I recently made the claim that there are no flying RVs, but apparently I was wrong. While Winnebagos bolted to some wings à la the Spaceballs Eagle 5 do not exist, there is something that comes somewhat close. The Winnebago Heli-Home is an RV that cancamp just about anywhere.
The 1970s and 1980s are my favorite period for recreational vehicles. Everyone had an idea for what the RV of the future would be like. Some made awesome fiberglass campers while others tried to make RVs into sports cars. But perhaps the most ambitious design of the era took military transport helicopters and built them out as flying RVs.
You may wonder why anyone thought a helicopter-based RV is a good idea. But in the 20th Century, a lot of people thought the future would involve flying everywhere. Aviation pioneer Igor Sikorsky penned an article in a 1942 issue of the Atlantic where he predicted a near future where everyone got around by helicopter bus. Others thought we’d be getting around in planes and flying cars. That promised future didn’t happen, but that didn’t stop Winnebago from trying with the Heli-Home.
The Itasca Division of Winnebago joined forces with Orlando Helicopter Airways in the mid-1970s to offer two versions of the Heli-Home, reports Air & Space Magazine.
The smaller camper was built inside of a Sikorsky S-55 powered by a Wright R-1300-3 radial piston engine making 800 HP. A larger unit was available and it was based on a Sikorsky S-58. This helicopter had a Wright R-1300-3 radial making 1,525 HP or a Pratt & Whitney PT6T-3 Twin-Pac turbine making about 1,800 HP. Orlando Helicopter Airways acquired the machines from government surplus auctions.
Winnebago’s part was to build out the interior, and it went for a luxury home in the sky. The S-58-based Heli-Home had 115 square feet of space—supposedly enough sleeping room for six—a fully-functional kitchen, couches, eight-track tape deck, color television, generator, water heaters, mini-bar, air-conditioner, furnace, and a full bathroom.
The Heli-Home was basically a Class-A RV packaged into a helicopter. The Heli-Home even had optional floats that allowed it to land on water. Winnebago marketed it as “the most dramatic, comfortable, convenient and unique RV in the world.”
The helicopters weighed in at 9,200 pounds with a cargo payload of 3,300 pounds. Cruising speed was 110 mph with a range of 300 miles and they burned about 225 gallons of fuel getting there. Saying that the Heli-Home is excessive is an understatement, especially during the fuel crisis. But hey, how many other campers can fly to an altitude of 8,000 feet?
The Heli-Home drew crowds and media coverage wherever Winnebago took it, but that didn’t exactly translate to sales.
They cost $185,000 to $300,000 or $930,000 to $1.5 million in today’s money. If that asking price was too rich, they were also available for rent for $10,000 a week, or $50,000 in today’s money. But no matter if you bought it or rented, you were on the hook for a pilot and the 75 gallons per hour of fuel these burned.
Winnebago and Orlando sold only six or eight of them, depending on who you ask. And while the helicopters are still around today, their interiors have been gutted, their flying motorhome history erased.