Tag Archives: Aerial Refueling

5 September 1983

Captain Robert J. Goodman's Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker refuels and tows a crippled McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II over the North Atlantic. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Robert J. Goodman’s Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker refuels and tows a crippled McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II over the North Atlantic. (U.S. Air Force)

5 September 1983: A Strategic Air Command Boeing KC-135A Stratotanker of the 42nd Air Refueling Squadron, Loring  AFB, Maine, was sent to rendezvous with a flight of McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II fighter bombers crossing the Atlantic Ocean enroute to Europe. As they began to refuel the fighters, one F-4E began to lose power in one of its engines, and also lost part of its hydraulic system. The Phantom’s pilot had difficulty maintaining speed and altitude as he tried to hook up with the tanker, and the second engine began to overheat. The two aircraft flew at just above the Stratotanker’s landing speed so that the Phantom could keep up, but as it slowed further, the Phantom’s angle of attack had to increase to maintain lift. This exceeded the mechanical limits of the refueling boom and the two airplanes separated without the fighter having received a full fuel load.

LCOL Robert J. Goodman, USAF (1943–2011). (U.S. Air Force)
LCOL Robert J. Goodman, USAF (1943–2011). (U.S. Air Force)

The crew of the F-4E was in serious danger. It was unlikely that the airplane could remain in the air for much longer. It was decided to head for Gander, Newfoundland, the closest place to land, 500 miles (806 kilometers) away. Captain Robert J. Goodman, U.S. Air Force, aircraft commander of the Stratotanker, decided to escort the crippled fighter which continued to lose altitude. It was necessary to try to refuel it three more times, and on occasion, the tanker actually towed the fighter back to altitude.

With the help of the tanker, the Phantom II finally arrived at Gander and landed safely.

For their efforts to save the lives of the crew of the F-4E, Captain Goodman and his crew, Captain Michael F. Clover, 1st Lieutenant Karol F. Wojcikowski and Staff Sergeant Douglas D. Simmons, Crew E113, were awarded the Mackay Trophy “For outstanding achievement while on a routine refueling mission involving F-4E aircraft, saving a valuable aircraft from destruction and its crew from possible death.

SAC Crew E113, left to right: 1st Lieutenant Karol F. Wocjikowski, Captain Michael F. Clover, Captain Robert J. Goodman and Staff Sergeant Douglas D. Simmons. (U.S. Air Force)

The Mackay Trophy which is awarded annually for “the most meritorious flight of the year by an Air Force person, persons, or organization.” It is kept at the Smithsonian Institution, National Air and Space Museum.

The Mackay Trophy.
The Mackay Trophy.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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27 June 1923

Lieutenants Lowell H. Smith and John P. Richter, Air Service, U.S. Army. (U.S. Air Force)

The first successful aerial refueling took place on June 27, 1923, when a DH-4B, Air Service serial number A.S. 23-462, carrying Lieutenants Virgil S. Hine and Frank W. Seifert passed gasoline through a hose to another DH-4B which was flying beneath them carrying Lieutenants Lowell H. Smith and John P. Richter.

Hine and Smith piloted their respective airplanes while Seifert and Richter handled the refueling. A 50 foot (15.24 meter) hose with manually-operated quick-acting valves at each end was used. During the refueling, 75 gallons (284 liters) of gasoline was passed from the tanker to the receiver.

Smith and Richter landed after 6 hours, 38 minutes when their airplane developed engine trouble. Only one refueling had been completed but that had demonstrated the feasibility of the procedure.

A DH.4B flown by Lieutenant Lowell H. Smith and Lieutenant John P. Richter receives gasoline from another DH.4B, A.S. 23-462, flown by Lieutenants Virgil S. Hine and Frank W. Seifert at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California, 27 June 1923. (U.S. Air Force)

For their accomplishment, all four officers were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The Airco DH.4 was a very successful airplane of World War I, designed by Geoffrey de Havilland. It was built by several manufacturers in Europe and the United States. The DH-4B was a rebuilt DH.4 with fuel capacity increased to 110 gallons (420 liters). The DH-4B was 30 feet, 6 inches (9.296 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 6 inches (13.259 meters) and height of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). Loaded weight of the standard DH-4B was 3,557 pounds (1,613.4 kilograms).

In place of the Rolls-Royce Eagle VII V-12 of the British-built version, Army Air Service DH-4s were powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 1,649.336-cubic-inch-displacement (27.028 liter) Liberty L-12 single overhead cam (SOHC) 45° V-12 engine with a compression ratio of 5.4:1. The Liberty produced 408 horsepower at 1,800 r.p.m. The L-12 as a right-hand tractor, direct-drive engine. It turned turned a two-bladed fixed-pitch wooden propeller. The Liberty 12 was 5 feet, 7.375 inches (1.711 meters) long, 2 feet, 3.0 inches (0.686 meters) wide, and 3 feet, 5.5 inches (1.054 meters) high. It weighed 844 pounds (383 kilograms).

The Liberty L12 aircraft engine was designed by Jesse G. Vincent of the Packard Motor Car Company and Elbert J. Hall of the Hall-Scott Motor Company. This engine was produced by Ford Motor Company, as well as the Buick and Cadillac Divisions of General Motors, The Lincoln Motor Company (which was formed by Henry Leland, the former manager of Cadillac, specifically to manufacture these aircraft engines), Marmon Motor Car Company and Packard. Hall-Scott was too small to produce engines in the numbers required.

