Tag Archives: Distinguished Flying Cross

4 December 1950

Ensign Jessse L. Brown, United States Navy, in the cockpit of a Chance Vought F4U-4 Corsair, circa 1950. (Naval History and Heritage Command, USN 1146845)

4 December 1950: Ensign Jesse Leroy Brown, United States Navy (13 October 1926–4 December 1950)

The following article is from the United States Navy, Naval History and Heritage Command:

Jesse Leroy Brown was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, into a sharecropper family. He was a school athlete who excelled at math and dreamed of being a pilot from the time he was a young boy. When he left Mississippi to attend Ohio State University in 1944, his high school principal wrote to him, “As the first of our graduates to enter a predominately white university, you are our hero.” Even though Brown had to work the midnight shift loading boxcars for the Pennsylvania Railroad to earn money for his education, he was still able to maintain a high GPA.

Brown joined the Naval Reserve to help pay for college. After he saw a poster recruiting students for a new naval aviation program, he was discouraged from applying and was told he would never make it to the cockpit of a Navy aircraft. He persisted and was finally permitted to take the qualification exams. He wrote to a childhood friend that he had made it through five hours of written tests, followed by oral tests and a rigorous physical exam ─ making it through each round of eliminations with flying colors. Despite his excellent performance and acceptance into the program, Brown told his friend, “I’m not sure the Navy really wants me.”

He received orders to Selective Flight Training in Glenview, Illinois, in March 1947, followed by additional training at Naval Air Station Ottumwa and Naval Air Station Pensacola. On 21 October 1948, at the age of 22, Brown became the first African American man to complete Navy flight training. A public information officer released a photograph and story the next day with the headline, “First Negro Naval Aviator.” The story was picked up by the Associated Press and Brown’s picture appeared in Life magazine.

Brown, now a section leader, flew a Vought F4U-4 Corsair and was assigned to fighter squadron VF-32 aboard USS Wright (CVL-49). His squadron transferred to USS Leyte (CV-32) in October 1950 as part of Fast Carrier Task Force 77 on its way to Korea to assist U.N. forces.

On 4 December 1950, on the way to Chosin Reservoir with his squadron, Brown announced over the radio, “I think I may have been hit. I’ve lost my oil pressure.” He crash-landed his Corsair on the side of a mountain in the snow.

Circling over the crash site in his own Corsair, squadron commander Lieutenant (j.g.) Thomas J. Hudner Jr. realized something was wrong when Brown didn’t emerge from the cockpit of the wrecked aircraft. Hudner made the decision to crash-land next to Brown’s wrecked Corsair, risking court-martial, capture by the Chinese, and his own life by ignoring his commanding officer’s directive, “If a plane goes down, that’s one down. We don’t need Hollywood stuff.”

Hudner found Brown in pain, bleeding, and trapped in his aircraft by a damaged instrument panel, with no way to rescue him. A Sikorsky helicopter piloted by Marine First Lieutenant Charlie Ward arrived in response to Hudner’s radio distress call, but there was nothing that could be done to extricate Brown from the Corsair. Brown asked Hudner to tell his wife, Daisy, how much he loved her before he died in his cockpit. As daylight dwindled and the possibility of capture grew increasingly imminent, Hudner and Ward were reluctantly forced to leave Brown’s body behind.

Unable to safely recover his body, Brown’s shipmates instead decided to honor him with a warrior’s funeral. On 7 December 1950, seven aircraft loaded with napalm and piloted by Ensign Brown’s friends made several low passes over his downed Corsair. The top of Brown’s head was still visible with snow on his hair when they dropped the napalm on his plane while reciting The Lord’s Prayer.

Ensign Jesse Brown would posthumously receive the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Air Medal, and the Purple Heart. Hudner nervously anticipated a court-martial for defying a direct order and willful destruction of a Navy aircraft. Instead, he would receive the Medal of Honor for “exceptionally valiant action and selfless devotion to a shipmate.” When USS Jesse L. Brown (DE-1089) was launched in 1973, Hudner was in attendance, standing next to Brown’s widow. In 2017, USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116) was christened in Hudner’s honor.

(In addition to U.S. Navy records, this biography was supplemented with information obtained from the book, The Flight of Jesse Leroy Brown, by Theodore Taylor; Avon Books, Inc.; ISBN: 0-380-97689-7; ©1998 by Theodore Taylor.)

