Sikorsky R-4: Wikis


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R-4 / Hoverfly
Comdr. Frank A. Erickson, USCG & Dr. Igor Sikorsky, Sikorsky Helicopter HNS-1 C.G. #39040.
Role Helicopter
Manufacturer Sikorsky
Designed by Igor Sikorsky
First flight 13 January 1942
Primary users United States Air Force
United States Navy
United States Coast Guard
Royal Air Force
Produced 1942–1944
Number built 131
Developed from Vought-Sikorsky VS-300

The Sikorsky R-4 was a two-place helicopter designed by Igor Sikorsky with a single, three-bladed main rotor and powered by a radial engine. The R-4 was the world's first mass-produced helicopter and the first helicopter to enter service with the United States Army Air Forces,[1] Navy, and Coast Guard, as well as for the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force and Royal Navy.



The VS-316, was developed from the famous experimental VS-300 helicopter, invented by Igor Sikorsky and publicly demonstrated in 1940. The VS-316 was designated the XR-4, under the United States Army Air Forces' series for "Rotorcraft". The XR-4 made its initial flight on 13 January 1942 and was accepted by the Army on 30 May 1942. The XR-4 exceeded all the previous helicopter endurance, altitude and airspeed records that had been set before it. The XR-4 completed a 761-mile (1,225 km) cross country flight from Connecticut to Wright Field, Ohio, set a service ceiling of 12,000 feet (3,700 m), 100 flight hours without a major incident, and an airspeed approaching 90 mph (140 km/h).[2]

On 5 January 1943, the United States Army Air Forces ordered 29 prototypes.[2] The first three prototypes were designated as the YR-4A and used for evaluation testing. The YR-4A benefitted from a larger, 180 hp (130 kW) Warner Super Scarab (R-550-1) engine, compared to the 165 hp (123 kW) R-500-3 engine in the prototype, and an increased rotor diameter of one foot (30 cm). Evaluation of the YR-4A demonstrated a need for further improvements, including moving the tailwheel further towards the rear of the tailboom, venting the exhaust to the side instead of downward, and increasing the fuel capacity by five gallons (19 liters). These and other design changes led to the designation of later prototypes as YR-4B, which were used for service testing and flight training.

Operational history

On 22–23 April 1944, U.S. Army Lieutenant Carter Harman conducted the first combat rescue by helicopter using a YR-4 in the China-Burma-India theater. Despite the high altitude, humidity, and capacity for only a single passenger, Harman rescued a downed liaison aircraft pilot and his three British soldier passengers; two at a time.[3] On 22–23 January 1945, another rescue by the R-4 involved several legs for refueling and navigating through passes between mountains nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 m) tall, to reach a weather station located at an elevation of 4,700 feet (1,400 m). The higher than normal altitude required a downhill run of 20 ft (6.1 m) to get airborne.[4]

While the R-4 was being used for rescues in Burma and China, it was also being used to ferry parts between floating Aviation Repair Units in the South Pacific. On 23 May 1944, six ships set sail with two R-4s on board each vessel. The ships had been configured as floating repair depots for damaged Army Air Forces aircraft in the South Pacific. When the helicopters were not being used to fly the parts from one location to another, they were enlisted for MEDEVAC and other mercy missions.[5]

In Royal Air Force service, the R-4 was called the Hoverfly.[6] The Helicopter Training School, formed January 1945, at RAF Andover, was the first British military unit to be equipped with the helicopter.


Igor Sikorsky and Orville Wright with Sikorsky XR-4 in 1942

External differences noted in photos: Some R-4s had the tail wheel located at the extreme aft end of the boom near the tail rotor while others had it positioned at the mid-point of the boom. Additionally, some had short "stub" exhaust pipes from the engine while others had a much longer one which extended vertically and then aft above the main landing gear struts.

One prototype Model VS-316A with a crew of two and dual controls, 165 hp R-500-3 engine, became XR-4C
Version with larger rotor diameter and a 180 hp R-550-1 engine; three built.
Version with detailed changes. 27 built for development testing followed by a further batch of 14, seven to US Navy as HNS-1s.
Production version with 200hp R-550-3 engine; 100 built including 20 for the US Navy and 45 for the Royal Air Force.
Prototype XR-4 re-engined with 180 hp R-550-1 engine with the larger YR-4A type rotor.
Three YR-4Bs and 22 R-4Bs transferred to the US Navy, two diverted to the United States Coast Guard.
Hoverfly I
UK military designation of the R-4 for the Royal Air Force and Royal Navy, 52 delivered and one later transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Redesigned R-4B with 235 hp Franklin O-405-9 engine; one built.
Production version of the XR-6. Six built by Sikorsky and 219 built under license by Nash-Kelvinator.[7]
Projected development of the R-6A with a 225hp O-435-7 engine, not built.
Projected development of the XR-6 with a 240hp O-405-9 engine, not built.


R-6A Hoverfly II
Royal Canadian Air Force
 United Kingdom
 United States

Aircraft on display

Specifications (R-4B)

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Capacity: 1
  • Length: 33 ft 8 in (10.2 m)
  • Rotor diameter: 38 ft (11.5 m)
  • Height: 12 ft 5 in (3.8 m)
  • Empty weight: 2,098 lb (952 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 2,581 lb (1,170 kg)
  • Powerplant:Warner R-550 piston, 200 hp (149 kW)


See also

Related development


  1. ^ National Museum information
  2. ^ a b McGowen 2005, p. 29.
  3. ^ McGowen 2005, p. 34.
  4. ^ Williams 2005, pp. 30–31.
  5. ^ Williams 2005, p. 31.
  6. ^ Flight 1946
  7. ^ USAF Museum
  8. ^ United States Air Force Museum 1975, p. 42.
  9. ^ U.S. Army Aviation Museum Association, Inc. "Rotary Wing Collection.", 2 January 2003. Retrieved: 25 August 2008.
  • McGowen, Stanley S. Helicopters: An Illustrated History of Their Impact (Weapons and Warfare Series). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 2005. ISBN 978-1851094684.
  • Myall, Eric and Ray Sturtivant (ed.). The Hoverfly File. Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK: Air-Britain (Historians) Ltd., 1998. ISBN 0-85130-262-9.
  • United States Air Force Museum Guidebook. Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio: Air Force Museum Foundation, 1975.
  • Williams, Dr. James W. A History Of Army Aviation: From Its Beginnings To The War On Terror. Bloomington, IN: Iuniverse, 2005. ISBN 978-0595673964.

External links



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