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The Bell H-13 SIOUX Helicopter


   The H-13 Sioux helicopter was acquired by the Army in 1946 as an adaptation of the commercial Model 47.  It was the first helicopter to enter the US military in large numbers and the first to arrive in combat in Korea.  It was the first Army aircraft named for an Indian tribe, a practice which is still in effect today.

   The H-13 was used for utility, wire laying, liaison, reconnaissance and training, but it was most famous for its medical evacuation in Korea, as seen on the television show "M.A.S.H."

H-13 Sioux helicopters in a row


   It was the primary training helicopter for the H-19 Chickasaw cargo helicopter pilots in Korea.

    It served admirably in Korea and Vietnam, and it was eventually replaced by the more versatile OH-58 Kiowa in 1969.

ground view of H-13 flying


   Transportation Corps helicopter companies used the H-13 for administrative and observation purposes.  The large bubble cockpit of the Sioux was distinctive and offered wide visibility for the pilots.



   The H-13 was used to train Transportation Corps pilots prior to deployment to Korea.   Until 1964, it was also used in the Apollo program to familiarize astronauts with the auto-rotation sink rate, similar to the descent rate of the Apollo Lunar Excursion Module.

H-13 used for training



    In the fall 1952, the 25th Infantry Division used H-13s in two remarkable re-supply operations.   In the first, for a period of 7 days, a single H-13 airlifted 20,000 pounds of supplies, equipment, ammunition, water and food to support a combat engineer unit on a mountaintop.   In the second, for a period of 10 days, H-13s airlifted 17,000 pounds of supplies and 25 passengers to aid an infantry unit 800 yards behind the main line of defense on another mountaintop.


   The most important role of the H-13 in Korea was medical evacuation.  Badly wounded soldiers were moved quickly from combat zones to Mobile Army Surgical Hospital units (M.A.S.H.).

    The terrain of Korea was not friendly for transporting patients by truck, as the rough roads often caused patients to go into shock.   The smoother and faster trip by helicopter allowed the wounded to get medical attention sooner.

H-13 with patient litters on exterior

   Patient litters were mounted on the exterior of the H-13 on skid racks.

H-13 with patient litters


   Modifications were made to the H-13 by medical detachment personnel to improve patient comfort.  Litters were outfitted with removable covers with Plexiglas windows over the patient's heads.  Warm air was piped from the engine manifold into the litters to make the wounded soldiers more comfortable.   Plasma bottle holder were mounted on the exterior of the cabin door openings to facilitate blood replacement while airborne.

H-13 with modified patient litters


The “Angel of Mercy”

     Because of the extraordinary numbers of wounded evacuated from the front lines, combat troops christened the H-13 as the "Angel of Mercy."  One pilot evacuated 922 casualties and logged 545 missions in 700 hours over a 14-month period. 

   Of the 23,000 casualties evacuated to field hospitals, over 18,000 were moved by the twelve H-13 helicopter detachments.  This was the lowest percent of wounded to die in any war in recorded history at that time.

H-13 accompanying a convoy

   Above, the H-13 carried needed supplies to the front en route to pick up the wounded.

 Medical Helicopter Ambulance Detachments in Korea 1951 - 1953

   In the early months of the Korean conflict, a helicopter detachment of the 3rd Air Rescue Squadron, USAF, had the mission of rescuing friendly pilots downed over water or behind enemy lines.  They received occasional requests from ground elements to air evacuate casualties from difficult terrain, and when they had time, they responded.  By August 1950, they were answering so many calls they found themselves in the medical evacuation business.

    The 8th Army began testing Army helicopters for ambulance duty, and the 2nd Helicopter Detachment arrived in Korea in November 1950, equipped with four model H-13 helicopters.  The 2nd was followed by the 3rd and 4th Helicopter Detachments in January 1951 and the 1st Helicopter Detachment in February, all equipped with H-13s.

   All four detachments were re-designated Army Units by 8th Army in May 1951 and attached to surgical hospitals.  In December 1952, they were redesignated as Medical Detachments, Helicopter Ambulance, under administrative and operational control of the Army Surgeon.

Army Surgeon.

49th Medical Helicopter      
            Ambulance Detachment

50th Medical Helicopter
           Ambulance Detachment

52nd Medical Helicopter
            Ambulance Detachment

37th Medical Helicopter  
           Ambulance Detachment


locations of Army field hospitals in Korea


    In Vietnam, the H-13 was used for reconnaissance, despite there being more H-19s and H-23s in country.  The 1st Squadron, 9th Cavalry was the scout unit of the 1st Cavalry.  They used the Bell OH-13S armed with 8 skid-mounted rockets and two machine guns. 

H-13 doing recon in Vietnam

   Above, the H-13 is armed with anti-tank missiles.

    The OH-13 scout teams consisted of two H-13s, covered by UH-1B gunships flying overhead for protection.  They flew low in the trees, often only a few feet from the ground in order to spot the enemy.  

H-13 loaded in C-119 for transport

   Above, an H-13 is unloaded from a C-119 in Japan, March 1952, prior to deploying to Korea.

 H-13E Sioux, Light Observation Helicopter

   At the beginning of the Korean War, the Army had 56 H-13s in its inventory - the B Models and 4 of the older YH-13As.   All models were used widely by the helicopter detachments.

   The first unit to arrive in Korea was the 2nd Helicopter Detachment in November 1950.   Not until 1953 were the 6th and the 13th detachments added.

   In the early 1960s, at the beginning of the Vietnam War, the Army had 861 H-13s in its inventory.  The 8th and 57th Transportation Companies arrived in Saigon in December 1961 with two OH-13Es and 20 CH-21s.

OH-13 replaces H-13


   The Transportation corps returned the OH-13s to the U.S. because they were not using them - the newer helicopters were larger and more powerful.  However, the Sioux returned in late 1962 where it proved useful as an observation helicopter for the cavalry, infantry, and air assault divisions.

line drawing of H-13 specifications of H-13

    The H-13 was powered by a 220 hp Franklin 0-35-5 piston, air-cooled engine, with a cruising speed of 70 mph and maximum speed of 85 mph.



    The Bell OH-13 was one of the most popular light helicopters ever built; it was versatile, agile, and stable. 

   From 1948 through 1976, the U.S. military supported precision flight demonstration teams which stimulated recruitment and pleased the crowds.

helicopter decked out as Bozo the Clown

   Above, Bozo the Helicopter Clown, 1952-1964 and 1972-1976

Army helicopter precision drill team

 Above, the Army Helicopter Drill Team, 1948-1951

Army helicopter square dance team

 Above, the Army Helicopter Square Dance Team, 1952-1961 


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