Obituary

Frank Nicholas Piasecki, a pioneer in the vertical aviation industry, and one of the original inventors of the helicopter, died at his home in Haverford, PA on Monday, February 11th 2008. He was 88-years old.

Mr. Piasecki was born in Philadelphia on October 24th 1919 and was the only son of Polish immigrants, Nikodem and Emilia Piasecki. He graduated from Overbrook High School, and went on to study mechanical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, before earning his Bachelor of Science degree from New York University in 1940. It was that same year, that the then 21-year-old Piasecki and other young engineers from the University of Pennsylvania founded the PV Engineering Forum which eventually evolved into what is today the Rotorcraft Division of the Boeing Corporation.

In 1943, Piasecki developed and flew this Country's second successful helicopter (the PV-2), and in 1945 invented the world's first tandem rotor helicopter (the XHRP-1). The XHRP-1 was capable of carrying three times the payload of any helicopter flying at the time. It was Piasecki's innovative tandem rotor design that is largely credited with transforming the helicopter from a small aerial observation platform into an aircraft with broad military, commercial and humanitarian applications. Piasecki's signature tandem rotor designs led to the development of the Marine Corp's primary assault helicopter (the CH-46), and the Army's primary cargo helicopter (the CH-47) which continue to play critical roles supporting US Armed Services around the world.

In the late 1950's, Mr. Piasecki founded the Piasecki Aircraft Corporation (PiAC), and for the next half-century served as the company's Chief Executive Officer, and Chairman of the Board. PiAC pioneered numerous, highly-innovative rotorcraft designs including the Aerial Geep flying cars, the Pathfinder Ring-Tail High-speed Compound Helicopter, the Sea Bat Unmanned Helicopter Drone, and the Heli-Stat, heavy lift hybrid aircraft. Most recently, PiAC has been flight testing the X-49A SpeedHawk VTDP Compound Helicopter, and various unmanned aerial vehicle designs for the United States Department of Defense.

During his 67-year career, Mr. Piasecki was the recipient of 24-patents for his pioneering work, and numerous honors. He was given the nation's highest technical award--the National Medal of Technology--by President Ronald Reagan in 1986, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

Mr. Piasecki served on numerous corporate, and charitable boards. He was a director of Crown, Cork and Seal Company (Crown Holdings, Inc.), The American Helicopter Society, The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), The American Helicopter Museum, The Foreign Policy Research Institute, The Kosciusko Foundation and the Piasecki Foundation. His life was also enriched by relationships with other aeronautical pioneers, including Louis Breguet, and Giovanni Agusta.

His personal interests included a passion for music, dancing, photography and sailing. As a student he was a concert violinist, serving as the concertmaster of the University of Pennsylvania Orchestra, and was famous at parties for spontaneously serenading friends and family with his violin. He was an avid amateur photographer, an avocation which he shared with many of his children. While known as an intense worker, his most relaxed moments were shared with family on board his sailboat, Tandemeer.

Mr. Piasecki is survived by his wife, the former Vivian O'Gara Weyerhaeuser of St. Paul, MN; two daughters: Lynn Piasecki Cunningham, and Nicole Piasecki Heymann; five sons: Frederick, Frank, Michael, John, and Gregory Piasecki; and thirteen grandchildren.

A Funeral Mass will be held on Saturday, February 16th at 2pm at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul, Philadelphia, PA at 1723 Race Street off Logan Circle with a reception following. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the American Helicopter Museum & Education Center "Frank Piasecki Memorial Fund", 1220 American Boulevard ,West Chester, PA 19380; or the "Piasecki Fund for Math and Science Education", St. Malachy School, 1419 N. 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122.


Obituary

Frank Piasecki, pioneer in history of helicopter

Philadelphia Inquirer    02/12/2008

Author: Henry J. Holcomb

Frank Piasecki, 88, the aviation pioneer who invented the big twin-rotor helicopter that has carried soldiers into battle and rescued thousands from disaster, died yesterday after becoming ill in his Main Line home. The helicopters he developed, the Army's Chinook and the Navy's Sea Knight, are now built by the Boeing Co. Rotorcraft Division in Ridley Township.

In 1943, Mr. Piasecki, who was born in Lansdowne and lived most of his life in Delaware County, became the second American to build and fly a helicopter, after Igor Sikorsky, who flew his first in 1941.

Mr. Piasecki and his wife, Vivian, raised seven children. Daughter Nicole, of Tokyo, is president of Boeing's operations in Japan. Two sons, Frederick and John, are vice presidents of his company and are carrying on his work.

He was an accomplished violinist - concertmaster of the orchestra when he was at the University of Pennsylvania - and a gifted amateur photographer.

