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Piasecki H-21 Workhorse

Cargo /Passenger Transport Tandem-Rotor Helicopter

Piasecki H-21 Workhorse

Cargo /Passenger Transport Tandem-Rotor Helicopter


The awkward-looking Piasecki H-21 Workhorse series of tandem-rotor transport helicopters was aptly-nicknamed the Flying Banana.
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ORIGIN: United States
YEAR: 1953
STATUS: Retired, Out-of-Service
MANUFACTURER(S): Piasecki Helicopter / Boeing Vertol - USA
OPERATORS: Canada; France; Germany; Japan; Sweden; United States

Unless otherwise noted the presented statistics below pertain to the Piasecki CH-21C Workhorse model. Common measurements, and their respective conversions, are shown when possible.
LENGTH: 52.49 feet (16 meters)
WIDTH: 43.96 feet (13.4 meters)
HEIGHT: 15.75 feet (4.8 meters)
WEIGHT (EMPTY): 8,946 pounds (4,058 kilograms)
WEIGHT (MTOW): 15,196 pounds (6,893 kilograms)
ENGINE: 1 x Wright R-1820-103 radial engine delivering 1,425 horsepower to 2 x three-blade main rotors.
SPEED (MAX): 127 miles-per-hour (204 kilometers-per-hour; 110 knots)
RANGE: 265 miles (426 kilometers; 230 nautical miles)
CEILING: 9,449 feet (2,880 meters; 1.79 miles)

7.62mm or 12.7mm machine guns on fixed or trainable mountings; rockets fitted to some gunship models.
Graphical image of an aircraft medium machine gun
Graphical image of an aircraft heavy machine gun
Graphical image of aircraft aerial rockets

Series Model Variants
• XH-21 - USAF designation of single prototype.
• YH-21 "Workhorse" - Service Test Designation; 18 examples produced.
• H-21A "Workhorse" Model 42 - Based on the YH-21 evaluation models; fitted with 1 x Wright R-1820-102 engine of 1,250 horsepower; 38 examples produced; redesignated to CH-21A in 1962.
• H-21B "Workhorse" Model 42 - Based on H-21A production models; fitting 1 x Wright powerplant of 1,425 horsepower; 20-seat internal passenger capacity; standardized autopilot system; provision for external fuel tanks; armor protection; redesignated to CH-21B from 1962 onwards; 183 examples produced.
• H-21C "Shawnee" Model 43 - Based on the H-21B production model for use by the US Army; 464 examples produced locally and under license in Germany; redesignated to CH-21C in 1962.
• XH-21D "Shawnee" Model 71 - Proposed General Electric T58 turboshaft-powered model; 2 examples modified from -21C production models; never produced.
• CH-21A - 1962 designation change of H-21A production models.
• CH-21B - 1962 designation change of H-21B production models.
• CH-21C - 1962 designation change of H-21C production models.
• SH-21B - Based on the H-21B production model; modified as a rescue platform; redesignated to HH-21B in 1962.
• HH-21B - Redesignation of SH-21B production model.
• Model 42A - Vertol Aircraft of Canada conversions of H-21 military models for civilian operation; 19-passenger seating.
• Model 44A - Civilian conversion model of military H-21B models.
• Model 44B - Civilian 15-passenger seating conversion model of H-21B military models.
• Model 44C - Civilian 8-passenger VIP transport version of the H-21B military model.


Detailing the development and operational history of the Piasecki H-21 Workhorse Cargo /Passenger Transport Tandem-Rotor Helicopter.  Entry last updated on 11/18/2017. Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©
The Piasecki H-21 tandem-rotor helicopter was born from a line of Piasecki products that began with the HRP-1. The HRP-1 utilized a tandem-rotor arrangement and first flew in 1945 before eventually being adopted by the United States Navy, Marine Corps and the Coast Guard. Twenty-eight examples were completed with service beginning in 1947. With this framework came the H-21 in the late 1940s, developed along the lines of cold weather rescue service. The United States Air Force contracted for thirty-two of the type and knew it as the H-21 "Workhorse". Due to its unique shape, the H-21 - and its predecessors - were nicknamed the "Flying Banana". A first flight was had in April of 1952, its design attributed to Frank Piasecki himself.