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross (Posthumously) to Ensign Jesse Leroy Brown (NSN: 0-504477), United States Navy, for heroism in aerial flight as Pilot of a fighter plane in Fighter Squadron THIRTY-TWO (VF-32), attached to the U.S.S. LEYTE (CV-32), in hostile attacks on hostile North Korean forces. Participating in 20 strikes on enemy military installations, lines of communication, transportation facilities, and enemy troop concentrations in the face of grave hazard, at the Chosin Reservoir, Takshon, Manp Jin, Linchong, Sinuiju, Kasan, Wonsan, Chonjin, Kilchu, and Sinanju during the period 12 October to 4 December 1950. With courageous efficiency and utter disregard for his own personal safety, Ensign Brown, while in support of friendly troops in the Chosin Reservoir area, pressed home numerous attacks destroying an enemy troop concentration moving to attack our troops. So aggressive were these attacks, in the face of enemy anti-aircraft fire, that they finally resulted in the destruction of Ensign Brown’s plane by anti-aircraft fire. His gallant devotion to duty was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

USS Jesse L. Brown (FF-1089). (US DefenseImagery DN-SC-82-00352)

22 November 1961

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, with the McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, with which he set a world absolute speed record, 22 November 1961. Colonel Robinson is wearing a Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit for protection at high altitudes. (U.S. Navy)

22 November 1961: In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Naval Aviation, a number of speed and altitude record attempts were planned, using the U.S. Navy’s new McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II fighter. On the morning of 22 November, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., United States Marine Corps, took off from Edwards Air Force Base on Operation Skyburner, an attempt to set a new World Absolute Speed Record. He was flying the second Phantom II built, Bu. No. 142260.

The Phantom carried three external fuel tanks for this flight. It had a 600-gallon (2,271.25 liter) centerline tank and two 370-gallon (1,400.6 liter) wing tanks. Robinson flew southeast toward NAS El Centro, then turned back to the northwest. Over the Salton Sea, he began to accelerate the YF4H-1 to build up speed for the record run over a measured twenty-mile course back at Edwards AFB. The Phantom’s two General Electric J79-GE-3A afterburning turbojets used a tremendous amount of fuel at full throttle and the centerline fuel tank was quickly emptied. Robinson jettisoned the empty tank over the Chocolate Mountain gunnery range. Continuing to accelerate, the two wing tanks were next jettisoned as they ran dry, this time at Bristol Dry Lake.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II, Bu. No. 142260, during Operation Skyburner, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)

The Phantom entered the east end of the speed course in full afterburner. Having burned off more than 1,300 gallons of fuel, 142260 was much lighter now, and aerodynamically cleaner after dropping the external tanks. Robinson exited the west end of the 20-mile (32.2 kilometer) course in less than one minute.

Fédération Aéronautique Internationale rules require that a speed record must be made with two passes in opposite directions. The average speed of the two runs is the record speed. The Phantom was flying so fast that it covered another 105 miles (169 kilometers) before it could turn around. During the turn, it was still traveling at 0.9 Mach.

Robinson again put the engines in afterburner as he approached the course from the west. On the second run, the fighter was even lighter and its recorded speed was more than 1,700 miles per hour (2,736 kilometers per hour). The average of the two runs was calculated at 2,585.425 kilometers per hour (1,606.509 miles per hour.) This was the new FAI Absolute World Speed Record.¹

For his accomplishment, Lieutenant Colonel Robinson was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally. The presentation took place on 25 November 1961 at Newport News, Virginia, during the commissioning of USS Enterprise CVA(N)-65.

McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142260 during Operation Skyburner, 1961. (U.S. Navy via FFRC Photo Collection)

In the next few weeks, the same YF4H-1 would establish a world record for sustained altitude—20,252 meters (66,444 feet).² Two years earlier, 6 December 1959, in Operation Top Flight, 142260 had established a world record for absolute altitude when it zoom-climbed to 98,557 feet (30,040 meters).³

Lieutenant Colonel Robert B. Robinson, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps, with the McDonnell YF4H-1 Phantom II Bu. No. 142260, with which he set a world absolute speed record, 22 November 1961. (U.S. Navy)

Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., was born at Orange, California, 22 October 1923. He was the second of four children of Robert Bradford Robinson, a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier, and Golda Leutha Nordeen Robinson.

Robert B. Robinson. (Orange and White 1941)

Bob Robinson attended Orange Union High School, graduating in 1941. He participated in all varsity sports, and was selected to attend the Boys’ State leadership program. He earned a bachelor of science degree at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri.

Robinson entered the United States Marine Corps on 26 August 1942. He received the wings of a Naval Aviator and was commissioned as a second lieutenant on 1 December 1943.

