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The backbone of the helicopter fleet
The first Sikorsky S-55 arrives in India from the US, marking the beginning of the Helicopter arm of the Air Force. The first helicopter itself would have a long, hard time in its first year, 1954.
Sikorsky S-55; Source: Public Domain

Happened on 19th March 1954

The Air Force needed an active helicopter force - and it was going to have it. The question was, where to get it from? And how to determine what would work best in Indian conditions - for while the Air Force had a large experience pool for conventional aircraft, helicopters were a new thing in the 1950s.

Lacking domestic production at that time, India would choose to go foreign - specifically, American. Buying the Sikorsky S-55, they would establish the beginnings of a helicopter arm. The first of its kind came to India on the 19th of March, 1954. Overall, India purchased about 5 of these steel birds, at a price of 137,500 dollars in that time.

IZ648, the first unit, came to India on the 19th of March, 1954. Immediately, its use was certified, and Prime Minister Nehru wanted to come along for the ride - by August, it was transporting the Prime Minister for a demonstration. This was actually a scare incident - because the Air Force had scheduled exercises soon after the incident, and the bombs going off attracted many people to Tilpat, the area of exercise. This trapped the Prime Minister in his car, and the Air Force had to be called in to “Rescue” the PM via the S-55 helicopters.

The helicopters were then used for their main tasks - utility, support, search and rescue, VIP transportation.

IZ648 would be deployed on its very first year of active service - rescuing villages stranded by the flooding of the Yamuna. Saving all 15 crew in the end - earning the much-appreciated title “Missions of Mercy’ from Sikorsky themselves.

Some of these would also be used by the navy for air sea rescue operations, and one model of the S-55, IZ1590, can still be seen at the Air Force Museum in Delhi, well worn from the extreme service it undertook.

Chaitanya Rawat Author
Hello! I'm Chaitanya. Among the interests already mentioned, I also like video gaming and idle traveling around the city, for food and sights! History is my passion, and if you want to talk about my work, do drop me an email!

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