On This Day In Oil & Gas - July 15th 1952, Westover Air Force Base, Hampden County, Massachusetts, United States of America



After weeks of preparation, an audacious plan is about to whir into motion at an airfield constructed to stage the US First Air Force in World War II.

It is almost twenty years ago since two Soviet aeronautical engineers of the
Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute, Alexei Cheremukhin and Boris Yuriev, took part in the first successful flight of a single-lift rotor helicopter, piloting their TsAGI-1EA to a height of 605 metres before landing without complication. Today, two airmen of the US Military Air Transport Service are ready to embark on a journey that would have been unthinkable those two decades ago.   

First Lieutenant Harold W. Moore of Cincinnati, Ohio and Captain Vincent H. McGovern of Duluth, Minnesota and their co-pilots climb aboard their Sikorsky H-19 Chickasaws to commence primary flight checks. Whilst both pilots have not yet celebrated their thirtieth birthdays, they are both veterans of helicopter rescue and evacuation operations in a war that still raged more than 11,000 kilometres away in the Korean Peninsula.    

Whilst the mission ahead will not be subjected to the hazards of military support manoeuvres, it will be perilous, gruelling and a world-first if completed without hindrance. Checks completed and whipping two deafening vortices into the aether, Moore and McGovern lift off into the New England sky.

With a top speed of 163 kilometres/hour and a standard operational range of 725 kilometres that could be increased to 1,600 with auxiliary fuel tanks at full capacity, the H-19 was one of the most advanced rotary aircraft of the time. Five stops across Artcic and 42 hours and 25 minutes after take-off, four Americans set foot in Prestwick, Scotland, becoming the first people to cross the Atlantic Ocean by helicopter.

Fast forward 64 years, and the common-or-garden whirlybird is the quickest way to get personnel to and from the most far-flung outposts of the offshore oil and gas industry. An estimated 1,900 helicopters are employed by the global industry today, with the oil and gas sector accounting for the largest segment of the global commercial helicopter fleet at 26 per cent. A lot of their utility in the world’s most remote and inhospitable regions was decided with the epic voyage that took place six decades ago today.