One of the most popular items in the museum is a large, tandem-rotor helicopter known as the Flying Banana. It is easily distinguishable from the other pieces in the hangar as it is the largest, and most unique helicopter we have.
In 1940, Frank Piasecki- a young engineer-began toying with the tandem-rotor idea. However, due to the war that quickly enveloped the United States, his idea was put on hold until 1946 when he created the Piasecki Helicopter Company. The U.S. military did not trust the idea of a twin-rotor helicopter, however, the Coast Guard was willing to try it as Piasecki convinced them that a tandem-rotor could carry more men, a bigger payload, and have a stronger engine than the current rescue aircraft they were using. Once the Coast Guard applied for the tandem-rotor helicopter, the Navy followed suit; and, soon the experimental HRP-1 or Dogship was born and used by the Navy and the Coast Guard as a rescue helicopter.
In the early 1950s, the HRP-1 paved the way for the H-21 “Workhorse” which was commissioned by the U.S. Air Force as an Arctic helicopter used on rescue missions in extremely cold territory. In 1953, the Air Force set altitude and speed records with the “Workhorse” which helped coax the Army to purchase several H-21C “Shawnee” helicopters from Piasecki. These were the first assault helicopters the Army had which could carry an entire infantry squad into combat.
In 1961, the Army began shipping the “Shawnees” to Vietnam as medevac, troop, cargo, and assault helicopters. As the battles became more intense, the need for the large H-21s only increased, until finally the UH-1 Hueys and eventually the CH-41 Chinooks replaced them completely.
Only seven-hundred “Shawnee'' helicopters were ever produced, and the majority of them are now lost to history. However, the Arkansas Air and Military Museum has the privilege of being able to have one of the only working “Shawnees” or “Flying Bananas” in the country. It was built and flown by Lieutenant Max “Red” Hall, the founder of the “Razorback Armed Helicopters” which was a Huey helicopter squadron in Vietnam. However, Hall not only flew Hueys, but he also flew the mighty “Shawnee '' during his military career. Once he retired, he searched the country for remaining H-21’s and found the shell of the AAMM’s helicopter in an Alaskan boneyard. Transporting it back to Arkansas, he pieced this aircraft back together for display then officially donated it to the Arkansas Air and Military Museum in 2014. If you want to see this amazing tandem-helicopter helicopter in person, please make sure to stop by the museum during our business hours!