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Sikorsky H-5

Light Utility Helicopter


The Sikorsky H-5 was a further development of the R-4 and saw combat exposure during the Korean War.

Detailing the development and operational history of the Sikorsky H-5 Light Utility Helicopter.  Entry last updated on 8/24/2018. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
The road to finding a viable over-battlefield helicopter was a long and arduous one. Helicopters began receiving serious military consideration during World War 2 (1939-1945) when technology finally began supporting their type under the stresses of war. The Germans experimented with several notable helicopters during the conflict that included several offerings from both Flettner and Focke-Achgelis. In the United States, the concern of Sikorsky eventually took the lead in helicopter development for the Americans, revealing the VS-300 (under the Vought-Sikorsky brand label) in September of 1939. By the end of war came the R-6 model of which 25 were produced and operated with the United States Navy (USN) and Royal Air Force (RAF) services.

Development and Walk-Around

Back on August 18th, 1943, Sikorsky recorded a first-flight for their new VS-327, a light, single-engined utility-type helicopter destined for military and civilian market service. The design was intended as a more powerful alternative to the earlier R-4 with changes made to suit higher operating tolerances - mainly in the main rotor diameter and extensive fuselage modifications. The result was a slimmer aircraft with a three-bladed main rotor unit seated overhead and a two-bladed tail rotor unit facing portside. A wheeled, fixed undercarriage was used for ground-running (early forms had a tail wheel arrangement, later forms utilized a tricycle). The crew of two sat in tandem under a heavily-framed canopy. The engine was held in a compartment aft of the crew cabin.

Dimensions included an overall length of 57 feet, a width (including the main rotor diameter) of 48 feet and a height of 13 feet. Empty weight was 3,780lb against a loaded weight of 4,825lb. Beyond the typical seating for two crew, the helicopter had an in-built capability to carry two medical litters on external panniers - these being essentially "baskets" slung over the sides of the fuselage.

To power the new creation, the Pratt & Whitney R-985-AN-5 "Wasp Junior" radial piston engine was used which outputted 450 horsepower. With this installation, the VS-327 was quick to offer the expected performance and capability gains which led to interest by the United States military. Performance with the Wasp Junior engine allowed for a maximum speed of 106 mph to be reached and range was out to 360 miles. The helicopter's service ceiling reached 14,400 feet and climb to 10,000 ft could be done in about 15 minutes.


The prototype was designated XR-5 and five were built to the standard set by the VS-372. With some slight changes made, these evolved to the developmental YR-5A models which became twenty-six examples. Once in service, the product graduated to the R-5A mark and thirty-five were produced for the Search and Rescue (SAR) / MEDEVAC role. R-5A models were later redesignated to H-5A. The R-5B was a proposed, modified R-5A but not followed through on. Similarly, the developmental YR-5C was not furthered.

Sikorsky H-5 (Cont'd)

Light Utility Helicopter

Sikorsky H-5 (Cont'd)

Light Utility Helicopter

The R-5D introduced a more conventional tricycle undercarriage arrangement and these were built from the R-5A stock and retained their SAR capabilities including equipment fittings. The R-5D was later redesignated to H-5D. The YR-5E was the YR-5A with a dual-control scheme allowing either crewman to control the helicopter. Five were converted to the standard and these later became the YH-5E. The R-5F was produced from 1947 onward for the civilian market and featured seating for four. Eleven were built and these later became the H-5F. Another civilian market model was the S-51 - the USN took on four of the type into service.

Thirty-nine examples made up the H-5G mark and, like the R-5F, these held seating for four but retained an SAR capability. The H-5H was the H-5G though wit updated equipment. Sixteen were built to the standard.

The USN tested the R-5 series through two examples as the HO2S-1 and initially held an interest for thirty-four of the type. However, the service passed on the design and the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and canceled their procurement order. The four-seat HO3S-1, based in the H-5F, was taken into service through eighty-eight examples. The HO3S-1G were nine HO3S-1 platforms operated by the USCG. the HO3S-3 became a proposed navalized model of the H-5H but this model was not evolved. A new rotor was used in the one-off HO3S-3 when tested in 1950.

Global Impact

Over 300 H-5 helicopters were eventually produced. Operators included Argentina, Australia, Canada, the Republic of China (Taiwan), France, the Netherlands, South Africa, the United Kingdom and, of course, the United States. All four of the major U.S. military services operated the type in form (and role) or another. The British took to license production of the series under the Westland brand label as the WS-51 "Dragonfly" (detailed elsewhere on this site). One hundred thirty-three were produced for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force from 1949 to 1954. Service entry occurred in 1950 and the Westland Widgeon was a notable offshoot of the British work on the product. Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) operation of the H-5 was primarily centered on training to fly helicopters and testing various configurations and technologies on the platforms they received.

