Crossing a Winnebago with a military helicopter - We Are The Mighty
MIGHTY HISTORY

This what you get when you cross a Winnebago with a military helicopter

The Sikorsky S-55 and S-58 helicopters are perhaps best known for their military service as the H-19 and H-34, respectively. In military service, these helicopters flew with the markings of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and even Coast Guard. However, later in life, some of them flew with very different markings: those of Winnebago.

In 1975, the Orlando Helicopter Company began acquiring surplus S-55 and S-58 helicopters at government auctions. The company then converted the utilitarian interiors of the helicopters, meant to haul troops and supplies, into mobile homes. Amenities included a kitchen, full bathroom, TV, sleeping accommodations, and even a heater and air conditioner. Dubbed the Helicamper, Orlando Helicopter Company’s idea quickly grabbed the attention of Winnebago.

marine UH-34D
A Marine UH-34D Seahorse in Vietnam (U.S. Marine Corps)

Winnebago’s Itasca Division entered into a partnership with the Orlando Helicopter Company to build the Winnebago Heli-Home. The interiors of the helicopters were given Winnebago design while the exteriors featured the company’s signature colors of beige, brown, and gold. To further enable the Heli-Home’s go-anywhere capabilities, the helicopter could be purchased with floats and an anchor to allow for water landings. Along with a generator, all six passengers could fly and camp just about anywhere.

winnebago helicopter interior
Though it hasn’t aged well, the interior of the Heli-Home was top notch for its time (Winnebago)

Although the Heli-Home attracted great attention wherever Winnebago advertised it, sales of the flying RV were poor. Depending on the model and optional extras, a Heli-Home cost between $180,000 to $300,000, or well over $1 million today. In an effort to turn a profit, Winnebago offered Heli-Homes for rent at a rate of $10,000 per week. Regardless, you still needed a pilot and lots of fuel to get your flying RV to your desired campground. Coupled with the oil crisis of the 1970s, the Heli-Home was doomed.

winnebago helicopter advertisement
Heli-Home advertisements kept Winnebago relevant through the sales slump of the 1970s (Winnebago)

Only 6-8 Helicampers and Heli-Homes were reportedly sold between the Orlando Helicopter Company and Winnebago. Still, the ingenuity of converting surplus military helicopters into flying RVs has to be admired. In fact, in 1942, inventor Igor Sikorsky wrote an article predicting helicopter bus services. He wasn’t far off.

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