Back Piasecki H-21 Workhorse / Shawnee

Piasecki H-21C

From the all-metal PV-17 built in 1948, the following year Piasecki derived the HRP-2 Rescuer and an improved version of the Rescuer, the H-21 Workhorse. The USAF acquired 214 of the latter, and 334 of a similar model, the H-21 Shawnee, were built for the US Army. The B and C variants of the H-21 were used in Vietnam, equipped with 12.7 or 7.62mm light machine guns which were fired through the cabin doors. The H-21 used the classic single engine formula with tandem three-blade rotors. While the Navy's helicopters had a 600hp Pratt & Whitney R-1340 engine, those for the Army had a Wright R-1820. Thirty-three of the H-21A were assigned to SAR units in the Arctic and another five were sent to Canada. Foreign operators of the H-21 included the German Army (26), French Army (98), French Navy (10), Japanese armed forces (10) and Swedish Navy (11).

G.Apostolo "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Helicopters", 1984

Vertol CH-21C "Shawnee"

Developed from the US Navy's HRP-2, the Piasecki PD-22 tandem-rotor helicopter prototype (US Air Force designation XH-21) was first flown on 11 April 1952. Eighteen YH-21 helicopters had been ordered in 1949 for USAF evaluation, these being followed by an initial production batch of 32 H-21A helicopters, named Workhorse in USAF service. For use by the Military Air Transport Service Air Rescue Service, the H-21As were each powered by a derated 932kW Wright R-1820-103 engine; the first flew in October 1953. Six more were built to USAF contract but supplied to Canada under the Military Assistance Program.

The second production variant was the H-21B, which used the full power of the 1063kW R-1820-103 to cover an increase in maximum take-off weight from 5216kg to 6804kg. Some 163 were built, mainly for Troop Carrier Command, and these had autopilots, could carry external auxiliary fuel tanks, and were provided with some protective armour. They could carry 20 troops in the assault role.

The US Army's equivalent was the H-21C Shawnee, of which 334 were built. This total included 98 for the French army, 10 for the French navy and six for Canada; 32 Shawnees were supplied to West Germany, serving with the army's Heeresfliegerbataillon 300. The H-21C, redesignated CH-21C in July 1962, had an underfuselage sling hook for loads of up to 1814kg. Production deliveries were made between September 1954 and March 1959, later helicopters acquiring the company designation Model 43 when the Piasecki Helicopter Corporation became the Vertol Aircraft Corporation in 1956. The H-21 A and H-21B retrospectively became the Model 42.

Two turboshaft conversions of H-21C airframes were the Model 71 (H-21D), with two General Electric T58 engines first flown in September 1957, and the Model 105 which had two Avco Lycoming T53s. From the latter was designed the Vertol 107 (Boeing Vertol H-46 series).

D.Donald "The Complete Encyclopedia of World Aircraft", 1997

Piasecki H-21

On April 11, 1952, the YH-21 Work Horse — Piasecki's best helicopter yet — took to the air with Len LaVassar and Marty Johnson at the controls. Winner of a USAF competition for an arctic transport helicopter, the new craft looked almost like the HRP-2, but weighed 6630kg fully loaded, more than twice the earlier machine. A 1425hp Wright R-1820 engine (derated in early models to 1150hp) and a 0.9m increase in rotor diameter to 13.4m gave it much better performance than the HRP-2. Structurally, it was a new aircraft.

The company had come up with a winner. The Work Horse could carry fourteen fully equipped troops or an equivalent weight of cargo. Features included a rescue hoist and inflatable donut-shaped floats around its wheels for landings even on marshy tundra. Winterized to support Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line radar stations far to the north, it was just the aircraft the Air Force had wanted. Extensive cold-weather testing was performed atop Mount Washington, the highest peak in New Hampshire's beautiful White Mountains, as well as in the climate hangar at Eglin Air Force Base.

J.P.Spencer "Whirlybirds: A History of the U.S. Helicopter Pioneers", 1998

The only airworthy Piasecki H-21 gets its first wheel into the air as it departed for Ramona near San Diego

In 1949 the U.S. Air Force ordered eighteen examples of the Piasecki Model PD-22 single-engined, tandem-motor helicopter for evaluation in the SAR and general transport roles. The YH-21 Work Horse, as the type was designated, made its maiden flight in April 1952. The Air Force was quite pleased with the YH-21, and eventually purchased thirty-two production H-21A SAR models and 163 of the more powerful H-21B assault transports.

