You Could Buy and Fly Away in the Real Star of the M.A.S.H. TV Show

Bell 47 MASH 8 photos
Photo: Jeremy Etienne/20th Century Fox/YouTube
MASH Bell 47MASH Bell 47MASH Bell 47MASH Bell 47MASH Bell 47MASH Bell 47Mash title card
No one should make fun of profoundly serious situations, and yet human nature is always oh so flawed. This is how an entire media franchise consisting of novels, a movie, and several TV series, among others, became so successful while revealing the alternately funny, bitter, sad, cringing facets of war. And how Army doctors apparently coped with everything around them. Of course, M*A*S*H was mostly fiction. Mostly.
On the other hand, actors and crews involved with a show depicting the trials and tribulations of the fictional “4077th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital” unit needed some actual items from the real Army. Such as a Bell 47 that was manufactured by the 85-year old Bell Corporation at its aircraft assembly facility in Niagara, New York.

The Korean War made these little mosquitos vastly notorious exactly because they were used as medical evacuation units. Which is why 20th Century Fox, the owner of the franchise and the TV series producer for CBS, made use of the Bell 47 for a starring role. The helicopter is prominently featured at the start of each episode in the opening credits alongside another unit of the same type.

This particular Bell 47 (the company’s first type certified for civilian use, in 1946), serial number 263, became part of the U.S. Navy once it was finished and fulfilled training duties until it was decommissioned in 1958. Afterward, in 1972, the little flyer was acquired by Pathfinder Helicopters in Riverside, California, and the new owner went ahead to a full rebuild.

It was according to Bell standards so it received a completely new “Standard Airworthiness Certificate” the following year. It was then used in various action productions made in Hollywood before landing its most important gig. The show used it 263 times during its decade-long filming schedule, both flying and as a standing prop.

The helicopter even flew away for the final departure scene in the series finale “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen” - the new record holder for the most watched episode in U.S. television history at the time. The 1951 Bell 47 D-1 s/n 263 N5167V has now become available thanks to Platinum Fighter Sales which is offering it on behalf of the current owner, the one who restored it to its former glory.

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About the author: Aurel Niculescu
Aurel Niculescu profile photo

Aurel has aimed high all his life (literally, at 16 he was flying gliders all by himself) so in 2006 he switched careers and got hired as a writer at his favorite magazine. Since then, his work has been published both by print and online outlets, most recently right here, on autoevolution.
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