The U.S Tried To Make Engineless Helicopters In The 1950s – But It Didn’t Go Exactly To Plan


The world is full of fascinating ideas and concepts. One such concept which caught wind was of the engine-less helicopter in the USA. The prototype of this helicopter is still available for enthusiasts to see at Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker in Alabama. It was fondly dubbed as the Jet Jeep.

It was touted as a solution to the light surveillance the US was so desperately looking for at that time. It was planned to have the capability of just housing two people and with their prime objective being surveillance. In comparison, these were the jetpacks of the time. It faced the same difficulty that jetpack developers are facing these days.

The US Air Force, in pursuit of its ambitious copter, made a lighter version. The XH-26 did not have a conventional engine. Instead, it was powered by two AJ7.5-1 pulse jets at the end of each of its rotors and successfully avoided the transmission system.

What was the most astounding feat of this helicopter was that it could be dismantled within a jiffy. It could be towed and then took only two people to assemble it again in under 20 minutes. It weighed under 136 kg.

As is the case with all out-of-the-box ideas at first, the XH-26 had its flaws. The tail rotor system that gave the copter anti-torque ability could be skipped, but the alternate jet pulses were extremely loud and gave the position of the aircraft’s location at night. This compromised the very purpose it was being built in the first place, seamless surveillance.

Another hitch discovered during the trials was that if even one of the pulse jets went out of order, the bird would come crashing to the ground. As the size of the heli was kept miniature by compulsion of task and design, the fuel tank was placed right under the pilot’s seat, which was a safety hazard. 

Surveillance was of prime importance for the US back in the day, and it is the case to date. The army aviation tried to go for a two-seater aircraft for surveillance but after several test flights and discovering a few issues; it was also shelved alongside the Jet Jeep. Now they form part of the history of army aviation’s and air force’s museum, respectively.


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