Anyone watching television in the 70s or 80s is likely familiar with the Bell 47, as the military version of this helicopter is portrayed in the opening credits of the then popular television show M*A*S*H. In the military the Bell 47 was known as the H-13 Sioux, everyone else called them the Bell 47 or just 47.
The Bell 47 is the granddad of all light helicopters. It was the first helicopter certified for civilian use when it obtained certification on March 8, 1946. More than 5,600 were produced, which until Frank Robinson came around with the R22, was a high number of helicopters. Historically, the Bell 47 set the standard for all light helicopters to come. First it featured the fish-bowl canopy, and the exposed structure design, and skids, most of which still exist on small helicopters to this day, such as the R22. Despite being the first civil helicopter certified, the Bell 47 was a very pleasant flying machine with few vices and continues to be used to this day commercially and for private use. These helicopters are still much in demand and prices for ones “long in the tooth” can still be in the six figure range.
The Bell 47 came with a bewildering range of engines from Lycoming and Franklin piston engines to very rare versions featuring turboshaft engines. In fact, a turboshaft powered version of the Bell 47 served as the engine/rotor test bed for the helicopter that was to become the UH-1 Iroquois, better known as the “Huey” helicopters that were extensively used in Viet Nam. Bell 47s have been used the transport United States Presidents and in practically every other role imaginable for a helicopter of its size and type. 47s can often be found flying in and out of the bush, though most of them are being replaced by cheaper to operate Robinson R22s and R44s.
The helicopters featured on the opening clips of the M*A*S*H television series have the classic Bell 47 appearance, but Bell did make some 47s with a more streamlined fuselage. These are the 47J & H models and they tend to be pretty rare.
Watch this Bell 47 helicopter cruise over the Maroochy River, in Queensland, Australia.