CH-3 Jolly Green Giant
The CH-3E was the USAF version of the Sikorsky S-61 amphibious transport helicopter developed for the US Navy. The USAF initially operated six Navy HSS-2 (SH-3A) versions of the S-61 in 1962, eventually designating them CH-3A/Bs. They were so successful the USAF ordered 75, modified as CH-3Cs, featuring a new rear fuselage design with a ramp for vehicles and other cargo. The CH-3C [Sikorsky S-61R] differed significantly in a number of ways from the original CH-3A/B, with a larger boat-type hull modified with a new rear loading ramp. The two sponsons were replaced by two stub wings set farther back, into which the rear tricycle landing gear retract.
The first CH-3C was flown on June 17, 1963. Not until July 1965 did the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service (ARRS) receive its first CH-3C, an aircraft considered an adequate aircrew rescue vehicle. Although thought by many to be impractical for helicopters, aerial refueling expanded helicopter rescue capability by radically extending range and endurance. A USAF CH-3C simulated refueling from a Marine Corps KC-130F tanker during the first test of the concept on 17 December 1966. With the introduction of the air-refuelable HH-3E in June 1967 and the delivery of the HH-53 (the first helicopter specifically designed for CSAR operations) later that year, the ARRS began to build its reputation as the world's finest combat rescue force. During the Vietnam War, some CH-3 were used to recover remote piloted vehicles in flight.
When 41 CH-3Cs were updated with more powerful engines in 1966, they were redesignated as CH-3Es. Forty-five more were newly manufactured. Two 1,500-horse engines powered the CH-3E, which had a rotor diameter of 62 feet, a fuselage length of 57 feet 3 inches, and empty gross weights of 13,255 and 22,050 pounds respectively. Other operational statistics included maximum a speed of 162 mph; range, 465 miles; and accommodation for a crew of two or three and 30 troops or 15 stretchers or 5,000 pounds of payload.
In 1965, the 20th Helicopter Squadron's CH-3E helicopters were transferred to Southeast Asia and the squadron began unconventional warfare and special operations as the Pony Express. The Squadron continued to do unconventional warfare missions for seven distinguished years, until deactivation of the 20th Helicopter Squadron in 1972.
The first of six CH-3Es authorized for the 317th Special Operations Squadron arrived at Hurlburt Field March 13, 1973. The sixth arrive May 8. However, additional transfers of CH-3Es into and out of Hurlburt brought the total assigned helicopter in the 317th SOS to five by the end of July 1973. Another series of transfers began March 30, 1974, when one CH-3E went to Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. The 20th SOS became the wing's helicopter squadron when it activated at Hurlburt Field Jan. 1, 1976, with an authorization of six UH-1Ns and four CH-3Es. By the end of March 1976, the squadron had none of its authorized CH-3Es and only three by the end of the year. Not until late 1978 did the unit receive all of its CH-3E helicopters. Within two years all of these helicopters left Hurlburt permanently when the 20th SOS received the larger, more capable HH-53H Pave Low IIIs in June 1980 and release all four CH-3Es in September.
In addition to normal military training and missions, the air commandos utilized their air assets in various ways. The wing used a CH-3E, July 23, 1973, to airlift a small research barge from Fort Pickens, across from Pensacola, Fla., into the Santa Rosa Sound. The National Park Service built and used the barge as a diving platform in the underwater search for shipwrecks in the sound. The 1st Special Operations Wing's 317th SOS used one of its CH-3Es to rescue a sailor who, with another 19-year-old, had set sail Sept. 17, 1973 for Central America in a small sloop. However, before they had even reach the Gulf of Mexico, a storm smashed their boat on the rocks of the East Pass at Destin, Fla. While one of the two swam to shore, the other only save himself from being swept away by clinging to a marker buoy. Among the exercises in which CH-3Es participated were BOLD EAGLE 1978 on Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.; SOLID SHIELD 1978 in the Carolinas; GALLANT EAGLE 1979 on the Eglin Reservation; and SOLID SHIELD 1980 in the southeast U.S. Locations varied depending to some extent on the objectives of the exercises.
A particularly striking example of the Air Force Reserve's ability to respond to the call for help took place in 1980 when a fire struck the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. After exhausting local resources to rescue trapped hotel guests, civil officials requested Air Force assistance. Several units responded, including the Reserve's 302nd Special Operations Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., which was deployed at Nellis AFB, Nev. Using their CH-3E helicopters, members of the 302nd accounted for 17 of the total 79 saves credited to the Air Force.
At least nine USAF surplus CH-3Es and HH-3Es were purchased by the US Coast Guard to supplement their 40 HH-3Fs.
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