The Delaware Valley of southeastern Pennsylvania was an unexpected hotbed of research into rotary-wing aircraft in the early 20th century, as inventors and tinkerers experimented with various designs. The American Helicopter Museum and Education Center in West Chester commemorates this legacy but also covers rotary-wing aircraft in general.
Many helicopters are on exhibit at the museum with examples of their uses in military, rescue, and commercial operations. One helicopter, the Sikorsky HOS-1 (R-6), nicknamed the Gander Express, was involved in a celebrated rescue near Gander, Newfoundland in 1946. Military helicopters, including the storied Huey and Cobra, are also on display. A variety of helicopters intended for commercial use rounds out the exhibit. These range from “airborne shuttlebuses,” such as the Sikorski S-76D, to “corporate choppers” for high-powered executives to small prototypes that were intended for individual use.
A wide variety of unconventional vehicles are also on show. The museum’s collection includes one of the only Bell-Boeing Osprey tilt-rotor in a museum, a massive winged craft that can tilt its propellers vertically to take off like a helicopter, then rotate them horizontally to fly like a turboprop airplane. This aircraft is currently deployed with the US Marine Corps.
The museum also includes several versions of autogyros, once touted as “Everyman’s Flying Machine.” These are vehicles about the size of a small car with a rotor on the roof that is pushed by a propeller in the back. The rotor is completely passive, but starts to spin in the draft and provides lift. They were cheap and safe enough that it was thought they would be accessible to the average consumer, but (at least for now) the air traffic control problems were insoluble.
A prototype of a personal ground-effect vehicle for the US military is also on exhibit, and several helicopter drones are also displayed. Despite their ubiquity today, drone technology goes back decades.
The museum also includes a children’s play area and interactive exhibits for the older kids.
Most of the collection is housed in a huge enclosed hall, a converted hangar, so they (and you!) are in a climate-controlled environment. A few very large crafts, such as the Osprey, are parked outside on the tarmac.
Know Before You Go
The museum is at 1220 American Blvd, West Chester, Pennsylvania, off Airport Road. There is lots of parking. Check the website for current admission prices.