The helicopter has proved to be a highly adaptable war machine. It has been used in a wide variety of roles and has been likened to the light cavalry of previous generations both for its outstanding successes and its strict limitations. In the modern battlefield no advanced army can afford to be without helicopters.
It was the Germans who first put the helicopter on to the battlefield, and they who anticipated most of the roles the helicopter would perform. The Focke Achgelis Fa223 Drache entered service in 1941. The Drache had been designed as a pre-war passenger and transport aircraft for use in remote areas lacking a proper airfield and runway. It had a speed of 109mph, a ceiling of 8,000 feet and a range of 435 miles. The Flettner Fl282 was not dissimilar in performance, though it was significantly smaller.
Less than 50 of these helicopters entered service, but they were used for a wide variety of tasks. These included ferrying senior officers, transporting equipment between ships, reconnaissance, artillery spotting and mountain transport. The Luftwaffe was so impressed that it placed orders for hundreds of helicopters, intending them to be used to drop mines at sea, evacuate the wounded from battlefields and as a ground attack craft in addition to the tasks they were already performing. However technical problems and the bombing of the production factories by the RAF and USAAF meant that the various models were never put into production.
IN the USA the potential uses of the helicopter had also been indentified and the Sikorsky R-4 Hoverfly entered service in limited numbers in 1944. It was used primarily for evacuating wounded men or for transport in areas where runways were impossible to construct such as in Burma and the Aleutians. Like the Flettner helicopter, the Hoverfly was small and able to lift only two passengers or an equivalent weight of equipment in addition to the pilot.