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HH-46D Sea Knight Sea Knight

US Marine Corps HH-46D Search and Rescue (ASAR)

As of early 2007 the US Marine Corps operated three HH-46D to provide heliborne SAR capabilities to tenant aviation units. Additional missions are secondary in nature and shall be accepted on a not-tointerfere basis only. Marine Corps Transport Squadron 1 [VMR-1] maintains and flies four different types of aircraft including the fixed wing C-9 and UC-35D, and HH-36D and HH-46E helicopters. Marine Transport Squadron 1 was awarded its 12th consecutive Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety Award in 2007 for superior safety performance. In total, the Roadrunners had received the award 15 times since 1990. They earned this most recent award for compiling more than 5,430 mishap-free flight hours in four different aircraft types for calendar year 2006. The VMR-1 Roadrunners' HH-46D crew consisted of two pilots, a crew chief, a rescue swimmer, and a Navy corpsman.

Approximately 50 Marines gathered 06 April 2005 to witness what the commanding officer of VMR-1 termed "a historic, one-time event for VMR-1." "For the first time, four Marine Corps HH-46 helicopters took to the skies together," said Lt. Col. Peter D. Buck. "It's a huge accomplishment. Getting all four (aircraft) airborne was a maintenance feat. Presenting the aircraft en masse to the Air Station and the local community demonstrated the readiness of the squadron."

The Mission Essential Task List (METL) consists of:

a. Provide search and rescue for tenant aircraft.

b. Provide supplemental search and rescue asset for U. S. Coast Guard and U.S. Air Force missions.

c. Provide MEDEVAC capability to local civilian agencies as required, on a not-to-interfere basis.

d. Provide airborne fire-fighting capability for MCAS facilities and to supplement Forest Service assets in the local area.

e. Provide supplemental search and rescue to local civilian agencies for non-law enforcement type missions such as searches, fire fighting, disaster response, or civilian MEDEVAC, when civilian agencies cannot respond.

f. Provide utility and logistics support missions of MCAS activities as directed by the Director of Operations, MCABEAST.

g. Enhance public relations for the Commanding General, MCABEAST through static displays and flight demonstrations as authorized by higher authority.

The Squadron Table of Organization includes 3 HH-46D helicopters; 8 Pilots; 9 Crew Chiefs; 6 SAR Swimmers; and 4 SAR Corpsmen. A Core Capabile squadron is able to sustain the following minimum performance on a daily basis during sustained search and rescue operations, assuming at least 100% Primary Authorized Allowance (PAA), 90% in reporting status, and 90% T/O on hand in all MOSs. If < 90%, core capability will be degraded by like-percentage. The extent to which a core capable squadron is able to surge beyond its core capability is situational dependent. A core capable squadron is able to launch 1 full mission capable aircraft crewed by a fully qualified aircrew at all times. This aircraft must be airborne within 15 minutes of alert when operating under SAR Condition I and 1 hour under SAR Condition II.

The HH-46D has limited single engine capability. At normal operating weights or above, it flies fine at 70-75 knots, but if slower or faster than that, then it is going to descend. Helicopters assigned a primary mission of SAR over water, air station coastal SAR, shall be adequately manned, equipped, and prepared to place a rescue swimmer in the water to assist the survivor. The rescue swimmer shall have completed a helicopter rescue swimmer initial SAR training syllabus.

It is desirable that all rescue capable aircraft operating over water be capable of conducting SAR operations. On those flights when a qualified rescue swimmer is embarked, he should have all equipment required for water entry aboard the aircraft. This policy is not intended to preclude the assignment of airborne helicopters not manned with a rescue swimmer to the prosecution of a SAR mission when other assets are not available or when multiple search platforms are required.

The rescue swimmer shall enter the water and assist the survivor(s) in all cases except when the aircraft commander determines that the circumstances will unnecessarily endanger the rescue swimmer. Factors to be considered include sea state, debris in water, sea predators, or surface burning oil or fuel. The rescue swimmer shall be deployed by either jumping or use of the rescue hoist. During night operations, or when other hazards exist in the vicinity, the rescue swimmer shall be lowered via hoist.

Marine Transport Squadron 1 took five aircraft for a flight over Eastern North Carolina before officially retiring two of them 07 December 2007. About 20 crew members, including Col. Frank P. Bottorff, Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point's commanding officer, took part in the final flight honoring the retiring HH-46D Sea Knight helicopters. The five birds known as "Pedro," the call-sign for search and rescue aircraft, flew over several cities including New Bern, Jacksonville, Morehead City, Swansboro and Atlantic Beach before returning back to Cherry Point. VMR-1 had used the HH-46D model primarily for SAR missions with the U.S. Coast Guard when extended searches in eastern North Carolina were required. The last two HH-46Ds were replaced by HH-46E versions that incorporate enhanced capabilities and performance characteristics. Engines with 25 percent more power, fuel tanks with 30 percent more capacity and a much larger communications and navigations suite will now be the standard for Pedro. The transition to the HH-46E began in January 2006. Every few months, the squadron received one of the new aircraft until they were all phased in.

US Navy HH-46D Amphibious Search and Rescue (ASAR)

The Fleet Combat Support (HC) helicopter community has been performing the Amphibious Search and Rescue (ASAR) mission in the Amphibious Task Force (ATF and Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) are interchangeable) since 1990. The mission of Navy helicopters in the ATF has developed in piecemeal fashion; based solely on the capabilities of the HH-46D helicopter and not integrated with the mission requirements of the ATF and Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). As a result, ASAR detachments have limited capabilities for critical missions in the ATF, including Naval Special Warfare (NSW), Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel (TRAP), and Anti-terrorism/Force Protection (AT/FP).