2nd Lieutenant Robinson married Miss Lavonne Jean David at Nueces, Texas, 23 December 1943. They would later have a son, Robert Bradford Robinson III (and a grandson, Robert Bradford Robinson IV)

During the Battle of Okinawa, Lieutenant Robinson flew the radar-equipped Grumman F6F-3N Hellcat night fighter with VMF(N)-543.

A Grumman F6F-3N Hellcat night fighter of VMF(N)-543, circa 1944. The radome is at the far end of the airplane’s right wing. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Robinson was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant, 31 March 1945. Following World War II, Lieutenant Robinson was assigned to VMF-311, and became one of the first Naval Aviators to qualify in turbojet-powered aircraft. The squadron initially flew the Lockheed TO-1 Shooting Star (P-80), and later transitioned to the Grumman F9F Panther.

A Lockheed TO-1 Shooting Star  Bu. No. 33822 (P-80C 47-219) of VMF-311, circa 1948. (NNAM.1996.488.163.012)

Lieutenant Robinson was promoted to the rank of captain 1 April 1950. VMF-311 was sent to the Korean war zone in November 1950, initially operating from Yokosuka Air Base in Japan. The squadron flew close air support missions in support of the amphibious assault of Inchon, and at the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir. Captain Robinson returned to night fighter operations when he joined Marine All-Weather Squadron 513 (VMF(N)-513) on 13 January 1951. The unit which was equipped with Grumman F7F-3N Tigercats and Chance Vought F4U-5N Corsairs.

Two Grumman F9F-2 Panthers of VMF-311 being refueled at K-3, Republic of South Korea, circa 1951. The aircraft closest to the camera is an F9F-2B, Bu. No. 123602. (Department of Defense HD-SN-99-03071)

Captain Robinson was promoted to the rank of major, 31 December 1954. He completed the six-month course at the Naval Test Pilot School, NAS Patuxent River, Maryland, graduating in March 1959 (Class 21).

In 1963, Lieutenant Colonel Robinson retired from the Marine Corps after 20 years’ service. He was then employed as a test pilot for the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at St. Louis, Missouri. He remained with the company for 30 years.

Mrs. Robinson died 7 February 1997, after 53 years of marriage. Bob Robinson later married Mrs. Julian Brady (née Elizabeth Catchings), the widow of a long-time friend.

Robert Bradford Robinson, Jr., died 28 September 2005 at McComb, Mississippi. He was buried at the Hollywood Cemetery in McComb.

¹ FAI Record File Number 9060

² FAI Record File Number 8535

³ FAI Record File Number 10352

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

4 November 1927

Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, preparing for his balloon ascent at Scott Field, Illinois, 4 November 1927. (U.S. Air Force)
Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, preparing for his balloon ascent at Scott Field, Illinois, 4 November 1927. (U.S. Air Force)

4 November 1927: Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, United States Army Air Corps, a balloon pilot since 1921, has carried out a series of ascents to study the effects of very high altitude on air crews.

Gray lifted off from Scott Field, Belleville, Illinois, at 2:13 p.m., in a helium-filled balloon with an open wicker gondola suspended below. The balloon, Air Corps serial number S 30-241, was constructed of rubberized silk and coated with aluminum paint. It had a volume of 70,000 cubic feet (1,982.2 cubic meters). In the gondola were instruments for measuring altitude and temperature, as well as two sealed recording barographs provided by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA). Captain Gray was dressed in heavy leather clothing for protection against the cold. Three gas cylinders of oxygen were provided for breathing at altitude.

This photograph of the equipment carried in Hawthorne's gondola on 4 November 1927 shows the three oxygen cylinders and breathing mask. (U.S. Air Force)
This photograph of the equipment carried in Hawthorne’s gondola on 4 November 1927 shows the three oxygen cylinders and breathing mask. (U.S. Air Force)

Early in the ascent, high winds carried him to the south, and though he was accompanied by four airplanes, their pilots quickly lost sight of Gray’s balloon. It disappeared into a heavy overcast 20 minutes after takeoff and rose to a peak altitude of 42,470 feet (12,944.9 meters) at 4:05 p.m.

Based on Captain Gray’s notes and data from the barographs, it was concluded that his ascent was at a much slower rate than his previous altitude flights. At 3:17 p.m., he wrote “Clock frozen.” Without the clock, Gray was unable to calculate his time aloft and the amount of breathing oxygen remaining. Estimates prior to lift off were that the supply would run out at 4:38 p.m. The balloon had only descended to 39,000 feet (11,887 meters) by 4:28 p.m. The barographs showed an increase in rate of descent at this time, indicating that Captain Gray was venting helium from the balloon to try to descend faster. The descent slowed, however, suggesting that Gray had lost consciousness.

