The Bell Model 47 was built for and introduced to the civilian market in 1947. It was strictly a utilitarian design, built for work and not show. The open framework of the tail and the bubble front became its recognizable trademark. The YH-13 and H-13B had 4 wheel landing gear with later models equipped with fixed skids. In 1949, Air Force officials purchased Bell 47 helicopters for the Army and this military version was designated the H-13. Army and Marine pilots evacuated over 15,000 wounded personnel during the Korean War. The H-13 became even more recognizable from the Television shows, “Whirlybirds” and “M*A*S*H”..
The H-13 D and E models had a single fuel tank with 29 gallon capacity. The H-13G had two fuel tanks with the increased capacity of 43 gallons. The three-place H-13 was powered by a Franklin six-cylinder, opposed-type, air cooled engine. It had a distinctive sound with the reciprocating engine turning at 3100 rpm. The transmission incorporated a centrifugal clutch system which began to engage at 1500 rpm.
The helicopter was 41 feet long (blade tip to tail) with the main rotor diameter of 35 feet, 1.5 inches. The approved gross weight of the H-13 was 2350 pounds. Maximum airspeed was 100 mph with a cruise speed of 60-70 mph. The early models flight controls were not hydraulically boosted and used a system of “irreversables”to reduce control feedback. In 1956, Bell installed a hydraulic actuated system for the cyclic control.
The Air Force utilized the H-13 in various functions but the primary use was probably for training. It was used at the Helicopter School until 1958 when the USAF Helicopter School was relocated to Stead AFB, Reno, Nevada. The H-13 engine was not turbocharged and could not operate satisfactorily at the higher altitudes. Bell installed more powerful Lycoming turbocharged engines in the Bell 47 B1 and B2′s that enabled the helicopter to lift larger payloads, and added larger fuel tanks to increase range and endurance.
During one civil defense drill, President Dwight D. Eisenhower rode in his personal limousine while cabinet members flew in a helicopter and arrived at the bunker far sooner than the president. This sobering outcome sparked the search for a suitable helicopter to whisk the Chief Executive to safety. Early in 1957, it was decided that the Bell H-13J Ranger was ideal for the chief executive’s needs and the United States Air Force purchased two. Air Force Maj. Joseph E. Barrett was chosen as Eisenhower’s personal helicopter pilot. He was selected because of his extensive record as a combat pilot. Barrett flew Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses in World War II, and he was awarded the Silver Star during the Korean War for a helicopter rescue flight he undertook 70 miles behind enemy lines.
On July 12, 1957, Eisenhower had become the first U.S. President to fly on board a helicopter. Major Joe Barrett was the pilot. Captain Lawrence Cummings flew the second accompanying helicopter with the President’s personal physician, and a Secret Service Agent.
In September 1957, Eisenhower made an unscheduled return trip from Newport, Rhode Island, and he flew aboard a Marine Sikorsky UH-34D Seahorse helicopter for part of this journey. The passenger cabin inside the Seahorse was more than three times the size of the Bell Ranger compartment and the President immediately recognized the advantages of flying in this much larger helicopter. The Army and the Marine Corps formed detachments to operate the UH-34 helicopters for presidential transport, but relegated the H-13J’s to carrying other VIPs.
The Air Force presidential helicopter mission ended with the Eisenhower presidency. In 1961, the Air Force relocated the H-13J’s to the 1001st Helicopter Squadron at Bolling Air Force Base. This unit provided VIP transport to cabinet members, defense department officials, and occasionally the Vice President. The Air Force retired both of the former Presidential transport UH-13J’s in 1967 when they were replaced by two UH-1F’s. The H-13J’s were presented one to the Smithsonian Institution and one to the Air Force Museum at Dayton, Ohio.