The history of military helicopters

The History of Military Helicopters


Military helicopters have become synonymous with prowess, agility, and formidable capabilities on the battlefield. Their evolution is a tale of innovation, strategy, and the race to dominate the skies in global military operations.

The Genesis of Military Helicopters

The Golden Era: Post World War II to Vietnam

Igor Sikorsky, although not the original inventor of the helicopter, made a significant mark in history by creating the world’s first functional and widely recognized helicopter. Considered the “Wright brothers” of helicopter flight, Sikorsky’s pioneering design would set the blueprint for generations of helicopters. In 1944, the US Coast Guard experienced Sikorsky’s genius firsthand, marking the genesis of US military helicopters.

Interestingly, the United States was not the pioneer in military helicopter usage. Both England and Nazi Germany had dabbled with helicopters during World War II. These, however, were prototypes chosen for rescue missions and reconnaissance, not direct combat.

The Cobra Helicopter - The History of Military Helicopters
The Cobra Helicopter – The History of Military Helicopters

The cessation of World War II until the advent of the Vietnam War in 1959 saw a transformative period in military helicopter development. The star of this era was undoubtedly the “Huey”, formally known as the Bell UH-1. Developed in the mid-1950s and introduced in 1959, the Huey’s versatile nature made it perfect for Vietnam’s challenging terrains and guerilla warfare conditions. Serving multiple roles, from transport to medevac and combat support, the Huey helicopter symbolized the growing indispensability of military helicopters in modern warfare.

Post-Vietnam Evolution: From Huey to Apache

As the 1960s ended, the colossal Chinook began to overshadow the Huey helicopter. This transport behemoth became an essential asset, especially in Middle Eastern conflicts, ensuring troops and resources could be effectively transported.

The 1980s then brought the significant change: the Apache attack helicopter. Introduced in 1984, the Apache helicopter proved itself not only as a formidable force on the battlefield but also etched its way into popular culture. Its legacy, with pilots who proudly recite, “Don’t bother running, you’ll die tired,” speaks of its impact.

An Illustrated History of Military Helicopters

An Illustrated History of Military Helicopters

A complete history of Army and Navy helicopters from the first visionaries to unmanned aircraft systems. This book, with over 200 helicopter photographs documents every generation of rotorcraft from early prototypes to the specialist helicopters of today.

Amazing text. As a Veteran helicopter mechanic I am passionate about all birds and their histories. Highly recommend this book. It sits firmly on my coffee table to spread the allure to friends and visitors alike. – John J.


From Sikorsky’s foundational designs to the modern-day Apaches, military helicopters have undergone a revolutionary transformation. With rapid advancements in technology and strategic military needs, the future of combat helicopters promises to be even more thrilling. Aside from that look ahead, there is no doubt that these machines will continue to play pivotal roles in defense and warfare, bearing testament to the genius of past innovators and the vision of future engineers.

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