Captain Hawthorne C. Gray, USAAC, right, wearing flight suit, with an unidentified Air Corps officer. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

The balloon and gondola were found near Sparta, Tennessee at 5:20 p.m., with Hawthorne Gray’s body curled in the bottom of the gondola. Captain Gray suffered a loss of oxygen which resulted in his death.

Captain Gray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, posthumously, and is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery.

His citation reads:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 2, 1926, takes pride in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross (Posthumously) to Captain (Air Corps) Hawthorne C. Gray, U.S. Army Air Corps, for heroism while participating in an aerial flight. On 9 March 1927, Capitan Gray attempted to establish the World’s altitude record for aircraft, but due to the faulty oxygen apparatus he fainted at an altitude of 27,000 feet recovering consciousness after 52 minute, when his balloon, having over shot its equilibrium point, descended to an atmosphere low enough to sustain life. Undaunted by this experience, Captain Gray on 4 May 1927, made a record attempt when he attained an altitude of 42,470 feet, higher than any other Earth creature has ever gone. On his descent, however, his balloon failed to parachute, and it was necessary for him to descend from 8,000 feet in a parachute. With faith unshaken, and still displaying great courage and self reliance, Capitan Gray, on 4 November 1927, made the third attempt, which resulted in his making the supreme sacrifice. Having attained an altitude of 42,000 feet he waited for ten minutes, testing his reactions, before making a last rapid climb to his ceiling and a more rapid descent to safe atmosphere. Undoubtedly his courage was greater than his supply of oxygen, which gave out at about 37,000 feet.

War Department, General Orders No. 5 (1928)

The wicker balloon gondola used by Captain Hawthorne C. Gray on 4 November 1927, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The wicker balloon gondola used by Captain Hawthorne C. Gray on 4 November 1927, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)

Hawthorne Charles Gray was born at Pasco, Washington, 16 February 1889. He was the fourth of six children of William Polk Gray, a river steamboat pilot, and Oceanna (“Ocia”) Falkland Gray.

In 1913, Gray was employed as a baggageman for the Northern Pacific Railway at the Pasco Station. Gray attended University of Idaho at Moscow, Idaho, as a member of the Class of 1913. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering, B.S.(E.E.)

Hawthorne C. Gray served as an enlisted soldier with the 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry, Idaho National Guard, 1911–1912, a second lieutenant, 25th Infantry, Idaho National Guard, from 7 March 1912 to 23 April 1913. He was qualified as an Expert Rifleman. Gray enlisted in the United States Army, serving in the Hospital Corps and Quartermaster Corps from 19 January 1915 to 25 June 1917. He participated in the Mexican Expedition, under General John J. Pershing.

Sergeant Senior Grade Gray was commissioned as a second lieutenant, 32nd Infantry, 3 June 1917, and promoted to 1st lieutenant on the same day. Lieutenant Gray was promoted to captain (temporary), 34th Infantry, on 5 August. The rank of captain became permanent on 24 February 1920.

Captain Hawthorne Charles Gray, Air Service, United States Army, circa 1923.

Captain Gray was assigned to duty with the Air Service from 9 August 1920, and was transferred to that branch was transferred on 29 August 1921. His date of rank was retroactive to 21 February 1920. Gray graduated from the Army’s Balloon School, Ross Field, in 1921. In 1923 graduated from the Air Service Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, Texas, in 1923, and from the Balloon and Airship School at Scott Field in 1924.

Captain Gray and Mrs. Gray traveled to Europe to participate in the 15th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett (the Gordon Bennett Cup balloon race), held 30 May 1926 at Wilrijck, a small city near Antwerp, Belgium. Gray and his team mate, Lieutenant Douglas Johnson, placed second out of eighteen competitors, and behind another American team. Gray and Johnson traveled 599 kilometers (964 statute miles) in 12:00 hours, landing in the Duchy of Meklenburgia, a free state of the Weimar Republic (northern Germany), at about 4:00 a.m., 31 May. The Grays returned to the United States, arriving aboard S.S. President Harding at New York City after an eight-day voyage from Cherbourg, on 23 July 1926.

Captain Gray reached an altitude of 8,690 meters (28,510.5 feet) over Scott Field on 9 March 1927. This ascent set three Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for Altitude. ¹ On 4 May 1927, Captain Gray reached approximately 42,240 feet (12,875 meters). Because of a high rate of descent, he parachuted from the gondola at about 8,000 feet (2,438 meters). Because he was not on board at the landing, the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) did not recognize the flight as an official altitude record.