Chuck Allen, head of Boeing Rotorcraft, called Mr. Piasecki "a visionary and an amazing designer. . . . He will always be remembered as a pillar of American aerospace history. His daring and courageous approach to vertical flight inspired years of advancements."

Mr. Piasecki fell ill yesterday at his Haverford home with his wife at his side. At the time, his chief test pilot, Steven A. Schellberg, was in the air completing a key phase of the testing of his latest invention - a ducted fan to replace a helicopter's vertical tail rotor and increase speed and maneuverability.

The cause of death was not immediately known.

Advanced age and strokes had diminished Mr. Piaseki's physical agility, but his mind remained sharp, and his death shocked coworkers.

"He's the father of Boeing Rotorcraft. We would not be where we are without his mind and entrepreneural skills," J. Patrick Donnelly, Boeing's director of advanced rotorcraft, said in an October interview.

Donnelly made the comments at Mr. Piasecki's birthday party in Boeing's hangar at New Castle County Airport, where Mr. Piasecki was testing the ducted fan on a modified Sikorsky Black Hawk helicopter, renamed Speed Hawk.

"Pi," as his friends called him, "was really a visionary . . . a creative engineer with a lot of energy and imagination," said Joseph P. Consgrove, his friend and colleague since 1955, also interviewed at the birthday party.

He and others described Mr. Piasecki as a table-pounding and demanding boss who never held a grudge and would later thank those who had stood up to him.

His son John said his father often awakened him when he was a boy with questions about what he planned to do that day. In his birthday tribute to his father, John said he always had been challenged to see how he "could do something, not why not."

Mr. Piasecki did not set out to find uses for ideas that came to him, Consgrove said. Instead he was always working to solve a problem or fill a need. He developed the tandem-rotor helicopter, for example, in response to the military's need to lift and transport more weight than single-rotor helicopters could handle.

The first version was dubbed "the flying banana" because of its shape. The rear curved up to elevate the rear rotor over the forward rotor.

The Navy is replacing his Sea Knight with the V-22 Osprey, which takes off like a helicopter, then tilts its rotors to fly like an airplane.

But new models of the Army Chinook have fresh transport and special operations missions, and are being pitched to the Air Force for search-and-rescue missions. Boeing says Mr. Piasecki's creation, which flew soldiers to remote parts of Vietnam in the 1960s, will keep flying well beyond 2030.

Mr. Piasecki gave up control of his first company to get money to build the big factory in Morton, Delaware County, for mass production of the tandem-rotor helicopter. While investors pressed for financial rewards from his invention, Mr. Piasecki wanted to keep creating new technology.

In frustration, he left the company, and its name was changed from Piasecki Helicopter Co. to Vertol Aircraft Corp., which Boeing acquired in 1960.

In 1955, Mr. Piasecki formed Piasecki Aircraft Corp., and went on to achieve a long list of firsts in expanding the capabilities of vertical-takeoff aircraft. He was chief executive of Piasecki Aircraft when he died.

Born Oct. 24, 1919, in Lansdowne, he remained loyal to his family's roots in Poland. After the Berlin Wall fell, he went to Poland at the urging of President George H. W. Bush to help its aircraft industry meet U.S. certification standards.

Several at the October birthday party said Mr. Piasecki had always pushed to create something new when others had been mainly enlarging or refining existing aircraft.

His new Speed Hawk changes helicopter flight in several ways, test pilot Shellberg said. Conventional helicopters achieve speed by tilting forward and counter the rotation of the horizontal main rotor with a small vertical tail rotor, both of which create drag. Mr. Piasecki's ducted fan has fins to direct thrust, push the aircraft forward, counter the main rotor's torque, and keep it level.

"This gives it more speed and range, and it doesn't give up maneuverability," said Kenneth R. Pribyla, a retired Air Force colonel who works for Piasecki Aircraft. Unlike conventional helicopters, it doesn't "bleed off speed in turns," Schellberg said.

The next phase will be to clean up the Speed Hawk with retractable landing gear, farings, and other refinements to see just how fast it can go.

The family will meet today to plan the funeral, son John said.

Mr. Piasecki is survived by his wife and their children: Nicole, Frederick and John, and Lynn Piasecki Cunningham, Frank, Michael, and Gregory.


A Funeral Mass will be held on Saturday, February 16th at 2 p.m. at the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter & Paul, Philadelphia, PA at 1723 Race Street off Logan Circle with a reception following. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to the American Helicopter Museum & Education Center "Frank Piasecki Memorial Fund", 1220 American Boulevard, West Chester, PA 19380; or the "Piasecki Fund for Math and Science Education", St. Malachy School, 1419 N. 11th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19122.