Medevac helicopter
Aviation History

M.A.S.H. Medevac Helicopters

During World War II, the military used helicopters for light duties that included surveying the enemy and landscape and patrolling the seas against submarine attacks.

In June 1945, U.S. helicopters were used for the first time to evacuate injured soldiers from the front lines and fly them to safe hospitals. It was the first time that helicopters were shot at by the enemy.

While helicopters were never actively used on the front during the Second World War, this was no longer true during the Korean War.

On the Korean peninsula, the military used the Sikorsky S-51, renamed the H-5, for medical evacuations.

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The H-5 was so small that there was room only for 2 people plus the person being evacuated. Because of the fuselage, the injured person’s legs would hang out of the side of the helicopter.

The Sikorsky S-51, or H-5, helicopters were the first to be used as aerial ambulances during the Korean War. Source: Flickr

The military also used the Bell 47, designated the H-13, during the Korean War.

The Bell 47 was developed by Arthur Young and Bartram Kelley.

Young had first convinced the Bell Aircraft Corporation to let him build a helicopter in 1941. His first model took flight in 1943; the Bell 47 became certified in March 1946.

Young’s helicopter featured a two-seat cockpit and a two-blade rotor. The “chop-chop” sound the blades made quickly led people to call the helicopter a “chopper.”

While the Bell 47 saw commercial success, it is best known for its service during the Korean War.

The military quickly began using the H-13, also called the Sioux, to fly wounded soldiers to Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (M.A.S.H.).

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The helicopter essentially became a flying ambulance, because two stretchers were fitted on the outside of the cockpit.

During an evacuation, the injured soldier’s head was protected by a small plastic bubble, but otherwise, the person was exposed to the elements. Source: Wikimedia

Although treatment was more effective at a field hospital than first aid on the battlefield, the fact that the helicopter could only carry two injured people at a time limited its usefulness.

But because the frontlines during the Korean War were relatively fixed, helicopters and M.A.S.H. units could be positioned so that the helicopters did not have to fly over long distances during their medevac routines.

In addition to the military, President Dwight Eisenhower began using a Sioux helicopter in 1957. Source: National Museum of the United States Air Force

This was not the case during the Vietnam War, when medevac helicopters often had to retrieve the injured from the battle fields and fly for long distances to get to the nearest hospital.

Thus, the military began to look for a replacement of the Bell 47. It chose the Bell 204, HU-1A, nicknamed the “Huey.”

The 57th Medical Detachment, the Helicopter Ambulance, quickly began using the Huey as its helicopter of choice and painted red crosses on the side and nose of each machine.

Medevac Hueys had the radio call sign “Dustoff,” after the dirt that swirled up from the ground during the helicopter’s liftoff.

Unlike previous medevac helicopters, Dustoff Hueys could carry three stretchers, plus a medic, in its cabin. Source: Flickr

During their medevac runs, they would not only pick up injured soldiers, but also drop off ammunition and first-aid supplies.

They were often shot at during evacuation runs, and Huey pilots were often commended for exceptional bravery, some even earning Medals of Honor.

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In the 1980s, the Army began replacing the Huey with the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter.

A Black Hawk could carry more wounded and fly faster than the Huey. It became the helicopter of choice during the first Gulf War. Source: U.S. DoD
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Rob V.
Rob V. founded Century-of-Flight.net in October of 2019. He holds commercial single and multi-engine instrument ratings, and is a licensed CFI / CFII for both single and multi-engine aircraft. Rob currently has 1,500+ hours of flight logged, 1,000 of which is dual-given as an instructor. Learn more about him in his full bio here.

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