July 15, 1952 - First transatlantic helicopter flight


Two U.S.A.F. Sikorsky H-19s (S-55) “Hop-A-Long” and “Whirl-O-Way” flew from Westover AFB, Chicopee, MA to Wiesbaden, Germany) and arrived on Aug. 4, 1952. (51 hours 55 minutes flight time, with 6 stops in 21 days)




Chronology of Massachusetts Aviation

First Trans Atlantic Crossing by Helicopter


            Hop-a-long and Whirl-o-way arriving Prestwick, Scotland

The U.S. Air Force Air Rescue Service ferried two H-19s across the Atlantic Ocean by way of Labrador, Greenland, Iceland and Scotland to Wiesbaden, Germany. The two H-19s flew from Sikorsky to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts.


On July 15, 1952 the two aircraft, christened Hop-a-long and Whirl-O-Way, started their long cross Atlantic journey to Germany. Harry Hleva and Edward Benham were the two Sikorsky representatives on the long adventurous trip. On July 31, Hop-a-long and Whirl-O-Way arrived to a festive reception in Scotland. They were rushed to an air show in The Hague, Netherlands, and then to their final destination, Wiesbaden, Germany.


From Sikorsky Archives News, July 2006                 


The account which follows is by a member of the party which welcomed the crews at Prestwick, and it begins with an air-to-air impression of the arrival, for the writer, Colin Cooper, was on board a B.E.A. Viking (chartered by United Aircraft Corporation and by Westland Aircraft, the Sikorsky licencees in this country) which flew out to sea to meet the helicopters.

                ~CLICK ON PHOTO TO ENLARGE~

H-19A's approaching the Ayrshire coast, near Prestwick.

LAST week we briefly recorded the arrival in this country of the two U.S.A.F. H-19 helicopters (Sikorsky S.55, 600 h.p. Pratt and Whitney R-1340), the first rotor-planes to cross the Atlantic. It is now possible to tell the story of this historic flight in greater detail. The account which follows is by a member of the party which welcomed the crews at Prestwick, and it begins with an air-to-air impression of the arrival, for the writer, Colin Cooper, was on board a B.E.A. Viking (chartered by United Aircraft Corporation and by Westland Aircraft, the Sikorsky licensees in this country) which flew out to sea to meet the helicopters.




     WHEN we arrived at Prestwick on Thursday, July 31st, the Viking's pilot, Capt. McKeown, learned that the two helicopters were within 200 miles of the coast, and it was decided that we

should go out to welcome them. By the time preparations were made, it was necessary to fly only approximately 50 miles to their estimated location; on arrival, however, there was no sign of them and it was only on turning back that we spotted the escorting aircraft, and then the H-19s themselves.


     Capt. McKeown closed right in on the helicopters, which were flying at approximately 500ft in close formation, and it was then that I had the satisfaction of doing one of those small things that many an airline passenger must have wished to try. We had permission to pull out the sortie de secour window-panels of the Viking for photographic purposes: it was surprising how little effort was required—I was most encouraged.


     As the Viking circled the two helicopters, one could see that their crews were delighted at the friendly welcome. After formatting two or three times with flaps down at about 100 m.p.h. our Viking gave a traditional aircraft salute; then we sped back to Prestwick to join the reception committee.


     Shortly after 4 p.m. the helicopters came sweeping into the airport low over the hangars, their fuselages glistening in the evening sun. They flew past the waiting crowds in a splendid beat-up and then stall-turned into their landing approach. First down was Hop-A-Long, flown by Capt. Vincent H. McGovern, the 29-year-old expedition commander, bomber pilot of War II and Korea veteran of 96 helicopter rescue missions. His co-pilot was Capt. Harry C. Jeffers, also a Korea veteran. The second machine, Whirl-O-Way, was captained by 1st Lt. Harold W. Moore, who has 112 Korean missions to his credit; its co-pilot was Capt. George O. Hambrick, who had been so keen to be included in the expedition that he offered to take orders from his junior officer.


     After the crews had been subjected to the usual broadside of press and newsreel cameras, General Griswold, Commanding General of the 3rd Air Force in Great Britain, welcomed the crews on behalf of the U.S.A.F. Also there to greet them were Mr. L. D. Lyman, vice-president of United Aircraft, Mr. Muir of the same organization, and Mr. Martin Graham of their Pratt and Whitney division.


