Probably the world’s best-known helicopter is the Bell H-13—flown by the Navy as the HTL and HUL. Beginning with the feature film M*A*S*H in 1970 and in 256 episodes of the television series M*A*S*H from 1972 to 1983, U.S. Army H-13 helicopters were shown bringing in casualties to the (fictional) 4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital during the Korean War.1 Thus, millions of Americans and people around the world came to see and identify with the small, bubble-canopy whirlybird (and the TV series is still being shown in several countries, while the movie is available on Netflix).2
But the diminutive Bell helicopter far surpassed its photogenic qualities. The Bell prototype was first flown on 8 December 1945, and was the world’s first helicopter to be approved for commercial use. The helicopter was in production for more than two decades, with licensed production in Italy by Agusta, in Great Britain by Westland, and in Japan by Kawasaki. In all, more than 6,000 were made.
Editor’s note: Mr. Polmar’s first helicopter flight was in a Spanish Navy H-13 operating from the joint U.S.-Spanish base at Rota.
2. Bell 47-series helicopters also were featured in the television series Whirlybirds, a show intended for the juvenile market, airing from 1958 to 1962; some 40 of the shows were re-syndicated as Copter Patrol. Bell 47s also made cameo appearances in several movies, among them the classic The Bad and the Beautiful (1952), starring Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner.