The Skyhook was the only helicopter ever produced by Cessna, and it has a fascinating history from what I discovered. Now get yourself a cup of coffee, or a cold beer, and enjoy this little story!
After the purchase of the Seibel Helicopter company in 1952, Cessna began the initial design of the CH-1 Skyhook prototype lead by Charles M. Seibel at their Pawnee production plant. This prototype design combines features of the Seibel S-4B helicopter, but with a Cessna airplane body. The CH-1-1, test model, made its first hover in 1953 and its initial flight in 1954.
In 1955 the CH-1 received its certification as a two-person aircraft. The nose-mounted piston-powered Continental engine is a unique feature of the Cessna Skyhook helicopter, making serviceability easier, but required a belt-driven cooling fan and supercharger. The spacious cabin allowed for 360-degree visibility and later modified to a four-person aircraft in the upgraded CH-1A model. This upgrade also included a revised stabilization system.
In September 1955, test pilot Jack Zimmerman became the first person to land a helicopter, the CH-1A, on the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado at an altitude of 14,110 feet ASL. This demonstration showcased the Skyhook’s high altitude capabilities and set a world record at that time!
The new CH-1B had an upgraded powerplant, a gear-driven supercharger, and an improved stabilizer. In May 1956, the US Army contracted ten CH-1Bs under the designated YH-41 Senecas. Captain James E. Bowman of the US Army flew a specially equipped CH-1B to an altitude of 30,355 feet in December 1957 and set a new world record previously set by a turbine-powered helicopter. This record still holds today for the highest elevation achieved in a piston-powered helicopter!
Even with its high altitude performance, the US Army wasn’t interested in placing new contracts due to service maintainability and stability issues. Cessna also repurchased some of the original ten YH-41s from the original contract as good faith in hopes of future contracts after resolving the present matters. Unfortunately, no new Military agreements materialized, and Cessna decided to pursue other markets.
The CH-1C Skyhook received its FAA certification in 1959 and was Cessna’s introduction into the commercial helicopter market in 1960 after the failure of the previous models designated for military use in the 1950s. Before the official release of the CH-1C, there was a tragic accident in the spring of 1961. A Skyhook crashed during a marketing demonstration in Texas, killing the pilot. Reports came out about equipment failure as the cause of the crash, not pilot error, which turned into a marketing nightmare. Cessna decided to continue as scheduled, and deliveries began in the fall of 1961. The retail price was just under $80,000, but sales were slow.
Cessna pushed on with the Skyhook even with weak sales, and in 1962 announced an improved model, the CH-1D. Again, another new powerplant and drivetrain, optional floats, cargo sling, rescue hoist, and five-place cabin.
Now here’s the surprise ending that no one saw coming! Just two months after marketing the CH-1D, Cessna decided to suspend production of the Skyhook on December 26, 1962.
In January 1963, chairman of the board, Dwane Wallace, announced that Cessna was repurchasing all existing CH-1Cs in the field. All are dismantled and scrapped along with any unsold inventory.
And that my friend is the beginning and end of the story of the only helicopter that Cessna ever produced.
I have more photos of the Cessna Skyhook on the photos page or click the link here. https://buffaloairpark.com/cessna-skyhook/
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