     The British welcome was extended by Mr. J. Fearn, director of Westland Aircraft, Ltd.—who are building these Sikorsky S-55s as well as the smaller S-51s in this country—and Mr. A. H. Williams, the company's commercial manager. The writer was privileged to welcome the four pilots on behalf of the Helicopter Association of Great Britain, and they received a letter and telegram of congratulations from the Association's president, Mr. Eric Mensforth. 


     Although they had been flying for over ten hours, the four crew-members did not appear unduly tired, as, with Maj. Richard B. McVay, they told the story of their trip. As project officer, Maj. McVay had accompanied the helicopters in the C-47, one of the two aircraft that escorted the expedition across. The other was a Grumman Albatross amphibian.


The day-by-day story of the flight was as follows:

July 14th.— A farewell party was given in the officers' mess at Westover Air Force Base, near Springfield, Mass. Mr. Igor Sikorsky, pioneer designer of the Sikorsky range of helicopters, and Mr. Ben Whelan, general manager of Sikorsky aircraft, were amongst the well-wishers who gathered at Westover A.F.B.


July 15th.— The two helicopters took off from Westover on the first 380-mile leg, to Presque Isle, Maine. Each had three extra 100 U.S. gallon fuel tanks in the cargo hold, giving a total capacity of 480 gal. The machines took off at a gross weight of 8,125 lb, an authorized overload of 625 lb. A short running take-off was made to avoid any risk of sink between a hovering take-off and transition to forward flight. The trip to Presque Isle was uneventful.


July 16th.— Delay due to bad weather.


July 17th.— The 570-mile flight to Goose Bay, Labrador, was completed uneventfully.


July l8th-19th.— Bad weather over Greenland precluded the escort aircraft from attempting the 770-mile crossing.


July 20th.— A first and unsuccessful attempt was made at the long crossing, but the helicopters met headwinds when half way and were forced to return to Goose Bay. On the second attempt they were called back after 1 1/2 hours' flying, because the weather had again closed down over Greenland and would have prevented the escort aircraft from landing there. On the third try the helicopters struck extremely bad weather, with poor visibility and rain-storms, when only 1 hr 20 min out from the Labrador coast. They were therefore ordered to return. On the way back, headwinds of up to 50 kt were encountered and at times the H-19’s had a "sea speed" of only 25 kt. After 4 hr 40 min flying it was deemed impracticable to complete the return journey to Goose Bay against such head-winds and the helicopters therefore landed at an Army Camp at Cape Harrison (on the Labrador coast) for the night, returning to Goose Bay next day for refueling. There was now a weather hold-up of nearly a week.


July 27th.— On the fifth attempt, which was to prove successful, the helicopters and their two escorting aircraft had passed the point of no return when the American weather bases at Bluie West One and Bluie West Two in Greenland announced a complete close-down: the ceiling at B.W.1, the destination, was 50ft, with visibility of a little over 100 yards. The expedition was obliged to continue, however, and on arrival near Greenland the helicopters were forced down to 30ft, and a careful lookout had to be kept for icebergs and small islands. Eventually the helicopters were forced to land on a tiny island 42 miles short of their destination, where they stayed the night of Sunday, July 27th.


July 28th.— The aircraft flew on to Bluie West One.


July 29th.— The helicopters were rejoined by their escort aircraft, which had been forced to land elsewhere, and after take-off they all flew south around Cape Farewell, the southernmost point of Greenland. With a 35 kt tail-wind they arrived at Keflavik, Iceland (850 miles), after 9 hr 50 min, two hours ahead of their E.T.A. In Iceland the expedition was welcomed and entertained by Westland Aircraft agents Mr. Gisli Johnson and Mr. Paulsen.


July 30th.— Again the likelihood of head-winds precluded a start on the last 920-mile hop to Prestwick via the Hebrides.


Thursday, July 31st.— The weather report being favorable, the helicopters made a 6 a.m. B.S.T. take-off. All went well, and after their longest flight (947 miles)* of 10 hr 10 min the two aircraft completed the first helicopter crossing of the Atlantic when they landed at Prestwick at 4.10 p.m. B.S.T. The total flying time was 42 hr 25 min for the complete trip of some 4,000 miles from their base in Massachusetts. On arrival the pilots stated that they still had three hours' fuel remaining. Cruising speeds of 80 to 85 m.p.h. had been maintained, at altitudes varying between 50 and 3,500ft, as dictated by weather; usually the height was around 500ft.