The Army became aware of the H-21's potential as a medium utility helicopter soon after the type's maiden flight, and in 1952 awarded Piasecki a contract for the production of the H-21C variant. This aircraft retained the H-21B's extensive armor plating and ability to carry two external fuel tanks, but had such additional features as increased troop capacity and a 4000-pound capacity belly sling hook. The Army procured 334 H-21C Shawnees, with deliveries beginning in August 1954. In addition, the Army obtained at least sixteen H-21B aircraft from the USAF; the majority of these machines were ultimately brought up to H-21C standard, and all were known as Shawnees despite their origins as Work Horses. The Army also funded Vertol's development of the XH-21D, which was essentially a standard H-21C whose single piston engine had been replaced by two General Electric T58 shaft turbines. Two H-21Cs were so modified and flight tested in 1957 and 1958, but the variant was not adopted for production. In 1962 the H-21B and H-21C were redesignated as, respectively, the CH-21B and CH-21C.

Despite its rather ungainly appearance the H-21 Shawnee was a very capable and well-liked machine, and the type ultimately secured for itself a unique place in post-World War II Army aviation history. It was a Shawnee dubbed 'Amblin' Annie that made the first non-stop helicopter flight from one coast of the United States to the other, being refuelled in flight from a U-1A Otter. More significantly, the H-21 was the first American military helicopter type to be deployed in appreciable numbers to South Vietnam: the first four Shawnee units arrived in that country between December 1961 and September 1962. Inevitably, perhaps, the H-21 also gained the dubious distinction of being the aircraft in which America's first Vietnam casualties were killed; four Army aviators died in July 1962 when their Shawnee was shot down near the Laotian-Vietnamese border. The machine gun-equipped H-21s used in Vietnam were also, of necessity, the first American military helicopters to be fitted with door-mounted defensive weapons as a matter of course. Several additional aircraft were experimentally fitted with a variety of offensive weaponry and used as interim gunships pending the arrival in Southeast Asia of the first units of armed UH-1 Iroquois in the summer of 1963. The H-21 remained the backbone of the Army's aviation effort in South Vietnam until finally supplanted by the UH-1 in 1964, and most Shawnees were withdrawn from the active inventory within the following year.

S.Harding "U.S.Army Aircraft since 1947", 1990


- A few examples of the civil Piasecki PD-22 (Vertol 44) served with New York Airlines and other carriers.

- TYvo H-21Cs were re-engined with turboshafts, as XH-21Ds.

- Foreign H-21 operators included West Germany, France and Canada.

- Four US aviators killed in an H-21 In July 1962 are recognised by some sources as the first American fatalities in Vietnam.

- The YH-21 prototype for this series made its maiden flight on 11 April 1952.

- A total of 334 of these helicopters was produced for the United States Army.

Photo Gallery 

Piasecki H-21

Piasecki H-21

Piasecki H-21

Piasecki CH-21C Shawnee

Technical data for Piasecki H-21C "Shawnee"

Engine: 1 x Wright R-1820-103 Cyclone radial pistone engine, rated at 1063kW, rotor diameter: 13.41m, length with rotors turning: 26.31m, height: 4.7m, take-off weight: 6668kg, empty weight: 3629kg, max speed: 211km/h, service ceiling: 2360m, range: 644km

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Mark Henderson, e-mail, 14.10.2021reply

About 20 years ago there were about 10 H21s in a junk yard
West if Tallahassee

Mark Henderson, e-mail, 14.10.2021reply

About 20 years ago there were about 10 H21s in a junk yard
West if Tallahassee

Don Jr., e-mail, 12.07.2021reply

My late father, Sp4 Don Greenwood (Rockbridge, Oh.) served in 57th
Trans. Co. RVN '62-'63 , Said he loved the bird .
He trained at Rucker , and shipped out to Republic '62 .