By 2002 HC squadrons deploy two HH-46D helicopters as a detachment consisting of 6 pilots and approximately 25 maintenance technicians. The helicopters are based and supported onboard the large deck amphibious ship, either a LHD class or LHA class, within the ATF. The primary mission of the ASAR helicopter detachment is to provide continuous Amphibious Search and Rescue coverage for the ATF. The secondary missions are Naval Special Warfare (NSW) and Logistics support in the form of Passenger/Mail/Cargo (PMC) and Vertical Replenishment (Vertrep).

The limited capabilities of the HH-46D platform, a lack of funding to conduct the required training for the mission, and the initial reluctance on the part of the HC community to accept the ASAR mission were all contributing factors for this piecemeal development. The result has been the development of the ASAR mission based solely on the capabilities of the HH-46D, instead of an integrated approach coordinating the platform capabilities with the mission requirements of the ATF and MEU.

In 1990, the ATF had to rely on a single Navy UH-1N or an ACE helicopter asset for SAR support, neither of which was night/adverse weather capable. By 1992, the HC community was providing one HH-46D helicopter to each deploying ATF. During a fleet training exercise in 1992, Amphibious Squadron ONE reported that one HH-46 "proved inadequate for continuous assigned operations. The single HH-46 assigned, maintained an 82 percent (9 of 11 nights) availability rate, flying night SAR and limited PMC missions."9 To ensure the Air Combat Element (ACE) completed all of its night flight operations, the ACE and the ATF ships had to compensate for the lack of an additional HH-46D. When the single HH-46D was not available for SAR, either another ATF ship was diverted from other missions to perform plane guard duties or ACE helicopters covered SAR duties. These additional duties effectively reduced the flexibility of the ATF to conduct simultaneous operations. Amphibious Squadron ONE recommended the assignment of a two-helicopter SAR detachment for all future ATF deployments. By 1993, two helicopters were assigned to each deploying ATF, but the ASAR crews were not NVG qualified.

The biggest hurdle for the HC community has been acquiring the HH-46, the doppler radar equipped variant of the H-46. A coupled doppler radar enables the pilot to safely maintain a night overwater hover and is a requirement for night SAR operations. As of 2001, only 50 percent of the H-46 fleet was capable of conducting the ASAR mission.

The HH-46D and HH-46E lack crashworthy crew chief/gunner and aerial observer seats, exposing aircrew members to higher risk of injury or death in the event of a hard landing, crash or aircraft rollover. Current crew chief/gunner and aerial observer stations provide limited compatibility with existing aircrew mission requirements. Operational demands require that the crew chief/gunner/aerial observer be positioned at the main cabin door or window aft of the cockpit for extended periods of time. Pilots have an energy-absorbing seat in the cockpit. However, the aircraft?s crew chief is the single occupant not provided with a crash-attenuating seat. While the crew chief may choose to occupy an existing CATSS seat elsewhere in the cabin, this reduces the number of seats available for passengers by one. Further, the crew chief needs a seat in close proximity to the cockpit in order to properly perform his duties. The lack of a crash attenuating seat for the crew chief exposes this crewmember to much higher risk of injury or death in the event of a hard landing, crash, or aircraft rollover. The US Navy/Marine Corps has need for a crashworthy crew chief/gunner and aerial observer seat for use on HH-46D and HH-46E helicopters.

The HH-46D ASAR platform entered the fleet in the 1960s. Its original service life of 10,000 flight hours has been exceeded by 57 of the current 71 airframes in inventory. To meet near term fleet requirements, the service life has been extended to 12,500 flight hours and 15,000 flight hours on a case-by-case basis.

The following deficiencies in the HH-46D platform were identified to justify a replacement aircraft:

1. Inadequate performance. The operating radius of 50 nautical miles limits its ability to be an effective SAR asset.

2. Inadequate night/adverse weather capability. Only 50 percent of the inventory unable to sustain a doppler coupled hover. HH-46D is not all weather capable, because it is prohibited from flying in icing conditions.

3. No aircraft combat survivability. HH-46D has no threat detection or countermeasures dispensing systems.

4. Unacceptably high maintenance and inspection tasks. The HH-46D Maintenance Man Hour per Organizational Flight Hour rate has risen 11% over two years from 2001 to 2003.

5. High engine failure rate. Five of last eight Class A mishaps were caused by engine failure.

6. Deficient C4ISR Architecture. HH-46D has no capability for Over the Horizon, datalink or battle force situational awareness.

The replacement helicopter for the H-46, known as the MH-60S multi-mission helicopter, can perform all of the missions of the H-46, from Amphibious Search and Rescue to battlegroup vertical replenishment. The MH-60S can do this at an expected cost of less than half that of the H-46D, with 80 percent fewer mission aborts, 56 percent fewer component removals, and 58 percent unscheduled maintenance actions.

Helicopter Combat Support (HC) Squadron 5, Det. 6 completed the Navy's first deployment of the new MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter aboard an amphibious ship 30 January 2003 on USS Essex (LHA 2). Prior to this deployment, HC-5's primary aircraft was the HH-46 helicopter, which is being phased out of the Navy. HC-5 traded out their last remaining HH-46s for MH-60Ss in December 2002. They now spend less time on maintenance and repairs. While the HH-46 had more room for cargo and passengers, the new capabilities of the MH-60S make up for the loss. More powerful engines give the Knighthawk significantly more lift power than the HH-46. The Knighthawk also has the capabilities to play a more active roll in combat search and rescue operations, which were limited with the minimal armor of the HH-46.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:32:59 ZULU