Major restoration planned for former French Army Air Force’s Flying Banana

The Flying Banana with the volunteers who will be restoring it. Picture: Helicopter Museum

The Flying Banana with the volunteers who will be restoring it. Picture: Helicopter Museum - Credit: Helicopter Museum

A Weston museum has undertaken a major restoration project this week.

Volunteers at the Helicopter Museum, in Locking Moor Road, have started work on restoring a Piasecki H-21 ‘Flying Banana’ tandem-rotor helicopter, built in Philadelphia in 1956.

It was recovered in 2016 from a college in France after a long career with the French Army Air Force.

The helicopter is the world’s first tandem-rotor to enter widespread military service.

It followed the experimental XHRP-1, which introduced a way for the two rotors to safely avoid colliding with one-another.

This make of helicopter was first flown in 1952, and the prototype was soon produced for the US Army.

The first 334 aircrafts were delivered in September 1954 and subsequently took part in the early stages of the Vietnam War.

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At the same time, France was also involved in a conflict in its own Indo-Chinese colonies, as well as in Algeria, where the National Liberation Front was seeking independence.

The French government ordered 98 H-21s to provide an assault transport capability – the museum has one of these, shipped directly to Algiers in April 1957.

The helicopter that will be restored served with both the Army and the Marines until 1962, when it was shipped to France and the Army Air Force Training School in Dax.

It continued in service for six years before being withdrawn from use and sent to an Army firing range near Toulouse.

Over the next decade, it slowly decayed in the middle of the range until October 1981, when it was rescued by Centre d’Etudes et de Loisirs Aerospatiaux in Grenoble.

Students attempted a partial restoration and converted the cabin into a mini cinema before the centre was forced to downsize, and the historic helicopter removed.

Chairman of the Helicopter Museum trustees, Elfan Ap Rees, who researched the history of FR41 and organised the transfer, said: “This is a very rare helicopter and the only example of an H-21 in the UK.

“While a full restoration is unlikely because of the cost and missing parts, it is certainly possible to restore the aircraft to show off its colourful history and early tandem-rotor technology, which eventually led to the Boeing Chinook of today.”