Captain Gray was married to the former Miss Miriam Lorette Maddux of Santa Rosa, California. They would have four children. Their first died at the age of 1 year, 3 months.

¹ FAI Record File Numbers: 10614, Ballooning, Subclass A-6th; 10615, Ballooning, Subclass A-7th; Ballooning, Subclass A-8th.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

26 October 1980

THE RESCUE OF THE CREW OF THE SCALLOPER TERRY T

By Sean M. Cross, CAPT, USCG (retired)

“As the basket was lowered a fifth time to pick up the two remaining men, a huge wave hit the awash stern of the TERRY T knocking the last two crewmen – the master and the engineer – into the water downwind of the helicopter and the ship. With the lives of the two crewmen suddenly threatened by the turbulent seas and the ship drifting down upon them…”

TODAY IN COAST GUARD AVIATION HISTORY — 26 OCTOBER 1980: HH-3F #1484 assigned to Air Station Cape Cod, MA and crewed by LTJG John P. Currier (AC); LTJG Robert L. Abair (CP); AM1 David L. Seavey and AE2 Gordon R. Warren (AV) was launched at 3:40 AM in response to the 110-foot fishing vessel Terry T out of New Bedford sinking with 10 crewman aboard. The eastern-rigged scallop trawler was 80 miles southeast of Nantucket in 30-foot seas, blowing snow and 60 knot winds gusting to 80 knots. The Terry T reported “4-feet of water in the engine room” (i) and requested dewatering pumps to help control the flooding. (ii)

That weekend, a coastal storm wreaked havoc when high winds and heavy seas lashed the Massachusetts coast line, damaging scores of small work and pleasure craft. (iii) The 31-year-old skipper, Roland Farland, said the Terry T was water tight when it was checked about 10 PM Saturday night as it rode out the severe coastal storm 70 miles east-south east of Nantucket. But when he checked the boat again shortly after midnight, water was flooding the engine room. (iv)

The TERRY T was built by Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding as hull number 228 and official number 258929. The original name was “Wisconsin” – delivered in 1949 to the original owner John Roen. Records indicate that “John Roen would continue to be a forerunner in maritime accomplishments […] launching an Atlantic fishing fleet out of Boston, which was run from Sturgeon Bay.”
“We got three pumps going but we couldn’t contend with the water,” Farland said. (v)In the Interim, the Terry T had been in frequent radio contact with the Coast Guard through the Nantucket Lightship and by 3:30 AM had informed the Coast Guard they would have to evacuate. (vi) Currier, the most junior Aircraft Commander at the unit, noted he “got stuck” with duty that night because there was a wardroom party planned. It turned into a busy night, The #1484 aircrew had already flown on several SAR cases that evening including evacuating Coast Guard members from the Buzzards Bay Entrance Light due to structural concerns caused by the adverse weather. (vii) Currier described their return to base from the last case, “We went back into the air station and I remember shooting an instrument approach at 120 knots indicated airspeed and doing less than 20 knots over the ground.” He added, “We came in, landed and taxied into the lee of the hangar to shut the rotor head down and those guys were taking care of the post-flight and my wife was at the wardroom party. So when we got back into the wardroom at about 8 o’clock at night she said ‘You’re not going out again are you?’ and I said, ‘No way—nobody’s out there.’ ” (vii)
Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican 1484 (Sikorsky S-61R, s/n 61-661) hovers over Lands End with Golden Gate Bridge in background. 1989 photograph.  (U.S. Coast Guard 191114-G-G0000-006/SFO Museum 2012.114.002)

About 3:40 in the morning the aircrew was awakened by Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) Boston saying there was a scalloper taking on water and unable to control flooding about 80 miles southeast of Nantucket. The aircrew described it as an interesting launch because it was still blowing 60 knots (which exceeded the main rotor start limit)—so the duty crew dragged the helicopter about halfway out of the hangar to start the turbine engines and engage the rotor system. They did it in this manner because when a helicopter first starts, the rotors are flexible and droop under their own weight. Strong winds can cause the blades to flap up and down when they are at slow RPM causing them to contact the tail boom or fuselage and do serious damage.

#1484 took off and flew toward the last known position (LKP) about 15 miles east of the Nantucket Lightship under instrument flight rules (IFR)—flying in clouds with limited to zero visibility, navigating only by cockpit instruments. The aircraft experienced severe turbulence and Currier remarked, “The crew was holding on for dear life.” (ix)

Approximate route of flight to TERRY T’s last known position “about 70 miles southeast of Nantucket, about 15 miles east of the Nantucket Lightship.”

