional aircraft, are but a few examples.

Why am I interested in this photo, you ask, my reading friend? Because the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) helicopter in the photo joined the collection of what is now the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in September 1964, that’s why. Indeed, this writer invites you to drop by to take a peek at the second part of this essay. Said part may answer a few of your questions concerning this helicopter, questions you did not even know you wanted to ask. Come on, we dare you.

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Rénald Fortier