A peek into our collections, one object at a time

Sikorsky XR-4 Helicopter

May 23, 2012
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Sikorsky XR-4 Helicopter, then and now
Photo: Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum

Sikorsky XR-4 Helicopter, 1942

This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot celebrates the May 25, 1889, birthday of Igor Sikorsky, inventor of the world’s first mass-produced helicopter.

In December 1940, the U.S. Army Air Force awarded a $50,000 contract to Sikorsky to develop the XR-4, the first helicopter to be mass produced and the first helicopter accepted by the U.S. military.

The XR-4 made its first flight Jan. 14, 1942, with Sikorsky’s test pilot, Les Morris, at the controls. In May of that year, Morris flew the XR-4 from the Sikorsky production plant in Connecticut to the Army Air Force test center at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio. This photo shows Sikorsky, left, with Orville Wright, right, the pioneer of flight, at Wright Field after the completed delivery May 18, 1942.

The sole XR-4 prototype demonstrated the practicality of the helicopter in military operations and led to a program to build helicopters for the war effort. Though the XR-4 series was intended only for training, delays in production design led both the Army Air Force and the Coast Guard to use them for rescue and other missions, including the first combat operations flown by a helicopter.

The Smithsonian acquired the XR-4 four years after World War II along with other significant aircraft developed by the Army Air Force.

To learn more about World War II aviation, visit the National Air and Space Museum’s online exhibition.

The photo and helicopter are two of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. The XR-4 helicopter is on display at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. To learn more about these items, visit the National Air and Space Museum’s website.