Lew Wiser, e-mail, 29.07.2020reply

Dose anyone remember when the first H 21 flew off a aircraft carrier in Dec 1961 going into Danag vietnam at night? When the first H 21 flew off the ship deck, it almost went into the ocean with our CEO? as I recall the wheels were in the water, it came that close to going in.

Frank Lurz, e-mail, 06.05.2017reply

Rode "flying bananas" in Alaska, Fort Wainwright, 1962 - 63. "Shake, rattle, and roll!" If they had heaters, they never worked. Then again, they never worked in our tanks or APCs either.

Tom Beamon, e-mail, 22.03.2017reply

I am trying to contact Ken Boltz or anyone that served with CH-21'S in Korea.

Jake Jacobson, e-mail, 04.02.2017reply

Any one know of a pilot name Bladock, flying H21's out of Tan Son Nhut 1962

Dale Olson, e-mail, 23.01.2017reply

I served from Oct 63 to Oct 66.
63-64 Fort Rucker Al. schools Aircraft Mechanic.
64-65 Fort Wainwright Alaska 65th Aviation, CH-21 flight Mechanic, Got to fly quit a bit on flight time training.
65-66 Fort Belvoir Va. Crew chief CH-21. 62406 ship not sure if that number is correct it's been awiale. Assigned to White House and Pentagon.
I enjoyed flying and seeing the land in a Alaska and also DC.

James Rowell, e-mail, 26.11.2016reply

Served with 80th transportation company, light helicopter H21C from August 1958 to June of 1960. ATTN: Jess Browning, please email me at if you see this.

Phillip Newton 1SG Ret., e-mail, 06.11.2016reply

Good day all. The dates above are a little off, because I was working on and flying in H-21's in 1967, Fort Wainwright Alaska, Transportation Medium Helicopter Co. 19th Aviation Battalion. I was just a PFC back then and received orders for Vietnam halfway through my tour there, but I loved those old birds and it was a great company with good leadership and good sergeants. I retired from active service in 1994, but I never got back to Alaska.

Leni, e-mail, 16.04.2020 Phillip Newton 1SG Ret.

Dear Phillip,

This is Leni from Shenzhen Eastern General Aviation in China.
Our company is going to build a helicopter musuem. Therefore we are looking for some historic helis to purchase for exhibition.
If you know any H21 available for sale, please let me know.

Many thanks and take care in the epidemic situation.

Best Regards,


Leni, e-mail, 16.04.2020 Phillip Newton 1SG Ret.

Dear Phillip,

This is Leni from Shenzhen Eastern General Aviation in China.
Our company is going to build a helicopter musuem. Therefore we are looking for some historic helis to purchase for exhibition.
If you know any H21 available for sale, please let me know.

Many thanks and take care in the epidemic situation.

Best Regards,


Todd Benton, e-mail, 19.09.2016reply

I am trying to find any spare parts for a H-21B we are restoring for the vintage flying museum. Specifically the front lower left cockpit glass # 2258002-105, and the reserve external fuel tanks. As well as several other small items. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Leni, e-mail, 16.04.2020 Todd Benton

Dear Todd,

This is Leni from Shenzhen Eastern General Aviation in China.
Our company is going to build a helicopter musuem. Therefore we are looking for some historic helis to purchase for exhibition.
If you know any H21 available for sale, please let me know.

Many thanks and take care in the epidemic situation.

Best Regards,


Jim Gass, e-mail, 13.09.2020 Leni

The late Max Hall, retired Army Major, rescued two
CH-21's from the boneyard in Fairbanks AK. The first
he restored to airworthy condition! The second I've no idea of it's disposition. The first, #115, was donated to an aviation museum following Maj Hall's death.


