Is it an H-5? Is it a Dragonfly? No, it’s an S-51, Part 3

The museum’s S-51, Rockcliffe, Ontario, 2 June 1967. CASM, Molson collection positive.

If this writer may be so bold, he has the feeling that the Sikorsky S-51 owned by the Canada Aviation and Space Museum, the very first helicopter flown by the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), is a plain and simple S-51, bought pretty much off the shelf. In other words, one might not want to call it an H-5 – or a Dragonfly for that matter. And here lies a tale.

The RCAF acquired three S-51s in 1947 to gain experience in helicopter operations in various terrains and under winter conditions. It received two more in 1948 with two more entering service in 1949. These helicopters were mainly used for training and experimental work. Three of the RCAF’s S-51s were written off over the years. The last one in service was taken off strength in 1965.

The museum’s machine was the 18th S-51 to come out of the production line. It was taken on strength at Rockcliffe, Ontario, on 5 April 1947. This helicopter moved a lot during its 17 and a half year career in the Canadian military. Operated as a trainer at Trenton, Ontario, in 1947-48, it moved to Edmonton, Alberta, where it flew with K Flight, a search and rescue unit, between 1948 and 1950. Overhauled and / or repaired in Trenton in 1950-51, the S-51 spent more than three years at Rivers, Manitoba, with the Canadian Joint Air Training School, where pilots of the Canadian Army, Royal Canadian Navy and RCAF learned their trade. Between 1954 and 1958, it flew with No. 105 Communications & Rescue Flight, a unit formerly known as K Flight now based in Cold Lake, Alberta. Moved to Chatham, New Brunswick, for storage, the S-51 was transferred to the collection of historic aircraft on display at Rockcliffe in September 1964. This collection was the starting point of today’s world renowned Canada Aviation and Space Museum. As of mid 2017, the museum’s S-51 was on display in Trenton, at the National Air Force Museum of Canada.

Incidentally, the first helicopter operated by Canada’s Department of Transport was also an S-51. This machine briefly flew from the department’s multipurpose Arctic vessel C.D. Howe, on its maiden voyage up North, in 1950. On 5 August, near Fort Chimo, now Kuujjuaq, Québec, an unhooked tether caused the S-51 to flip over the side of the ship as it took off. A passenger vanished without a trace.

An S-51 owned by the Sikorsky Aircraft Division of United Aircraft Corporation was involved in the first helicopter air mail flight in Canada. This experiment took place on 1 November 1946. Mail bags from a Douglas DC-3 airliner operated by Trans-Canada Air Lines (TCA), today’s Air Canada, flew from Uplands airport, today’s Ottawa Macdonald-Cartier International Airport, to the central post office, then located in downtown Ottawa. Igor Ivanovich Sikorsky himself was seemingly on board. And yes, the collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum includes a Douglas DC-3. Indeed, this airplane was the first DC-3 operated by TCA. By the way, my reading friend, did you know that the French language ads of this crown corporation used the expression Air Canada by the early 1940s at the latest?

It is worth noting that the Sikorsky Aircraft Division was represented in Canada by a sister company, Canadian Pratt & Whitney Aircraft Company Limited of Longueuil, Québec – today’s Pratt & Whitney Canada Incorporated, a world famous aeroengine manufacturer.

As interesting as this material may be, there is still a bit more to talk about but you will have to wait for it, gentle reader. Until then, enjoy the summer.

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Rénald Fortier