The DH-4B had a maximum speed of 128 miles per hour (206 kilometers per hour), service ceiling of 19,600 feet (5,974 meters) and range of 400 miles (644 kilometers).

mid air refueling
The first mid air refueling near San Diego, California, 27 June 1923. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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31 May–1 June 1967

Left to Right: Major Herbert Zehnder, USAF; Igor Sikorsky; Major Donald B. Murras, USAF, at Le Bourget, 1 June 1967.
Major Herbert R. Zehnder, USAF; Igor Sikorsky; Major Donald B. Murras, USAF, at le Bourget, 1 June 1967. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

At 0105 hours, 31 May 1967, two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters, 66-13280 and 66-13281, from the 48th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, United States Air Force, took off from Floyd Bennett Field, New York and flew non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean to the Paris Air Show. They arrived at Le Bourget at 1351 hours, 1 June.

The flight covered 4,271 miles (6873.5 kilometers) and took 30 hours, 46 minutes. Nine in-flight refuelings were required from Lockheed HC-130P Combat King tankers. The aircraft commanders were Major Herbert Zehnder and Major Donald B. Murras.

Major Zehnder, in H-211, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a Recognized Course for helicopters, with an average speed of 189.95 kilometers per hour (118.03 miles per hour). This record still stands.¹

One of two 48th ARRS Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant lands at Le Bourget after non-stop trans Atlantic flight, 1 June 1967. (Louisiana State Museum)
“H-211,” one of two 48th ARRS Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters, lands at Le Bourget after a non-stop trans Atlantic flight, 1 June 1967. (Louisiana State Museum)
Lieutenant Colonel Travis Wofford, United States Air Force.
Lieutenant Colonel Travis Wofford, United States Air Force.

Both Jolly Green Giants, serial numbers 66-13280 and 66-13281, were later assigned to the 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Both were lost in combat during the Vietnam War.

66-13280, “Jolly Green 27” crashed at Kontum, Republic of South Vietnam, 15 April 1970. The pilot, Captain Travis H. Scott, Jr., was killed, and flight engineer Gerald E. Hartzel later died of wounds. The co-pilot, Major Travis Wofford, was awarded the Air Force Cross and the Cheney Medal for his rescue of the crewmembers from the burning helicopter. Captain Scott was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross.

66-13281, “Jolly Green 28,” was shot down over Laos, 24 October 1969. The crew was rescued and the helicopter destroyed to prevent capture. The pararescueman, Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith, was awarded the  Air Force Cross for the rescue of the pilot of “Misty 11.” He was also awarded the Airman’s Medal.

Master Sergeant Donald G. Smith, United States Air Force.
Master Sergeant Donald G. Smith, United States Air Force.

Major Herbert Zehnder flew another Sikorsky HH-3E, 65-12785, to intentionally crash land inside the Sơn Tây Prison Camp, 23 miles (37 kilometers) west of Hanoi, North Vietnam. He was awarded the Silver Star.

The SH-3A Sea King (Sikorsky S-61) first flew 11 March 1959, designed as an anti-submarine helicopter for the U.S. Navy. The prototype was designated XHSS-2 Sea King. In 1962, the HSS-2 was redesignated SH-3A Sea King. Many early production aircraft were upgraded through SH-3D, SH-3G, etc. In addition to the original ASW role, the Sea Kings have been widely used for Combat Search and Rescue operations. Marine One, the call sign for the helicopters assigned to the President of the United States, are VH-3D Sea Kings.

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (66-13290) of the 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, Republic of South Vietnam, 1968. (U.S. Air Force)

The Sikorsky HH-3E (Sikorsky S-61R) earned the nickname Jolly Green Giant during the Vietnam War. It is a dedicated Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) helicopter flown by the U.S. Air Force, based on the CH-3C transport helicopter. The aircraft is flown by two pilots and the crew includes a flight mechanic and gunner. It is a large twin-engine helicopter with a single main rotor/tail rotor configuration. It has retractable tricycle landing gear and a rear cargo ramp. The rear landing gear retracts into a stub wing on the aft fuselage. The helicopter has an extendable inflight refueling boom.

The HH-3E is 72 feet, 7 inches (22.123 meters) long and 18 feet, 10 inches (5.740 meters) high with all rotors turning. The main rotor has five blades and a diameter of 62 feet (18.898 meters). Each blade has a chord of 1 foot, 6.25 inches (0.464 meters). The main rotor turns at 203 r.p.m., counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the right.) The tail rotor also has five blades and has a diameter of 10 feet, 4 inches (3.150 meters). The blades have a chord of 7–11/32 inches (0.187 meters). The tail rotor turns clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The tail rotor turns 1,244 r.p.m.

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant refuels in flight from a Lockheed HC-130 Combat King. (U.S. Air Force)
A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant refuels in flight from a Lockheed HC-130 Combat King. (U.S. Air Force)

The HH-3E has an empty weight of 13,341 pounds (6,051 kilograms). The maximum gross weight is 22,050 pounds (10,002 kilograms).

The Jolly Green Giant is powered by two General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines, which have a Maximum Continuous Power rating of 1,400 shaft horsepower, each, and Military Power rating of 1,500 shaft horsepower. The main transmission is rated for 2,500 horsepower, maximum.

The HH-3E has a cruise speed of 154 miles per hour (248 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level, and a maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour), also at Sea Level. The service ceiling is 14,000 feet (4,267 meters). The HH-3E had a maximum range of 779 miles (1,254 kilometers) with external fuel tanks.

The Jolly Green Giant can be armed with two M60 7.62 mm machine guns.

Sikorsky built 14 HH-3Es. Many CH-3Cs and CH-3Es were upgraded to the HH-3E configuration. Sikorsky built a total of 173 of the S-61R series.

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)
Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant 67-14709 at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

¹ FAI Record File Number 2092

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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