Igor I. Sikorsky felt that his greatest satisfaction came from the use of the helicopter to save lives. During his sixty year career in aviation, he accomplished many “Aviation Firsts”. However, nothing he accomplished in those sixty years equaled his pride in the use of the helicopter for air rescue operations. Sikorsky once said: “If a man is in need of rescue, an airplane can come in and throw flowers on him and that’s just about all. But a direct lift aircraft could come in and save his life.”
This was proven when helicopters were put into service. United States Coast Guard Commander Frank Erickson flew the R-4 on the first helicopter mercy mission in January 1944. He delivered blood plasma for injured sailors after an explosion occurred aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer off New York Harbor.
The first combat helicopter rescue occurred in March 1944. Army Air Corps Lieutenant Carter Harman piloted an R-4 in Burma to rescue four men from behind enemy lines.
The first civilian helicopter rescue took place in November 1945, off Fairfield, Connecticut. An Army R-5 was flown by Sikorsky pilot Dimitry “Jimmy” Viner to rescue two men from an oil barge that was breaking up on Penfield Reef during a storm.
The first Naval helicopter rescue took place in February 1947. Jimmy Viner was demonstrating an S-51 aboard the carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt when Lieutenant Frank Shields, operating from the nearby carrier Leyte, ditched his aircraft. This was the first of four rescues that Viner performed during the maneuvers. The rescues made naval aviation history, establishing the helicopter as a worthwhile Navy vehicle.
Stories of helicopter rescues increased as the helicopter matured and Mr. Sikorsky started the tradition of presenting the “Winged-S Rescue Award” to each aircrew member. When asked about the rescue mission aircrew’s performance, Sikorsky responded: “I personally would like to express my deepest respect and admiration for these gallant pilots and helicopter crews who perform these flights. Their action, representing considerable skill and courage, equal the most heroic of battlefield achievements. It would be right to say that the helicopter’s role in saving lives represents one of the most glorious pages in the history of human flight.”
On December 17, 1951 Igor Sikorsky represented the helicopter industry and the armed forces in accepting the coveted Collier Trophy from President Truman at the White House. Our nation’s highest aviation honor was given for the use of helicopters for air rescue operations. HNS-1 above, Igor Sikorsky hangs from one of the first experimental air rescue hoists during tests to develop life – saving techniques. The hoist is fitted to an HNS-1, the Navy version of the R-4. One of Sikorsky’s strongest beliefs was that the helicopter was destined to be a rescue vehicle.
The legacy of Igor Sikorsky still leads the helicopter industry, and the Winged-S emblem still signifies the world’s most advanced rotorcraft.
The Sikorsky Winged-S Rescue Award Program recognizes those aboard Sikorsky helicopters on rescue missions. The company has issued thousands of Rescue Awards since Igor Sikorsky created the Rescue Award program in 1950.
This is a representation of the old style Wing-S Award given to U.S.A.F. Jolly Green Giant flight crews by Sikorsky Helicopters when they were credited with saving a life with one of their helicopters.
This award is given for both combat and noncombat rescues.