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Walter J. Boyne, New York Times best-selling author and founder of Air & Space magazine, documents the remarkable story of the helicopter's influence on military tactics. In a controversial look at ...
Walter J. Boyne, New York Times best-selling author and founder of Air & Space magazine, documents the remarkable story of the helicopter's influence on military tactics. In a controversial look at the history of its development, the author points out that the machine's current design is decades behind its time.
As a result, helicopter casualty rates in Middle Eastern operations exceed those of the Vietnam War. Exploring the consequences of further delays in advancing helicopter technology, Boyne calls for a return to the drawing board to save lives and increase tactical effectiveness.
Chapter 1 The Helicopter Goes to War 35
Chapter 2 Carving a Combat Niche 53
Chapter 3 Helicopter Development 77
Chapter 4 Early Days in Vietnam 106
Chapter 5 Vietnam, 1967: Changes in Scale, Tactics, and Results 136
Chapter 6 The Helicopter as an Instrument of Compassion 158
Chapter 7 Changes in Helicopters, Changes in Warfare 181
Chapter 8 Helicopter Development and Deployment in the U.S.S.R. 209
Chapter 9 Operations in the Near East 230
Chapter 10 Other Wars and the Growth of Foreign Helicopter Technology 249
Chapter 11 The Helicopter Today and Tomorrow 275
Appendix 1 From Before Leonardo da Vinci to 1939: The Development of the Helicopter 300
Appendix 2 Specifications 322
Posted April 19, 2011
From its introduction to warfare in the 1940s to its role in Middle East operations, the helicopter has had a profound effect on military tactics and techniques. It has evolved from a means of transport to a precise component of the Special Operations Force. Apart from the challenges its design faced on the battlefield, this rotary-wing aircraft also faced opposition from the very military that employed it.
Author Walter J. Boyne leads readers through production designs and their connection to specific military strategies that helped the helicopter define its role in combat. He assigns cardinal importance to three of the early helicopter pioneers in the United States-Igor Sikorsky, Frank Piasecki, and Arthur Young-in the establishment of the industry. He also notes that as the industry grew larger, as procurement quantities increased, and as the services became more demanding in their requirements, the efforts of such pioneers was diluted. Considerations of logistics, spare parts, modifications, and per-unit cost began to drive the design parameters, forcing a more corporate guise upon the industry. Still, it is important to recognize that the influence of the three pioneers-Sikorsky, Piasecki and Young-can still be seen today in service helicopters.
Although its contributions to reconnaissance, transport, assault, and attack made it an invaluable tool during warfare, the helicopter suffered from the different services' focus on other arms and technology. Boyne expresses a vigorous frustration that, due to several equally patriotic, well-intended leaders who had different agendas and priorities, the current helicopter design is still outdated by thirty to forty years, leading to an unacceptable number of casualties. There is no correspondence whatsoeve between the advances in tactical fixed-wing aircraft design-stealth, precision-guided munitions, speed and range, and the advances in helicopter design. And the difference in these advances is magnified by the fact that current fixed-wing tactics can keep the pilot and the aircraft miles from the target, while the helicopter is still required to fly into hot landing zones, prey to everything from rifles to rocket propelled grenades to guided missiles.
Throughout Boyne's analysis, he highlights the great strides that the helicopter has made and those who have believed in its potential. He pays tribute to Vietnam's DUSTOFF crews, who flew into the middle of combat to rescue wounded soldiers. Crediting General Bill Creech with revolutionizing the Tactical Air Command, Boyne points out how this one man's contributions are continuing to serve American troops well in the Middle East. He emphasizes that the lack of a single leader such as Creech has handicapped the development of the helicopter, and suggests that a new approach to helicopter procurement be made. The new approach should avoid inter- and intra-service rivalries, avoid trying to incorporate too many new advances into a single design, and to depend more upon the industry's view of what it can deliver versus what the services think they want.
From all of its advancements to its setbacks, the history of the military helicopter is a fascinating ride from invention to adaptation.
Reprinted from the Pacifica Military History Blog