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HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant

The HH-53 was the first helicopter specifically designed for combat search and rescue [CSAR] operations. On March 15, 1967, the HH-53B Super Jolly Green Giant made its first flight at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. After evaluation, the helicopter was slated for Aerospace Rescue and Recovery operations in Southeast Asia. The "Super Jolly" was the successor to the HH-3 Jolly Green Giant. It was faster and had nearly triple the take-off weight of the HH-3. The CH-3E, one of the family of Sikorsky helicopters, served special operations at Hurlburt Field for more than seven years until replaced by a large helicopter. The HH-53 was larger, more heavily armed, and with almost double the shaft horsepower, it had better overall performance and hover capability, especially at altitude.

For its combat rescue and recovery role, the HH-53B was equipped with armor plating, self-sealing fuel tanks, three 7.62 miniguns and an external rescue hoist with 250 feet of cable. It could transport 38 combat-equipped troops on side facing troop seats, or 22 litter patients and four medical attendants or 18,500 pounds of freight. The external hook had a 20,000-pound capacity. The heavy-lift helicopter was used extensively during the Vietnam War for special operations and rescue of combat personnel, and later as a primary recovery of spacecraft in space operations.

With the improved performance of the rescue helicopters, such as the HH-53, terrain became a useful ally in Vietnam rather than a hindrance. Ridgelines, karst, and jungle canopy could be used to minimize the effectiveness of enemy fire. Antiaircraft guns, which grew in number and caliber throughout the war, were limited by the same jungle that hid them. Gunners could track their targets only within the confining limits of geographic features.

All HH-53B models were upgraded to C model capability in the late 1970s. A total of 64 "C" models were built, and under the Pave Low III program, nine of those models were transitioned to the HH-53H program. The Air Force HH-53Bs and HH-53Cs were delivered to the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service for use in the same types of missions as the HH-3Es.

The HH-53 can pick up 20,000 pounds with its hoist. The HH-53B/Cs were all converted to MH-53Js, which are equipped for night search and rescue using special infrared scanners, low-light television and radar systems linked to an airborne computer which permits operation at night. All HH-53B models were upgraded to C model capability in the late 1970s. A total of 64 "C" models were built, and under the Pave Low III program, nine of those models were transitioned to the HH-53H program. The sole YHH-53H, a former HH-53B (66-14433), tested a night/all-weather system dubbed Pave Low II, which served as a proof-of-concept vehicle for HH-53H and MH-53J Pave Low III variants to follow.

During past space programs, the HH-53 was on duty at the launch site as the primary astronaut recovery vehicle. The vehicles, equipment, and procedures used in the Apollo launch site recovery area were similar to those used for Gemini flights; however, several procedural changes were made and some new equipment was introduced. Starting with Apollo 7, the HH-53C heavy-lift helicopter was added to the complement of launch site recovery vehicles for uprighting the command module and for delivering pararescue personnel, fire fighters, and equipment. For surf operations, the same type of amphibious vehicle used during Gemini was initially adapted for command module retrieval, but the use of this vehicle was discontinued after Apollo 11 when surf retrieval procedures using the HH-53C helicopter were developed. Examples of equipment developed or adapted for crew rescue from the command wdule include a "jamed hatch kit," containing special tools for gaining access to the command module crew compartment, and a helicopter-deployable fire suppression kit for extinguishing hypergolic fires. The most significant change in the launch abort recovery force deployment was that, beginning with Apollo 16, the requirement for recovery ship support of sector A was deleted. The HH-53C helicopter was used instead because, with in-flight refueling, the aircraft had become capable of retrieving the flight crew to a distance of 1000 miles.

In May 1980, eight HH-53H PAVE LOW helicopters found a temporary home at the 20th Special Operations Squadron [20th SOS], providing the squadron with a heavylift, long-range helicopter. According to the squadrons' history, within a month's time following the devastating Operation Eagle Claw mission, where five members of the 8th SOS were killed in an accident during the Iran hostage rescue, a decision was made that the long-range capability of the PAVE LOW would be needed if a second rescue attempt was to be successful.

Orders to move the PAVE LOW helicopters from the air rescue squadron at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM, were received on a Friday and by Monday morning, personnel and equipment had been transferred to Hurlburt Field. Due to the release of the hostages, a second rescue attempt was never done, but the helicopters stayed here. It wasn't until 1987 that the squadron replaced the HH-53 PAVE LOW with the MH-53 PAVE LOW, the only helicopter used by the squadron today.

In 1983, the 1st Special Operations Wing and UH-1Ns embarked on their most visible mission - Operation Bahamas and Turks (Operation BAT). The objective was to curb illegal drug smuggling from South American through the Bahamas into south Florida. With the transfer of the Operation BAT mission Sept. 30, 1985, the wing lost of its UH-1N helicopter force. This left the 1st SOW with HH-53H Pave Low II helicopters, which had superior capabilities to meet special operations taskings.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 02:33:00 ZULU