At 4:54 AM, #1484 was approaching the Terry T‘s LKP and Currier further described the situation as, “Pitch black except for the lightning and there was sleet—so we were concerned about icing.” Helicopter pilots avoid icing like dental work. When ice forms on rotor blades, they lose their ability to provide lift, and the aircraft can no longer maintain flight. The aircrew contacted Terry T on the radio and confirmed they still wanted dewatering pumps—they concurred and reported that the fishing boat had lost steering and “was at the mercy of thirty foot seas and fifty knot winds.” (x) However, the master came on the radio a few minutes later as #1484 was inbound and said, “We got a fire in the engine room, we can’t control it and I want everybody —there are 10 of us.”

As the water level rose it produced short circuits that caused spontaneous fires in the boat’s electrical system. Farland said the crew had used four fire extinguishers and had nothing left with which to fight the fires. Then radio contact was lost. (xi) From their transit altitude, the aircrew performed an instrument approach to the water astern of Terry T. (xii) The crew used a PATCH or Precision Approach to a Coupled Hover, an autopilot maneuver that transitions the helicopter from forward flight in the clouds down to an automatic hover at 50 feet visual with the water. (xiii) This maneuver can be disorienting in the clouds at night, particularly when low over the water with little room for error. Both pilots must continuously scan and interpret the flight instruments—this is critically important—to confirm the autopilot is flying the correct profile. This maneuver was described as “dicey” due to the HH-3F’s unreliable doppler. The aircrew finally made visual contact with the trawler’s glow as the aircraft descended below 150 feet.

Currier described the challenging situation, “When we arrived in a hover, we turned on the floodlights and neither myself, nor the co-pilot nor the flight mechanic thought we could do it. The tops were blowing off the waves and going over the boat and the boat was dead in the water so it was in the trough—so it was rolling more than rail-to-rail—it was getting green water over each rail as it rolled.” (xiv) With the helicopter pointing into the strong westerly winds—Terry T‘s “bow was pointed to the right (the aircraft’s 3 o’clock position), so I had no place to go to hoist,” added Currier. (xv) Seavey had similar sentiments, “This case was the only time that I had thoughts that I might not be able to complete the hoist [due to] the combination of high winds 50–60 knots or so and 25–30 foot seas.” (xvi) The aircrew was concerned with the extreme pitch and roll of the fishing vessel and height of the rigging and other obstacles, so they initially requested that the Terry T crew disembark the vessel to the life raft. However, when the fishermen inflated the raft, it immediately blew overboard. (xvii) After careful assessment, they decided that hoisting from about 40 feet above the highest waves to an area just aft of the pilot house was their best chance of success.

An MH-65D demonstrates a “trail line hoist” with a Coast Guard small boat. Note the hypotenuse or diagonal formed by the trail line running from the person on deck to the hoist hook. (U.S. Coast Guard)

With no suitable hover reference, Currier was guided only by the voice of his hoist operator, David Seavey. Initial attempts did not go well. The pilot is typically unable to see the hoist area (below and aft of the pilot seat) and must fly exclusively off the flight mechanic’s conning commands—this can be very challenging when the sole hover reference is a raging and turbulent sea surface of 30–35 foot swells. The crew was convinced that a “trail line hoist” was the right tool for the situation as it would allow the helicopter to hoist from a position offset 30–40 feet from the boat and facilitate Currier’s use of the bobbing fishing vessel as a hover reference.

A trail line is a 105-foot piece of polypropylene line (similar to a water ski rope) with a 300-pound weak link at one end and a weight bag at the other. The weight bag end of the trail is paid out below the helicopter and delivered to the persons in distress (usually vertically, but seasoned flight mechanics can literally “cast” the weight bag to a spot). The weak link is then attached to the hoist hook and the helicopter backs away until the pilot can see the hoisting area. The persons in distress can then pull the basket to their location—creating a hypotenuse or diagonal—as opposed to a purely vertical delivery.