Colin McKeeman, e-mail, 23.10.2020 Jim Gass

Hi Jim, would these be 56-2115 and 56-2116? Both were stored at Fairbanks.
All I have on 56-2116 is as follows:-
Served with the 80th Transport Command; Reported dumped in Everts scrapyard, Fairbanks, AK 1956c; C of A for N116MH issued 20 /3 /1997; to Oscar M Hall, Springdale, AR (Max Aviation, 1106 S Missouri Road, Springdale, AR) on 22 /8 /2000 as NX116MH, who had retrieved it from AK (with three other H-21s) and restored it to flying condition, noted at Fort Rucker and overnighted at nearby Cairns Army Airfield; arrived at The Arkansas Air & Military Museum, Fayetteville, AR on 31 /10 /2014; cancelled from the US Civil Register on 06 /02 /2018 when registered to Margie L Hall, 4976 Elm Springs Road, Springdale, AR.
Have you any photos or further information.
Thanks, Colin
[Aviation historian researching the H-21]


Richard Tortora, e-mail, 18.06.2016reply

Piloted CH21 first in A company 7th Div. Korea 1965. Then Davison Army Airfield Until 1968. Virtually all my flight hours were spent in this old bird.

Dale Olson, e-mail, 29.05.2016reply

US Army
School Fort Rucher Al 63-64
CH21 Helicopters 65th aviation Fort Wainwright Alaska Oct
64-65 18 mounths
Served CH 21 Crew Chief Fort Belvoir Va 65-66

Larry Coppala, e-mail, 14.05.2016reply

I was in a H-21 Crash at Camp Stanley Korea in April 1961 due to complete engine failure in flight. Assigned to the 13th Trans & TDY to the 151st Maint(CHFM) from Mar '61 thru Jun '62. Trying to find anyone in that crash with me. Have names of people in my Unit Group Photos. Please get in touch. Have lots of photos. Please contact me via email or facebook. P.S. My nickname is "Link".

Eileen Bjorkman, e-mail, 28.03.2016reply

I am looking for Army aviators who participated in the recovery effort after the June 30, 1956 mid-air over the Grand Canyon (or anyone who might have known them). I am writing an article for Air&Space /Smithsonian Magazine. The 93d Helicopter Transportation Company out of Fort Devens and the 14th Aviation Company out of Fort Benning participated (they were TDY at Ft Huachuca at the time). I have interviewed a couple of Air Force pilots but have not been able to locate any of the Army individuals; I would love to talk to anyone who participated or people who might have known them and have some knowledge of their feats (I know at least some have passed away). From news articles, here are some names: CWO Jack J. Carey, Major Jerome B. Feldt, CWO Lowell D. Johnson, CWO Billy L. Pearson, CWO Howard L. Proctor, CWO James P. Spearman, Jr., Capt Walter E. Spriggs, Jr., 1LT Paul S. Walker, WO Robert J. Whatley, Jr. Please email me at if you have any information. Thank you!

dave dunstan, e-mail, 17.02.2016reply

dave dunstan-H21 Mech- Elmendorff anchorage Alaska 1960-1967

Chuck Calhoun, e-mail, 09.01.2016reply

I was in the 57th Trans. co Ft. Lewis Wa we were the first H-21 off the USNS core at the head of todo st. I belive it was Sgt Barlow who picked five of us to be the first door gunners in the 57th I think it was the ones he didnt like. I seen one name on this site I reconized Don Franklin. It would be interesting to see if there are any of that crew still around I am getting a little long in the tooth.

Michael Bower, e-mail, 04.08.2015reply

Jerry Jordan I just read your story about a man by the name of Charles Bramer and the man you described sounds exactly like my grandfather right down to the briefcase full of his favorite beverage...I'm guessing it was beer. He gave me my first taste of PBR when I was just a little shit and I've been hooked ever since. Could you please contact me if you see this? Thank you and thank all of you for your service and sacrifices for this great country.

Michael Bower, e-mail, 04.08.2015reply

looking for friends, army buddies of my grandfather...CWO W-2 Charles L Brameier.I know he flew the H-21 in Korea. I believe he was in one of the first company that were assigned to the region. Would love to hear from anyone who may remember him. I also have a couple of pictures I would like to share from his time in country. Thank you for your time.

Douglas Nelms, e-mail, 28.05.2015reply

I'm currently writing a feature for Professional Pilot magazine on the Army's VIP flight detachment (12th Avn. Bn) at Davison Army Airfield. Looking for any historical information I can find on the VH-21s that were there in 1968 when I arrived as a CW-2 straight out of Vietnam. We flew them out to Davis-Monthan AFB in Arizona in 1969 to be replaced with Hueys. Did anyone fly the VH-21s at Davison who can provide a bit of history on them?

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