We travel to 1975: the year of the whirlybird for Corgi.
Dinky Toys began making helicopter models in the 1950s, with its charming Bristol 173 and Westland-Sikorsky S.51 aircraft, and Dinky’s Autogyro goes back even further. In the early 1970s, Dinky went on to produce two more nicely done helicopter miniatures: the motorised Sea King, complete with a space capsule to retrieve, and the Bell Police Helicopter, a model of a truly classic machine.
But 1975 was the Year of the Copter for Corgi, with its release of four new whirlybird models. In this year, Corgi expanded its Far East production, and the new helicopter miniatures were produced in Hong Kong.
Bell AH-1G Army Helicopter
Issued as number 920, this military model was made to 1/100 scale. It had a thumb-operated gear that turned the weighted, two-blade rotor, and a spring-loaded firing mechanism that shot simulated rockets out of its chin. This model rested on a pair of skids, and was made in a camouflage paint scheme. The 920 was withdrawn in 1980, after 304,000 units were sold.
One of the icons of the Vietnam War, the AH-1G, commonly called the HueyCobra or Cobra, was an attack helicopter that went into service in 1967. Designated by Bell as Model 209, the Cobra became the main attack helicopter of the US Army. A single-engine aircraft with a crew of two in a tandem seating arrangement, the co-pilot/gunner was positioned in front with the pilot behind.
With a maximum takeoff weight of 9,500 lbs, the AH-1G had a top speed of 171 mph and redlined at 219 mph. With a maximum range of 357 miles, this aircraft’s maximum flying altitude was 11,400 feet. This Cobra had a chin turret fitted with machine guns and/or grenade launchers. It also carried rocket launchers, and rotary cannon or pod-mounted machine guns.
The Cobras functioned as escorts for other helicopters, acted as air support to ground forces, and served in aerial rocket artillery battalions. These helicopters played key roles in the Tet Offensive and saw service through to the end of the Vietnam War.
Hughes 369 OH-6A Police Helicopter
This model was released as number 921, and was made to 1/48 scale. It was produced in white with police labels and a red interior under a bubble canopy. It had a similar thumbwheel arrangement to the number 920 to turn the weighted, four-blade rotor, and rested on a pair of skids.
But what added seemingly endless play value to this model was a winch system in the aircraft’s belly, also operated via a thumb-gear. Turning the gear would unwind a string with a heavy hook attached to the end. Once you hooked onto what you wanted to lift, you could winch it upward with the thumbwheel. The 921 was also withdrawn in 1980, after more than half a million models were sold.
The Hughes model 369, military designation OH-6A Cayuse, was a light observation helicopter which went into service in 1966 and soon saw action in the Vietnam War. This machine replaced the Cessna Bird Dog monoplane as the US Army’s main reconnaissance and observation aircraft. The 369 was developed as a civilian helicopter known as the Hughes 500. The variants of the 369 have been popular with militaries and police forces around the world.
The 500C likewise appeared in 1966, and was a single-engine helicopter with a crew of one to two, and a capacity of five total occupants. With an empty weight of 1,088 lbs, its maximum laden weight was 2,250 lbs. It had a maximum speed of 175 mph, and a range of 375 miles.
Sikorsky Skycrane Casualty Helicopters
Number 922, the civilian casualty version of the Skycrane, was made to 1/145 scale. Corgi again used the geared thumbwheel system to turn the model’s rotor - in this case a weighted, six-blade affair. Painted in bright red with Red Cross labels, the Skycrane models had a wheeled undercarriage in a tricycle-gear arrangement.
The 922 also carried a white hospital pod with an opening rear ramp. The pod was detachable and so could be delivered to a crisis scene while the helicopter went on to other duties, and then the Skycrane would come back later to retrieve it.
The Corgi military variation of the machine was issued as Sikorsky CH-54A Skycrane US Army Helicopter, number 923. The same casting as the 922, this model was likewise a casualty helicopter with Red Cross labels, but in US Army olive drab. It also included a removable hospital pod, in olive drab, with opening rear ramp. After sales of 190,000, Corgi withdrew the 923 in 1978.
Plans for the Skycrane began in 1958, and the maiden flight was in 1962. Designed for the US Army, the helicopters were used in Vietnam not only for transport but for collecting crashed aircraft. The modular pod system was presented in the book Airborne Warfare (1947) by General James M. Gavin, and you can’t help but wonder if this aspect of the Skycrane influenced the design of the pod-carrying Thunderbird 2 in the Gerry Anderson Thunderbirds series.
According to the Sikorsky Archives, here follow some specs for the CH-54A and its civilian counterpart, the S-64E: this Skycrane was a twin-engine aircraft with a payload capacity of 20,000 lbs, and a gross weight of 38,000 lbs. With a crew of three, it had a maximum cruising speed of 132 mph, and a range of 250 miles. Because of its skeletal structure (the late Marcel Van Cleemput described the Corgi models without their pods as appearing like dragonflies), a Skycrane without a payload had exceptional performance, with the machines achieving many time-to-altitude and altitude records.
Collecting Corgi copters
Exploring current values of Corgi’s 1975 helicopter models, mint and packaged, the Bell AH-1G shows prices up to about £28. Looking at auction results and valuations, the Hughes 369 OH-6A reveals a range of roughly £14 to £28, while the US Army Skycrane goes for between £15 and £25, and the civilian Skycrane commands a price of from £25 to £36.