Danforth anchor

This was great in theory, but not in practice as Seavey said, “The high winds caused the trail line delivery, even with the heavy weather weight bags (25 pounds) to sail aft and twice get fouled in the rigging. We backed off, discussed the situation and decided to try using the Danforth anchor—which worked.” (xviii) Being an amphibious helicopter, the HH-3F kit included a Danforth anchor (similar to any small recreational boating anchor) with a half-inch line—they used this as an improvised trail line and it worked perfectly—with one exception which would trigger problems later in the evolution. (xix)

Currier was now able to use the vessel’s radio antenna and momentary glimpses of the superstructure for visual reference. (xx) Seavey conducted four hoists with assistance from Warren, taking crewmen in the basket two-at-a-time on each hoist. (xxi) This was unusual but necessary due to fuel concerns, the need to hoist everyone before the trawler sank and the extreme difficulty involved in placing the basket on the vessel each time. Abair added, “While a series of ten one-man hoists could have been successful, it would have more than doubled the difficulty of the rescue and would have likely resulted in loss of life.” (xxii) Between hoists, Warren took the survivors aft in the cabin and provided them with blankets to get warm. Seavey gratefully described Warren’s efforts: “He assisted me during the hoists, was helping out without having to be told what I needed. He anticipated what I needed. He was the extra set of hands getting the rescue basket into the cabin and then clearly directed the survivors to the back of the cabin.” Often forgotten under these conditions was the superlative job done by Abair, a Direct Commission Aviator and veteran Marine Corps helicopter pilot, in his Safety Pilot role. He continuously scanned the system instruments to ensure the aircraft was operating normally and the flight instruments to ensure obstacle clearance and safe altitude—occasionally coming on the controls to assist. He conveyed critical information effectively in a dynamic environment without interfering with Seavey’s commands—the crew said he did a masterful job. (xxiii)

HH-3F #1484’s approximate hoisting position with TERRY T (represented with a generic fishing boat plan of roughly the same arrangement). As Dave Seavey stated, that diagram is accurate, “minus the massive seas, near hurricane force winds, pitch black and the boat being DIW.”

As the basket was lowered a fifth time to pick up the two remaining men, a huge wave hit the awash stern of the Terry T knocking the last two crewmen—the master and the engineer, brothers Roland and Brian Farland—into the water downwind of the helicopter and the ship. (xxiv) “I had one hand on the basket and one hand on my brother,” Farland said. (xxv) With the lives of the two crewmen suddenly threatened by the turbulent seas and the ship drifting down on them, Currier had to reposition the aircraft over the two men with only the conning commands from Seavey to guide him, With Seavey’s instructions, Currier demonstrated extreme skill and daring and maneuvered the basket into a position in the water so that the two men could literally fall into it, and they were lifted to safety—or so they thought.

At this point, the boat actually started to go down by the stern, Seavey had the basket and two men about two-thirds of the way from the boat deck to the helicopter when he realized that earlier in the evolution without aircrew knowledge, the fisherman had tied the trail line off to the pilot house rail. The helicopter was connected to the boat by the anchor line. Seavey shouted, “We’re tied to the boat, we have problems here.” (xxvi) Currier and Abair assessed the sea state then carefully descended from their hoisting altitude of 40 feet to 25 feet creating enough slack in the trail line and allowing Seavey and Warren to bring the basket into the door. At once, Seavey cut the anchor line with a knife and immediately conned, “Up, up, up” for the pilots to immediately pull power. At 25 feet, Seavey could see that the wave tops on either side were level with the helicopter. (xxvii)

After completing the hoists, it took about five minutes to secure the cabin—Seavey and Warren working together—Warren helped the Captain and crew to the rear of the cabin and secured the basket while Seavey was securing the hoist, closing the cabin door and reporting that the cabin was secured and ready for forward flight. As #1484 circled the scalloper, it had already began to founder—the decks awash with sea water. (xxviii) The flight mechanic and avionicsman administered first aid to the injured crew on the return flight that landed at 6:52 AM. Throughout the mission, Currier and his crew showed exemplary skill and courage. Currier stated, “We got them off and got back. The helicopter was pretty beat up—they actually had to change the tail rotor because of overstresses.” (xxix)

All 10 men (listed below) were saved from the Terry T—four of the survivors were from the same family. (xxx)

Roland Farland (Captain)
Elmer Beckman (Mate)
Brian Farland (Engineer)
John Santos (cook)
Donald Capps (deckhand)
George Altman (deckhand)
Ronald Charpentier (deckhand)
Stephen Farland (deckhand)
Peter Farland (deckhand)
George Johnston (deckhand) (xxxi)

“It was pretty hairy,” Roland Farland said. “I just have to commend the Coast Guard for doing such a terrific job. It was blowing good,” the New Bedford man said: “Seas were 30 feet and winds were blowing 60 to 65 miles.”

