Skip to main content

The first helicopter mechanics

With the arrival of the first helicopters the operators were obviously forced to train specialised personnel to guarantee their perfect functioning. In fact helicopters require a periodic maintenance and overhaul which can considerably differ depending on the complexity and on the size of the model concerned. The manufacturers, the national and international regulations establish rigid prescriptions concerning how an aircraft must be correctly operated. As for motor vehicles, also helicopters must also have an aerial admission certificate and must be registered. The certificate guarantees that the aircraft satisfies all the necessary technical requirements and those established by the various applicable laws.
In the Summer of 1949 Air Import purchased the Hiller 360 HB-XAI, the first civil helicopter registered in Switzerland. Another company, Pilatus, was charged of Air Import's aircrafts maintenance, so it also took care of the helicopter.
The first helicopter mechanic in Switzerland was almost certainly Reinhold Günthard (1914-1973). After the compulsory school he started an apprenticeship as a mechanic and then worked for the Alfred Comte Schweizerische Flugzeugfabrik. Later he worked for the Willi Farner Flugzeugbau in Grenchen. During the second world war he did the maintenance of military aircrafts. At the end of the conflict he went to work for the Pilatus Flugzeugwerke in Stans. In August 1949 Günthard went to France for a training course on the Hiller helicopters with Helicop-Air. This company was the European distributor of Hiller and was in close contact with Air Import. At the same time Albert Villard, who became the first Swiss helicopter pilot, was trained at Helicop-Air's school where he obtained his licence. In Switzerland during maintenance work, Günthard was assisted by the Belgian chief-technician Guy Warnez, who also had a pilot licence. By the 1st of March 1950 Air Import employed Walter Demuth who became a helicopter mechanic, and much later he obtained the commercial helicopter pilot licence. Air Import also employed Josef "Seppi" Knecht, Ernst Bänzinger, Mr. Roth and Hans Hunger as helicopter mechanics. Usually the maintenance work was done by Air Import and the overhauls by Pilatus.
In autumn 1953 the Schweizerische Helicopter AG started its activity using a helicopter Bell 47G. The maintenance work of the new company's helicopter was contracted to the Alpar aviation company. For this reason Jean Seydoux (who later became a commercial helicopter pilot), who at that time was Alpar's chief-mechanic, was sent to France. Near Paris the Fenwick Aviation company trained him in the maintenance of the Bell 47 helicopter series. Kurt Haldimann, already an aircraft mechanic of Alpar, was also trained as a helicopter mechanic along with his work colleagues Eduard Krebs and Peter Röhm.
In Valais the maintenance work of the Bell 47J Ranger HB-XAU used by Hermann Geiger was initially done by the already mentioned Ernst Bänzinger assisted by Fernand Martignoni. In fact the latter worked for the Valais Section of the Swiss Aero Club, at first as an aircraft mechanic and then as a commercial airplane and helicopter pilot. During the Summer of 1958 Armand Geiger (Hermann's nephew) did a specialisation course at Costruzioni aeronautiche Giovanni Agusta in the maintenance work of the Bell 47 series. From that moment on he personally took care of the maintenance of the helicopter. The overhaul work were initially done by the Agusta's technicians.

HAB 02/2010