The H-21 was based on the HRP-1 but incorporated more modern elements to its construction for a more robust end-product. The cockpit was heavily glazed for excellent vision by the crew and positioned at the extreme front end of the fuselage. The fuselage was pulled downward aft of midships, giving the cockpit a "nose up" appearance and driving the tail upwards as well - providing the H-21 its most unique look. At the lowest point of the fuselage were the fixed main landing gear legs (wheeled) while a wheeled leg was held under the nose. Each main rotor consisted of three-blade assemblies and the collapsed nature of the fuselage center ensured that the main rotor blades did not interact at any one point - reducing the chance of a fatal accident occurring. Their rotation was counter to reduce inherent torque and maximize control/stability. Vertical tail fins were situated outboard of the rear main rotor position. Internally, the H-21 was crewed by two in the cockpit and held space for up to 20 fully-laden combat troops or up to twelve medical litters with accompanying medical staff. Performance included a maximum speed over 130 miles per hour and a range out to 400 miles.

H-21A marked the early Search and Rescue (SAR) models for the USAF and these came fitted with a Curtis-Wright R-1820-103 "Cyclone" supercharged air-cooled radial engine of 1,150 horsepower. The mark numbered 32 in all and were followed by the "H-21B" which was developed into an assault transport through 163 examples. The engine was changed over to a Wright 103 model outputting at 1,425 horsepower for improved performance. Additionally, the main rotor blades saw an increase to their diameter as the blades were lengthened some six inches. The Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) soon joined the USAF in operation of the H-21 series (both A- and B-models).

Piasecki H-21 Workhorse (Cont'd)

Cargo /Passenger Transport Tandem-Rotor Helicopter

Piasecki H-21 Workhorse (Cont'd)

Cargo /Passenger Transport Tandem-Rotor Helicopter

In the early 1950s, the USMC shared interest in the H-21 and several H-21A models were used for evaluations. During 1957, an H-21B arrived and was used as a ship tug. The H-21C was a United States Army designation which carried the name of "Shawnee" and featured the Wright 103 engine. These were later redesignated under the "CH-21" model marker.

Production of H-21s spanned from 1952 until 1959 and their operational service ran into 1967. Beyond the United States and Canada, global operators included France, West Germany, Japan, and Sweden. New York Airways operated a civilian form as several models of the line were designed with passenger-hauling capabilities in mind. The French pressed their H-21C models into combat service during the Algerian War (1954-1962) in the gunship role armed with rockets and machine guns though this exposure was far from a complete success. Nevertheless the helicopter continued on in its given transport roles through to the end of the French commitment.

American H-21s were deployed during the Vietnam War (1955-1975) from December 1961 on and these were typically armed through trainable machine guns of 7.62mm and 12.7mm caliber for defensive purposes. However, their service in the conflict was relatively short-lived as the line was superseded in its over-battlefield roles by the new Bell UH-1 "Huey" and Boeing CH-47 "Chinook" series helicopters. The former excelled in the assault /gunship roles while the latter continued the tandem-rotor tradition and was cleared for heavy hauling. The war showcased several deficiencies in the H-21 design - slow performance and susceptibility to ground fire as well as below average hot weather operation. Their services in the war was greatly reduced from 1964 on.

A U.S. Army H-21C became the first American helicopter to cross the country non-stop on August 24th, 1954. In-flight refueling made this feat possible.

In 1959, Vertol Aircraft acquired the Piasecki concern, later becoming Boeing Vertol. A heavy-lift H-21 version was contemplated that featured conjoined H-21 airframes hauling very-heavy loads (the number of H-21s involved could vary based on cargo subject weight). This idea was not finalized into an in-service form.


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.

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Relative Maximum Speed
Hi: 150mph
Lo: 75mph
This entry's maximum listed speed (127mph).

Graph average of 112.5 miles-per-hour.
City-to-City Ranges
Graph showcases the Piasecki CH-21C Workhorse'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 (500)
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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