Cessna Skyhook

Cessna is well known for building a complete line of airplanes, from two-seat trainers to business jets. However, in the late 50s and early 60s the company also built a helicopter with a two-bladed main rotor and a reciprocating engine. The official model was the CH-1; however, it was also called the Cessna Skyhook.

Designed with a four place cabin the CH-1 was first certified in June, 1955 as a two-seat helicopter. After solving some longitudinal stability problems, Cessna sought and received four-seat certification in February, 1956. The helicopter had a supercharged Continental FSO-470 engine mounted in the nose and a tail boom that looked like the small airplanes they were building at the time. The forward engine design made for easy maintenance, but had other difficulties like where to route the exhaust. Initial designs ran the exhaust under the cabin, however high noise levels created a problem that Cessna was never able to completely fix.

The CH-1 had a fast never-exceed-speed of 122 mph, a maximum gross weight of 3,000 pounds and was considered a good performing helicopter. In fact, just three months after certification the CH-1 landed, hovered and took off from Pike’s Peak, Colorado, at an elevation of over 14,000 feet.  The flight was done as a demonstration for the US Army who eventually ordered 10 upgraded CH-1s for evaluations. The upgraded model used a 270 hp Continental FSO-526 engine and was designated the CH-1B by Cessna. A CH-1C model followed with a gross weight increase to 3,100 pounds and the US Government bought 15 for its Military Assistance Program. Cessna competed for additional military helicopter contracts, but ultimately lost.

In October, 1960 Cessna announced that the CH-1C would be put into production for civilian sales at a price of $79,960 with initial deliveries beginning in July 1961. Just three months before deliveries were to begin, a suspected tail rotor malfunction caused a crash in Texas killing Cessna’s marketing pilot. There were rumors of additional crashes including one in the Gulf of Mexico that resulted in four fatalities.

In January, 1962 Cessna announced they were terminating the helicopter program entirely citing poor sales and lost military opportunities. Cessna bought back all existing civil CH-1s in the field. It is estimated that a total of about 50 helicopters were built. Finally, 1989 Cessna cancelled the CH-1 FAA Type Certificate.



  1. This was the first helicopter certified for instrument flight by the CAA, forerunner to the FAA. Frank Robinson got his start as an engineer on this project.

  2. For some reason, I had thought that semi-rigid rotor systems required tall masts (e.g., Robinson, Bell 206). I guess I was mistaken. Why are those masts so tall?

  3. Hi Tim,
    Yesterday, a helicopter crash-landed in my country, India. All occupants survived. Media reports quoted the pilot as saying that after taking off he detected a technical probelm with the controls. One report said speed was uncontrollable. So he returned to the airport, kept hovering till all the fuel was used up and then prepared for an emergency landing. At 10ft above the ground, he cut off the engine and let the chopper drop. What kind of landing was he attempting and what kind of problem he might have faced?

  4. Kris S. — a tall mast helps with the c.g. range. With the unusual front engine and passenger layout, apparently Cessna didn’t need that help.

  5. The Skyhook also held the piston engine rotorcraft altitude record.

  6. Alan D. Resnicke

    May 11, 2012 at 11:07 am

    Hello, Pranesh.

    The landing you describe sounds like a hovering autorotation where the pilot chops the throttle to idle or off, then uses the energy remaining in the spinning rotor system to gently settle to the ground. I was a military instructor for several years and this was a standard training maneuver – and actually a lot of fun once you mastered the skill.

    As to what might have led to the emergency in the first place, I’m not sure. If he had a control problem in forward flight but not at a hover it might have been a vibration issue or possibly a loose component. Still, he would not have needed to burn down his fuel to complete the hovering autorotation… that can be done at any weight as far as I know.

  7. I think I saw these helicopters being used commercially for helicopter rides at the Seattle World’s Fair in 1962.

  8. Gerry Bushrow

    May 11, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Tis true, someone was offering sightseeing rides in the Skyhook at the Seattle World’s Fair. Twenty buck a person, I believe. I told the pilot that we weren’t interested is seeing Seattle, but were interested in the helicopter. He did some demonstration maneuvers, including an auto-rotation to touchdown on a Seattle pier. The Skyhook was ahead of it’s time in stability.

  9. Hello Alan,
    Thank you very much for your explanation. Warm wishes

  10. Jon S. wrote:

    >Kris S. — a tall mast helps with the c.g. range. ….

    I thought the purpose of putting the main rotor up high, was so it wouldn’t chop somebody’s head off.

  11. Having designed a mast or 2 I can tell you that mast height is dictated by numerous factors but mostly ground (and personnel) clearance and tailboom clearance. Tall masts provide some additional stability in some flight conditions but also can effect handling qualities such as yaw-roll couple since it typically increases the distance between the plane if the main rotor and the center of thrust of the tail rotor. So up to a point shorted is typically better.

  12. Charlie Johnson

    May 17, 2012 at 3:31 pm

    Yes, I took a ride in the Cessna Skyhook at the SEA World’s Fair around the 2nd or 3rd of July of 1962.

  13. The only surviving Cessna CH-1 is in the possession of the US Army Aviation Museum at Ft. Rucker, AL. It is in amazingly good condition and has not been restored. It is in storage awaiting funding for an additional museum wing in which to display it and a number of other significant rotorcraft.


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  15. Jonathan Clark

    July 27, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    The location of this picture is Wichita, Kansas. My ex-father in law Juan Bernhard is in the co-pilot’s seat. He showed me this picture before. There is a enlarged 6′ or so tall re-production of this picture at the Cessna Flight safety center Wichita, Kansas. I’m not sure where it is now. Caroline Clark was Juan’s secretary at the time before he retired. She is now retired. I don’t have a date for his retirement but it was around 1994.The retirement party was at Russ Meyer’s house in north Wichita.

  16. I, too, took a ride in a Cessna CH-1 Skyhook helicopter at the Seattle World’s Fair in either July or August of 1962! I was 14 years old, and the $20 was a huge sum that made me ponder for quite a while before I actually did it. I think I still have some photos from that ride!

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