It took some time for the helicopter to became a useful battlefield component and its importance grew during the Korean War of 1950-1953. It was not until the American involvement in the Vietnam War (1955-1975) that the helicopter truly came into its own over the battlefield (thanks largely due to the development of an effective turboshaft engine). The design graduated to become troop transports, SAR platforms, reconnaissance units, MEDEVAC systems and even armed gunships. It was, however, through contributions like that of the Sikorsky H-5 series that ultimately made this possible.


YEAR: 1945
STATUS: Retired, Out-of-Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Sikorsky Helicopters - USA
LENGTH: 57.09 ft (17.4 m)
WIDTH: 48.06 ft (14.65 m)
HEIGHT: 12.96 ft (3.95 m)
EMPTY WEIGHT: 3,792 lb (1,720 kg)
MTOW: 4,850 lb (2,200 kg)
POWER: 1 x Pratt & Whitney R-985 "Wasp Junior" engine developing 450 horsepower and driving a three-bladed main rotor and a three-bladed tail rotor.
SPEED: 106 mph (170 kph; 92 kts)
CEILING: 14,436 feet (4,400 m; 2.73 miles)
RANGE: 360 miles (580 km; 313 nm)
RATE-OF-CLIMB: 665 ft/min (203 m/min)
OPERATORS: Argentina; Australia; Canada; China (Taiwan); France; Netherlands; South Africa; United Kingdom; United States

Variants / Models

• R-5 - Original designation
• H-5 - Base Series Designation
• XR-5
• YR-5A
• R-5A
• R-5B
• YR-5C
• R-5D
• YR-5E
• R-5F
• H-5A
• H-5D
• YH-5E
• H-5F
• H-5G
• H-5H
• HO2S-1
• HO3S-1
• HO3S-1G
• HO3S-2
• HO3S-2
• S-51

In the Cockpit

Our Data Modules allow for quick visual reference when comparing a single entry against contemporary designs. Areas covered include general ratings, speed assessments, and relative ranges based on distances between major cities.

Image of collection of graph types

Relative Maximum Speed
Hi: 120mph
Lo: 60mph
This entry's maximum listed speed (106mph).

Graph average of 90 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Sikorsky H-5's operational range (on internal fuel) when compared to distances between major cities.
Aviation Era
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Pie graph section
Useful in showcasing the era cross-over of particular aircraft/aerospace designs.
Unit Production (300)
Comm. Market HI*: 44,000 units
Military Market HI**: 36,183 units

  * Commercial Market High belongs to Cessna 172.

  ** Military Market High belongs to Ilyushin Il-2.

Altitude Visualization
Small airplane graphic
Supported Roles
Ground Attack
Aerial Tanker
A2A=Air-to-Air; UAV=Unmanned; CAS=Close Support; ASW=Anti-Submarine; AEW=Airborne Early Warning; MEDEVAC=Medical Evac; EW=Electronic Warfare; SAR=Search-Rescue
Commitments / Honors
Military lapel ribbon for Operation Allied Force
Military lapel ribbon for the Arab-Israeli War
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Britain
Military lapel ribbon for the Battle of Midway
Military lapel ribbon for the Berlin Airlift
Military lapel ribbon for the Chaco War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cold War
Military lapel ribbon for the Cuban Missile Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for pioneering aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the Falklands War
Military lapel ribbon for the French-Indochina War
Military lapel ribbon for the Golden Age of Flight
Military lapel ribbon for the 1991 Gulf War
Military lapel ribbon for the Indo-Pak Wars
Military lapel ribbon for the Iran-Iraq War
Military lapel ribbon for the Korean War
Military lapel ribbon for the 1982 Lebanon War
Military lapel ribbon for the Malayan Emergency
Military lapel ribbon representing modern aircraft
Military lapel ribbon for the attack on Pearl Harbor
Military lapel ribbon for the Six Day War
Military lapel ribbon for the Soviet-Afghan War
Military lapel ribbon for the Spanish Civil War
Military lapel ribbon for the Suez Crisis
Military lapel ribbon for the Vietnam War
Military lapel ribbon for Warsaw Pact of the Cold War-era
Military lapel ribbon for the WASP (WW2)
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 1
Military lapel ribbon for the World War 2
Military lapel ribbon for the Yom Kippur War
Military lapel ribbon for experimental x-plane aircraft
* Ribbons not necessarily indicative of actual historical campaign ribbons. Ribbons are clickable to their respective campaigns/operations.

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