Around 500 of these aircraft were manufactured in Pittsburg, Kansas from 1954 until 1974 by the Helio Aircraft Company. During the early 1980s, new owners (Helio Aircraft Ltd.) made an attempt to build new aircraft with direct-drive Lycoming engines, to replace troublesome and expensive geared engines. In a further effort to reduce weight, a new composite landing gear was featured. The new models also featured modest winglets. Two models were produced, the H-800 and H-700. 18 aircraft were built and no Helios have been produced since.
The all-aluminum airframe features a welded 15G steel-tube roll cage, complete with shoulder harnesses that protect the occupants in an emergency. The wings are of conventional aluminum construction, but feature Handley-Page leading edge slats that deploy automatically when the aircraft's airspeed falls below a certain value (55-60 mph). The slats contribute to the Helio's outstanding short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability, and allow for stall/spin-proof controllable flight, in conjunction with the leading-edge slats, 74% of the trailing edge incorporates high lift slotted flaps, together with interceptor blades atop each wing when roll control is lost a very low airspeed, allows for turn radius within the wingspan of the airplane.
The design of the Helio features a large vertical tail surface and rudder for control at very low flight speeds, however, on conventional geared aircraft (taildraggers), the airplane tends to be cross-wind sensitive, thus a cross-wind gear option is available allowing the main tires to caster left or right 20 degrees, increasing the cross-wind component to 25 mph. The Helio has its main gear placement far forward of the cabin enabling hard braking on unprepared landing areas. A tri-gear model was produced, but is unsuitable for unprepared rough terrain.
Helios are also capable of being float equipped, both straight and amphibious floats being offered.
With a minimum-control speed of around 28 mph, the Courier is perfectly suited for confined off-airport operations. The first one was certified in July 1954 and powered by the 260hp Lycoming GO-435-C2B2. The first production Courier (Serial Number 001, dubbed "Ol' Number 1") is currently owned and operated by JAARS.
In 1957 a "Strato Courier" set an altitude record over Mexico City, Mexico at 31,200 ft. powered by a geared Lycoming GSO-480 (340 hp), only one was built. The Super Courier, a more powerful derivative, was used by the US Air Force from 1958 onward, and by Air America during the Vietnam War as the U-10. In USAF service, the U-10 Super Courier was used for liaison work, light cargo and supply drops, psychological warfare, forward air control, and reconnaissance. Various versions were produced up through the 1980s, including turbine-powered variants. Some are still in use today as bush planes and light transports.
The Super Courier saw military service in the United States as the U-10 (ex L-28). Over 120 were built: L-28A (2, later redesignated U-10A), U-10A (26), U-10B extended range and paratrooper doors (57), U-10D heavier (36), but no U-10C.
It is thought that about 200 Helio Couriers are active today. Helios are very popular amongst bush pilots in Canada and Alaska and missionaries who fly into rough, relatively unprepared jungle airstrips because of its superior STOL abilities.
Some operators use the Helio Couriers for aerial observation. Both Winged Vision Inc. of Gaithersburg, Maryland and the Pima County, Arizona, Sheriff's Department operate the rare tri-gear model and mount gyro-stabilized cameras under the wing for aerial observation. Pima County mounts a FLIR camera for law enforcement, and Winged Vision mounts a high definition television camera for coverage of major sports events. They include Monday Night Football, the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake and other major sports events.
Production version of H-391, 102 built.
Specifications (U-10D Super Courier)
Published in July 2009.
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