If there ever were a year that families needed vacations the most, it would be this year. As millions look for safe ways to get out of their homes, RVs and camper vans have become incredibly popular. Of course, camping and road trip vacations have always been the chosen way to travel for some years. In fact, the RV boom of the 70s and 80s produced some pretty revolutionary vehicles equipped for the ultimate vacation. Winnebago actually once introduced consumers to the Heli-Home, a flying RV for family adventures. You read that right. Here’s the craziest take on recreation you may not have realized even existed.
Camper van and RV sales are through the roof right now
Partially driven by the shutdowns of the pandemic, RV and camper van sales are through the roof. According to the Getaway Couple, dealerships reported record numbers upwards of a 10% increase from June 2019 to June 2020. Adding to the surge in sales are the demographics of the buyers. The Wandering RV points to more millennials and those in the range of 35-55 years old buying camper vans and RVs, not just the traditional retirement buyers.
Adventure-seeking in a camper isn’t a new idea. RV-ing for the family vacation has been around for decades, including during the 1970s and 1980s when Jalopnik says recreational vehicle designs were the most revolutionary. Back then, companies explored new ways to merge the home and car, the house and truck, and the house and boat, introducing revolutionary concepts of all of the above. Winnebago took things one step further, combining living quarters with a helicopter. Yes, you read that right. Winnebago merged an RV with a helicopter.
Ever heard about the Winnebago Heli-Home?
The Winnebago Heli-Home was a real thing, marketed and sold in the late 70s. The Drive recaps the history behind this flying RV and its beginning as a collaboration between Winnebago and Orlando Helicopter Airways. Using a fleet of military surplus Sikorsky S-55 and Sikorsky S-58 transport choppers, the companies partnered to design the perfect recreational vehicle.
The smaller Heli-Home, based on the Sikorsky S-55, harnessed an 800-hp R-1300-3 radial piston engine. The larger variation housed a Pratt & Whitney PT6T-3 Twin-Pac turbine capable of 1,800-hp or the Wright R-1300-3 radial harnessing 1,525-hp. Still, the features didn’t stop there.
Each of these Winnebago Heli-Homes offered the RV and camper essentials you’d expect, including hot and cold water, a full bathroom with a shower, and a 3,500-watt generator to power it all. There was even air conditioning and a furnace for seasonal travel. These helicopter RVs would comfortably accommodate six adults. Additionally, they even came equipped with optional floats, in addition to the traditional landing gear, in case you needed to land on a body of water.
So, can you buy a Winnebago Heli-Home today?
You would be really hard-pressed to find one of these flying RVs today. Reports often talk about this ultimate recreational ride as a concept. However, Winnebago produced eight that were ultimately sold to customers. Unfortunately, most industry sources say none of those original eight survived through to today.
Purchasing a Winnebago Heli-Home in the 1970s would cost you a pretty penny, about $880,000. However, it would still be cheaper than trying to buy an airplane with similar room-and-board amenities. A fully loaded Heli-Home would have cost you more like $1.4 million. Imagine what inflation would do to those costs, even if you managed to find one of these legendary camper-chopper mashups today.
Looking back at the Winnebago Heli-Home, some wonder if the RV maker would ever reconsider bringing it to market again. There are no official reports of such a comeback, but here’s to wishful thinking. It wasn’t the Spaceballs flying RV from the movies, but the Heli-Home certainly was a cool way to family vacation, if you were lucky enough to buy one.