Hughes 269 – Long-lived lightweight

In 1955 the Airplanes Division of the Hughes Tool Company carried out market research that showed there was a market for a cheap, light two-seat helicopter. Nothing like this existed at the time and Hughes decided to take the plunge and be first on the scene. In 1956 the first prototype flew of the machine that would come to be called the Hughes 269, although there would ensue a delay until 1960 before the decision was made to go into series production.

The helicopter achieved success in the civilian market in several different guises, such as crop spraying and a police eye in the sky. However the major customer became the US Army. Already in 1958 Hughes had offered 5 prototypes to the US Army for evaluation as light observation helicopters. However after a period on test, the Army found that this type of helicopter was not suitable for active duty and rejected them.

This did not mean that the US Army had completely lost interest in these helicopters. In 1964, when helicopters had achieved success in the civilian market, the US Army did indeed acquire the Hughes 269, designating the type the TH-55A Osage. The Army needed a basic helicopter to train new pilots and this little machine fitted the bill perfectly. By 1969 792 helicopters had been purchased and put to work.

A civilian Hughes 269. Source: Wikimedia

The Hughes 269 continued to serve as the US Army’s predominant training helicopter right up to 1988, and over 60,000 of the Army’s helicopter pilots learned to fly in the TH-55 Osage.

In 1969 an improved version appeared known as the Hughes 269C or Hughes 300C. The  Schweizer company started to build these helicopters under licence and introduced a number of improvements, so that they were called the Schweizer Hughes 300C or Schweizer 300C.

These improved versions of the Hughes 269 continued to be successful as light civilian helicopters and military trainers. The Schweizer company had also continued to develop the helicopter and introduced yet another improved version, the 330m and the latest, the Sikorsky 333.

In 2004 the well-known helicopter manufacturer Sikorsky had taken over the company and continued production. Then in 2018 the licensing was sold to a new company that had adopted the Schweizer name with the intention to continue production and development based on the model 300.

Among the special versions that have been produced, one can mention the light police helicopter type 300CQ Sky Knight. One problem that caused the Swedish Army to initially avoid ordering more than two of the Hkp 5A in the 1960s was that the helicopter generated a very high noise level. The Sky Knight model was equipped with a silencer and sound-absorbing material to reduce the noise level by 75%. This would allow the police to quietly fly around without drawing too much attention.

It has thus been more than 50 years since the first Hughes 269 toook off, but this simple little helicopter has been constantly developed and so far over 3,300 examples have been made.