The two H-19s touch down at Prestwick, under fire from an assorted battery of cameras.

Not all the route-maps were carried in the cockpits. It was just as well that landfall was not to be made a\t the U.S.A.F. base at Manston, Kent....


     It is interesting to note that jet fighters waiting at Goose Bay to be ferried across the Atlantic at the time of the departure of the helicopters were still waiting for suitable weather when the latter had completed their crossing.


     The flight was a most ambitious and courageous undertaking, and its success reflects credit on the Bridgeport team of designers and engineers responsible for Sikorsky helicopters. It is an appropriate addition to the long list of "firsts" that Igor Sikorsky's many helicopters have counted to their credit. It will be remembered that Igor Sikorsky was responsible for the design of the V.S.300, the world's first practical helicopter.


     The first commercial license for a helicopter was for a Sikorsky machine and many of these machines have since set up world records for speed, distance and altitude. It is fitting that it was two of Sikorsky's latest production machines that brought home the helicopter Blue Riband of the Atlantic to their pioneer designer.


     The two S-55s, or H-19s, which made the Atlantic crossing continued next day (Friday) to the Continent, on their way to join the 9th Air Rescue Squadron at Wiesbaden, Germany; on the Saturday (August 2nd) they appeared at the Ypenburg Display in Holland, an account of which appears on pages 181-183. For operational duty the extra fuel tanks will, of course, be taken out and rescue winches re-installed. It is understood that the crews will shortly return to the United States.


     Apart from its historical significance, the Atlantic flight has proved that it is possible to deliver rotor-planes from America to Europe by this method. Whether in peace-time it would be economically practicable has yet to be evaluated, for it is obvious that the elaborate escort arrangements used on this occasion could not be repeated for every delivery. Apart from their search and rescue responsibilities, the escorts acted as navigators: they gave the helicopter pilots their position every 15 minutes, and one, flying ahead, sent out a continuous signal. C.C.C.


*Subject to official confirmation, this will break the long-standing helicopter straight-line distance record of 1,132.337 kfn (704.5 miles), established in May, 1946, by Maj. F. T. Cashman, who flew a Sikorsky R.5A from Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio, to Logan Field, Boston, Mass.




One of the H-19 crews, Capt. McGovern (right) and Capt. Jeffers, meet Gen. Norstad, Commanding General, U.S. Air Forces in Europe, at the Ypenburg display. Portraits of the other crew-members appeared last week. "Flight" photograph

Extra tankage in the holds of the helicopters brought the fuel capacity up from 180 U.S. gallons to 480. An overload take-off weight of 8,125 lb was permitted for the purposes of this particular flight.

From Flight 15 August 1962 edition




Lead aircraft of the pioneering 1952 transatlantic flight.  Hop-A-Long was flown by mission commander Capt. Vincent McGovern and Capt. Harry Jeffers.  Note extra fuel tanks in the cabin and mechanic on work stand above cabin door.  Aircraft name and map (barely visible) were painted in red on nose. (Smithsonian NASM)



The other half of the transatlantic team, Whirl-O-Way, at Goose Bay Labrador just before takeoff on the next leg of the 3,984 mile trip.  H-19A was flown by 1st Lt. Harold Moore and Capt. George Hambrick.  Map on side of nose shows route and bears legend "Wiesbaden Or Bust".  ARS SA-16 and SB-17 Flying Fortress in background.  Wiesbaden was headquarters for USAF in Europe



H-19A 51-3893

Reese AFB TX 1957

Photo Courtesy of Bill Lyster



H-19A 51-3890

Landing in Germany 4 August 1952

USAF Photo



The below information was extracted from an article by Robert F. Dorr and was titled "Manifestly Multirole" Sikorsky's H-19 series detailed and was published in Air International April 1992.


Sid Nanson provided the article for our use.


More than a mere stunt or attempt to get into the record books, the first transatlantic helicopter crossing was an important test of the capabilities of rotorcraft to deploy rapidly over long distances.  The man who would eventually lead the mission, Air Force Captain Vincent McGovern, proposed the idea.


