Few examples in American culture match the absurdity of the Winnebago Heli-home, as it combined the historic love affair with vehicles and excess in a unique way.
The Heli-home made its debut in the late 1970s as a helicopter-turned-camper-van, a short-lived publicity stunt for Winnebago. Surprisingly, despite its impracticality, the flying camper van was not just a concept but a reality. Winnebago managed to sell eight or nine of these unique machines and heavily featured them in their publicity campaigns. The YouTube historian, Calum, presents a thorough research-backed history lesson, taking viewers back in time.
The roots of the Heli-home can be traced back to the Vietnam War era when the U.S. military decided to sell off surplus S-58 Choctaw helicopters. These helicopters, designed by the renowned innovator Igor Sikorsky, had proven their worth as valuable medical transports due to their spacious interiors. The simple and reliable design made the S-58s popular, and some were even equipped as war machines with additional machine guns or rocket pods. The S-58’s distinctive shape became recognizable as the helicopter chosen to transport U.S. presidents in Marine One.
The ingenious idea of turning a Vietnam-era helicopter into a luxurious airborne camper van presented numerous challenges. Calum’s investigation led him to the original inventor of the Heli-home, Fred Clark, a former U.S. Navy pilot who refurbished surplus helicopters through his company, Orlando Helicopter Airways. Clark chose the S-58 as the ideal candidate for his camper van design due to its size and capabilities.
When Winnebago finally unveiled its version of Clark’s Heli-home design, it surprisingly lived up to much of the extravagant publicity. The interior was reminiscent of modern camper vans, featuring shag carpeting, a galley that transformed into a two-burner stove, and a seating area that converted into small bunks. The Heli-home boasted amenities like air conditioning, a furnace, a water heater, and a bathroom with a chemical toilet and shower. It even included a sound system with AM/FM radio and a cassette deck, all enclosed with soundproofing.
Despite its lasting fascination, the Heli-home was out of reach for most due to its exorbitant price tag, costing $300,000 at the time, equivalent to about $1.5 million today, adjusting for inflation.
The quirky legacy of the Heli-home remains alive in online forums and websites, and Calum’s video sheds light on this unlikely piece of history. As the video concludes, it references Igor Sikorsky‘s 1942 New Yorker article, envisioning a future where Americans would fly helicopters as easily as they drive cars—a reminder of how technology has evolved beyond expectations, making the access to free, documentary-quality videos on our phones even easier than piloting a helicopter or driving a car.