Blog

What Do I Need To Know About Helio Aircraft?

The remaining airworthy Helio aircraft in operation today are as popular as ever. Knisley Welding caters to the aircraft exhaust system for some of these iconic planes. 

Helio airplanes have an excellent track record of reliability and performance, having seen action in some of the harshest environments all around the world.

Aircraft from the historic Helio production line are widely known for their remarkable longevity, reliability, and short takeoff and landing (STOL) capabilities, which means they don’t need much in the way of runway for taking off and landing.

Let’s take a look into the brief history of Helio and how it has come about, how it has contributed to the aircraft industry, and how it is doing now.

A Helio Courier aircraft in Edmonton, Canada circa 1959. Photo taken by Gordon Hunter.
A Helio Courier in Edmonton, Canada circa 1959. Photo taken by Gordon Hunter.

The History of Helio

The Helio brand has been around for years. The company started as The Koppen-Bollinger Aircraft Corporation in 1948, before being renamed the Helio Aircraft Corporation in the 1950s.

The Foundation of Helio Aircraft

Professor Otto C. Koppen of the Stout Metal Airplane Division of the Ford Motor Company and Dr. Lyn Bollinger founded the Koppen-Bollinger Aircraft Corporation in 1948. Koppen had designed the Ford Flivver, an aircraft that was supposed to be mass-produced by Ford.

With their new business venture, Koppen Bollinger wanted to concentrate on developing light short takeoff and landing (STOL) aircraft. The venture was renamed Helio Aircraft Corporation in the early 1950s when they started manufacturing the Helio Courier.

The company also relocated to Pittsburg, Kansas around this same time.

The Fight Over The Helio Courier

General Aircraft Corporation bought Helio Aircraft in 1969. General Aircraft continued production until 1974, the year that General Aircraft sued the Central Intelligence Agency, alleging that it planned to put down the business by the unlicensed production of the Helio Courier.

In the 70s, the rights to produce the Helio Courier were passed from company to company. Despite its popularity as a steady workhorse, Helio ceased production of the Courier and Stallion aircraft in 1974.

Helio Aircraft Ltd then bought production rights to the Helio Courier but throughout the 80s, only 18 aircraft were built. After which, the production rights of the Courier and the Helio Stallion were passed on again and again.

Helio Today

After a series of buyouts, Helio Aircraft LLC purchased production rights and in 2004, announced to return the production of both the Helio Stallion and the Helio Courier. Helio Aircraft LLC promises the buyers of new Couriers and Stallions to feel the same versatility and performance that these two aircraft were immensely popular for.

Drawing from a pool of proven techniques and skills from the aviation industry and others, Helio Aircraft LLC today consists of a team of seasoned experts working together since the late 1990s to pave the way for the return of the latest generation of Helio aircraft.

The remaining Helio Couriers in excellent working condition today are quite few and far between. Photo from General Aviation News
The remaining Helio Couriers in excellent working condition today are quite few and far between. Photo from General Aviation News.

The Two Most Popular Helio Aircraft

The Helio brand is most associated with these two aircraft:

  • The Helio Courier, the company’s trademark high-wing C/STOL light utility aircraft,
  • And the Helio Stallion, a military gunship that saw action during the Vietnam War.

The Helio Courier

Introduced in 1954 by the Helio Aircraft Company, the Helio Courier is a light STOL (short take-off and landing) aircraft with a cantilever high-wing and a Lycoming GO-480 engine with 295 hp.

While there were only around 500 Helio Courier produced in its 20-year production history, these aircraft were well renowned for their fast takeoffs and their ability to climb at very high angles. One drawback to the design though was that the engine often required maintenance on a constant basis.

In the 1980s there was an attempt by the newest owner (Helio Aircraft Ltd.), to address this engine problem by making new aircraft and replacing the geared engines with direct-drive Lycoming engines. And while there were two new models produced out of this effort, the H-800 and the H-700, only a total of 18 were produced.

Nevertheless, the Courier has excellent slow flight capability, with a minimum-control speed of about 28mph, making it perfect for confined off-airport operations.

A solidly reliable light utility aircraft, the Courier has a 39-foot wingspan, a loaded weight of about 3,600 pounds, and a range of about 950 miles carrying five people.

An improved, more powerful version of the Courier was used by the US Air Force from 1958 onwards.

The U-10 Super Courier
The U-10 Super Courier.

Known as the U-10 Super Courier, this variant saw action in the Vietnam War and was used extensively by the US Army Special Forces and the CIA for supply drops, liaison work, insertion/extraction operations, reconnaissance, and forward air control.

Because of its superior STOL capabilities, Helio Couriers remain very popular among bush pilots in Canada, where they operate in rough terrain where there are usually no prepared landing strips or runways.

Couriers in the service of the Sheriff’s departments of Gaithersburg, Maryland, and Pima County, Arizona are of the rare tri-gear model, with gyro-stabilized cameras under the wing for aerial observation.

Other Couriers, such as those being flown by Winged Vision, Inc. have high definition slow-flying television camera platforms for the coverage of major sports events.

The Helio Stallion

The Helio Stallion was first developed in 1964 as a turboprop-powered variant of the Courier. Eventually, it ended up not just having a completely different design, but it was also much larger and more costly to produce.

The United States Air Force, however, turned out to be interested in the design and commissioned a gunship version with an M197 three-barrel 20x120mm rotary cannon mounted in the left cargo door.

Now designated as the AU-24A gunship, the Stallion also had five additional hardpoints for extra fuel or additional ordnance.

The Helio AU 24A Stallion.
The Helio AU 24A Stallion.

Eighteen (18) of these AU-24As were purchased by the USAF. Fourteen (14) of these were later delivered to Cambodia’s Khmer Air Force to be used in border surveillance and counter-infiltration roles.

Helio’s next-generation Stallion is currently marketed as a bush plane and utility aircraft. It is designed to be fully maneuverable and controllable at 37 knots and has a cruise speed of 175 knots.

Designed for takeoff and landing distances under 350 feet while carrying 1,700 pounds of payload, the new Helio Stallion has an estimated range of over 1,000 nautical miles with standard fuel capacity.

Awaiting The Return of Helio

We have been anticipating the return of Helio since 2019. In an announcement back then, both the Courier and the Stallion will continue to draw on the trademark strengths that have made them so popular after all these years.

New improvements will also be built into the newer models, making them even more competitive in the global light utility aircraft market.

Incredibly versatile, the new Helio aircraft is envisioned to fulfill a variety of roles, including law enforcement and military, bush and float operations, security, transport and logistics, aerial photography and surveying, and recreation.

The new Helio Couriers and Stallions have several hardpoints available and can be outfitted in various landing gear configurations, including tricycle landing gear, conventional landing gear, straight floats, amphibious floats, or skis.

Fast forward to today in 2021, we haven’t heard from the Helio company in quite a while. Their official website has a “Coming Soon” message out front, and we have yet to hear or read about new updates on the production of new aircraft or anything about the company at all.

Nevertheless, we eagerly await the day that the Courier and the Stallion rule the skies again!

A Helio H-295 Courier flying in the United Kingdom in 2016. Photo by Alan Wilson.
A Helio H-295 Courier flying in the United Kingdom in 2016. Photo by Alan Wilson.

For more information regarding Helio aircraft, or if you are in need of aircraft exhaust systems, aircraft exhaust parts, or aircraft exhaust repairs for a Helio aircraft, just give Knisley Welding a call and we will give you just what you need!

Sources

  1. General Aviation News
  2. EAA.org
  3. GlobalSecurity.org
  4. U.S. Air Force
>