McGovern had flown the lightweight Sikorsky H-5 (S-51) on 96 missions in Korea and had been impressed by the specifications of the big new H-19.  He first had the opportunity to fly the new helicopter in January 1951, and a year later, while serving in the headquarters of the Air Rescue Service, he formulated a plan to ferry two H-19s across the Atlantic.  He reasoned that if the Cold War was to turn hot in Europe, American forces would need hundreds of helicopters, and the cheapest, fastest way to got them there would be to fly them.  The long flight would create the opportunity to both experiment with helicopter range extension techniques and explore problems of helicopter pilot fatigue.


McGovern submitted his plan on June 5, and received approval from the commander of MATS two weeks later.  Hurrying to take advantage of mild summer weather, he assembled an experienced team of helicopter pilots and seized the opportunity to save the government the $5,000 it cost just to pack two H-19s for overseas shipment.  The team rushed off to the Sikorsky plant to collect two new H-19As scheduled for delivery to the 9th Air Rescue Squadron at Wiesbaden Air Force Base in West Germany.


The helicopters were stripped of their pontoons, rescue hoists, sound proofing, cabin heaters (the crew would wear rubber exposure suits on the long haul), and other non-essentials, then loaded with three 100-gallon fuel tanks to boost total fuel capacity to 480 gallons.  Christened Hop-A-Long (51-3893) and Whirl-O-way (51-3890), the two H-19s flew from the factory to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts, and then, on July 15 1952 from Westover to Presque Isle Maine on the first leg of their long hop.


At Presque Isle, the mission was grounded for two days by bad weather.  On July 17, the two helicopters went on to Goose Bay Labrador, under the comforting watch of Duckbutt Alla, a converted B-17 Flying Fortress (SB-17) loaded with rescue gear.  The four-engine bomber provided advance weather information and navigational guidance for the helicopters over water.


Hop-A-Long and Whirl-O-Way were also shadowed by Playmate, a SC-54 transport carrying spare parts, mechanics, and observers.


Turned back to Goose Bay three times by bad weather, and forced to spend the night at an isolated Eskimo village near Cape Harrison, Labrador, McGovern and company set out on July 27 for Greenland.  Enroute, Whirl-O-Way's gyroscope failed, and the two helicopters were forced to fly low to maintain visual formation, dodging around icebergs as they skimmed the sea below thick fog.


Narrowly missing the upturned end of an iceberg, the choppers landed on rocky icy Simiutak Island where their crews shared the hospitality of a remote Canadian radio outpost.  The next day, the pair pressed on to Narsarssuak, Greenland and from there to Keflavik, Iceland, setting a nonstop helicopter distance record of 703.6 miles.


On the next day, July 31 the helicopters broke their own record, flying more than 800 miles nonstop from Keflavik to Prestwick Scotland.


From a festive reception in Scotland they were rushed to an air show at The Hague, Netherlands, and from there they flew on to their final destination, Wiesbaden Germany, arriving on August 4.  The two H-19s were on hand with the 9th ARS two days later to save the crew of an American bomber that crashed in a river.


The 3,984 statute mile trip took 20 days and accounted for 51 hours, 55 minutes of flying lime, hardly the speedy deployment McGovern had hoped to demonstrate.  But the effort stands as a testimonial to four determined men and the helicopters they flew.


The Pilots were Captains Vincent McGovern, Harry Jeffers, George Hambrick, and Lt. Harold Moore.



Sid Nanson provided the following:


51-3890 was donated to the State of Nebraska on the 4th of February 1960. It was given a civilian registration, N109DA, although I do not know if it flew at all when it was with the Nebraska Adjutant General's office. It is possible that this historic helicopter ended up with the West Nebraska Technical College.


51-3893 went into DM on the 25th of October 1960 and departed there on the 15th of September 1961. It was Stuck off Charge from the USAF on the 24th of August 1962 as a "MAP" aircraft, recipient country unknown to me.



The following provided by Bob Brubaker, Bill Crawford and Bill Lyster.


Portions of this text and pictures have been published in the Air Rescue Association Newsletter (ARA), with more to be published in the future.  The ARA website is at:




The link below will take you to the text and pictures referenced.  Pages 1-27 tell about two of our members’ early days  (Bill Crawford and Bill Lyster) as well as two friends of theirs.  This portion has been previously published in an earlier ARS newsletter.


Pages 27-31 describe the trials and tribulations that Bill Crawford and Bill Lyster encountered when taking on the task of reassembling Hop-A-Long and Whirl-O-Way when they were returned to the States.  This portion will be published in the ARA newsletter at a later date.