The RH-53D is used primarily for Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM), with a secondary mission of shipboard delivery. To complete its experiments with the RH-3A, the US Navy borrowed nine CH-53Ds from the Marines, fitted with devices for the detection, sweeping and neutralization of all types of mines. This variant was designated RH-53D, and 30 were produced for the US Navy and six for the Iranian Navy. The RH-53 had 1900 liter supplementary fuel tanks, a 270kg hoist and 11340kg cargo hook.
In April 1971 HM-12, the Navy's first helicopter squadron devoted exclusively to mine countermeasures was established at NAS Norfolk. The mission of HM-12 was to remove/eliminate enemy mines from sealanes and amphibious operating areas. To accomplish this task HM-12 helicopters towed specially designed mechanical magnetic and acoustic minesweeping equipment which would activate the enemy mines, thereby eliminating them as a threat to future operations in the area. HM-12 employed CH-53A Sea Stallions until they received the Sikorsky RH-53D built specifically for mine countermeasures. At the beginning of 1973, these helicopters were used by US Navy Task Force 78 for Operation Endsweep, to free the North Vietnamese ports of mines.
The first production RH-53D Sea Stallion, especially configured for the airborne mine countermeasures mission, arrived at the Naval Air Test Center for weapons system trials in May 1973. Navy preliminary evaluation and the initial phase of the Board of Inspection and Survey trials had begun at Sikorsky Aircraft Division on 15 May 1973. HM-12 received the first RH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters in November 1973.
In May 1974 a twelve-plane detachment of RH-53D Sea Stallions from NAS Norfolk's HM-12 began minesweeping the Suez Canal as part of Project NIMBUS STAR. In April 1979 an RH-53D Sea Stallion from HM-12 set a new nonstop, transcontinental flight by flying from Norfolk, Virginia, to San Diego, California. The helicopter flew 2,077-nm in 18.5 hours, air refueling from an Air National Guard HC-130 Hercules. The flight demonstrated the long-range, quick-response capability of the RH-53D helicopter and was commanded by Lieutenant Rodney M. Davis.
The 1977 arrival of four RH-53D helicopters to Fleet Logistics Support Squadron TWO FOUR (VR-24) ushered in a new era in combat logistics support. Entitled Vertical Onboard Delivery (VOD), the "VOD Squad" of VR-24 possessed a helicopter heavy lift capability never before seen in the Mediterranean Theater.
On 24 April 1980, after six months of failed negotiation, the national command authorities executed Operation Eagle Claw to free US hostages held in Iran by militant students. The plan ended in failure at a location named Desert One after the collision of fixed- and rotary-winged aircraft. The plan called for eight Navy RH-53D helicopters to fly 600 miles to Desert One and, under the cover of darkness, refuel from KC-130 tankers, load a 120-man Army assault team and proceed to two additional hide sites. One of the go/no-go parameters for the mission was a minimum of six operational helicopters. Within four hours, two helicopters aborted due to mechanical failure. The remaining aircraft were delayed due to weather, with one of them not operational due to a hydraulic leak. It was during the evacuation of the site that problems arose. One of the helicopters collided with a KC-130 during refueling. The result was 193 million dollars worth of equipment and eight dead servicemen left behind. All other personnel were evacuated on the remaining C-130s.
In November 1980 RH-53D Sea Stallions from VR-24, together with units of the U.S. Army and Air Force, began disaster relief assistance to victims of the devastating earthquake at Avellino, Italy, on November 23, which killed over 3,000 persons and made many more homeless. Commander Fleet Air, Mediterranean, headquartered at Naples, was director of U.S. Military support efforts.
The "VOD Squad" provided service to ships of the SIXTH FLEET until 1983 when their helicopters were transferred to the Airborne Mine Countermeasures (AMCM)community. Foreseeing an expansion of the VOD mission, the Navy purchased the new, three engine, seven blade, Sikorsky CH-53E "Super Stallion" and on 6 May 1983, HELSUPPRON FOUR was established as the Navy's first heavy lift, helicopter combat support squadron.
As of 1996 Marine Corps Reserve RH-53D helicopters were scheduled to be replaced with CH-53D/E helicopters, identical to active component models.
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