Inventor of twin-rotor helicopter

Times Staff Writer

Frank Nicolas Piasecki, an aviation pioneer who invented the twin-rotor technology that led to development of the widely flown Chinook heavy-lift helicopter, has died. He was 88.

Piasecki, who had recently suffered a stroke, died Monday at his home in Haverford, Pa., his family said in a statement. He is believed to have died of cardiac arrest.

The holder of numerous aviation patents, Piasecki was best known for inventing and shepherding development of helicopters powered by two rotors instead of one.

The novel design, first demonstrated in 1945, led to helicopters that could lift heavy equipment and carry troops and cargo for long distances.

In 1962, the Army began flying the now ubiquitous Chinook helicopter, which, though initially useful for military operations during the Vietnam War, has become a key commercial aircraft for use in logging, construction and fighting forest fires. More than 1,000 Chinooks have been built so far.

"He invented the design philosophy behind the Chinook," said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst for Teal Group Inc. "He believed that the best way to lift a large helicopter was with twin rotors, and that philosophy has stood the test of time."

Piasecki also is credited with developing and flying the nation's second successful helicopter in 1943, following on the heels of Igor Sikorsky's more famed first helicopter flight two years earlier.

Piasecki's first helicopter was built from junk auto parts in a rented Philadelphia garage.

He won his first contract from the Navy after he flew the aircraft from a Virginia home to a gas station before stopping for golf at a local course.

A few years later, he rolled out the world's first twin-rotor helicopter, an aircraft that would later be nicknamed the "Flying Banana" because its elongated fuselage curved up in the rear to elevate the rear rotor over the forward rotor.

The helicopter not only flew but lifted a ton of cargo, something that Navy officials had said was impossible.

The Flying Banana eventually became the forerunner to several tandem-rotor craft including the Army's heavy-duty workhorse CH-47 Chinook and the Navy's CH-46 Sea Knight.

In a 1983 New York Times article, Piasecki recalled how in the early years he deliberately kept the name of his company vague.

He said he named it P-V Engineering Forum "because if you used the word 'helicopter,' people thought you were nuts."

Piasecki's firm eventually became part of Boeing Co., the world's largest aerospace company.

"Mr. Piasecki's daring and courageous approach to vertical flight inspired years of advancements in rotorcraft," said Chuck Allen, general manager of Boeing's rotorcraft division.

One of Piasecki's daughters, Nicole Piasecki Heymann, is president of Boeing Japan.

Born in Philadelphia on Oct. 24, 1919, Piasecki was the only son of an immigrant Polish tailor.

He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania before graduating with a bachelor's degree from New York University in 1940.

In addition to Heymann, Piasecki is survived by his wife, Vivian; another daughter, Lynn Piasecki Cunningham; five sons, Frank, Frederick, Gregory, John and Michael; and 13 grandchildren.


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