In a post-mission interview, Currier conveyed, “Visibility was about half a mile and it took us five hoists to get 10 people off the boat. We had to hover over it for about an hour. (xxxii) The problem with a situation like that is that you have no point of reference,” he said. “All you can see is the boat and the water, and they are both in motion. You try to keep the helicopter a stable platform, but it’s hard. I’ve been here three years and those were the worst condition I’ve seen.” (xxxiii)

Thirty-five years later, and older and wiser Vice Admiral (VADM) Currier reflected on that night. “This was not a solo pilot operation. This was a reflection of an incredibly talented flight mechanic and a solid co-pilot. Actually, I think that was my co-pilot’s first rescue mission after transitioning from the Marine Corps to the Coast Guard, and I think it was a heck of an eye-opener for him.” VADM Currier added, “In the Coast Guard we have some of the best rotary- and fixed-wing pilots there are. I can say that as the old Coast Guard aviator, but I’ve been around long enough in civil and military aviation to say our people are among the very best. They are challenged on a daily basis with missions that would be a big deal in other services. For us, they’re how we do business—night, offshore, poor visibility, terrible weather. It’s always single-ship, and it’s always single crew. It requires skill, proficiency and individual initiative.” (xxxiv)

For this nearly impossible rescue, Currier earned the Harmon International Aviation Trophy—the only Coast Guard Aviator to warn this distinction. The Harmon Trophy—the aviator’s award—is given for the most outstanding international achievements in the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration. He joined other winners such as: Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh: General Jimmy Doolittle, Major Charles E. Yeager, Howard Hughes, Major Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin and Amelia Earhart.

The Harmon International Trophy at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. The Harmon Trophy (1926) was established by Clifford Harmon, a wealthy balloonist and aviator.  (NASM)

The Harmon Trophy was presented to him at the Old Executive Building across from The White House by Vice President Dan Quayle on 21 June 1991 (11 years after the mission). His name is inscribed on the six foot tall trophy in a glass enclosure in the National Air and Space Museum. Interestingly, Currier was never notified regarding his selection of the award, which has historically been presented by the president. The Reagan assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr., on 30 March 1981 wreaked havoc with the President’s schedule and the award presentation was overlooked. His parents while visiting the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., six years later, reportedly saw his name engraved on the trophy and asked him about it. It took another four years of action by headquarters and the Coast Guard Aviation Association before Currier received the award.

Vice President of the United States James Danforth Quayle congratulates Lieutenant Commander John Philip Currier, U.S. Coast Guard, on the presentation of the Harmon International Aviator Trophy, 21 June 1991.

The #1484 aircrew also earned the American Helicopter Society (now, the Vertical Flight Society) Frederick L. Feinberg Award in March 1981—presented to the pilot or crew of a vertical flight aircraft who demonstrated outstanding skills or achievement during the preceding 18 months. (xxxv)

The Frederick L. Feinberg Award (1961) was established by the American Helicopter Society, in memory of an outstanding helicopter test pilot and an exemplary person.

Lieutenant (junior grade) Currier and AM1 Seavey both earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for this mission, while LTJG Abair and AE2 Warren earned the Coast Guard Commendation Medal with Operational Distinguishing Device in a ceremony at Air Station Cape Cod in June 1981. (xxxvi) The Currier and Abair Citations are below. The Seavey and Warren citations have not been located.

Vice Admiral John Philip Currier, Vice Commandant of the United States Coast Guard. Photographed 2009. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Vice Admiral John Philip Currier, United States Coast Guard (Retired), passed away on 01 March 2020 from natural causes at his home in Traverse City, Michigan. His ashes were interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery on 14 September 2021. He is recognized as the “godfather of the Coast Guard’s modern H-60 helicopter program” and received commendations for flying and rescue work over his 38-year career in the Coast Guard. He held assignments as an aviator at Air Stations Cape Cod (MA), Sitka (AK), Traverse City (MI), Astoria (OR), Detroit (MI) and Miami (FL). He held many senior leadership positions including Chief of Operations and Chief of Staff for the Pacific Area; Commander of the Thirteenth District in the Pacific Northwest; Coast Guard Chief of Staff; and finally, Vice Commandant, the Service’s second in command.  From 2008–2012, just prior to his tenure as Vice Commandant, the Coast Guard Aviation community experienced a horrendous series of aircraft accidents that took the lives of 18 Coast Guard aircrewmen. The dilemma weighed heavily on Admiral Currier, but—he was the RIGHT man, in the RIGHT place, at the RIGHT time when the Service needed him most. The Service was searching for solutions—long fatigued and exasperated from attending memorial services, hearing eulogies and listening to “Amazing Grace”—he led us out of that morass to “clearer skies” with a new focus on cockpit leadership, proficiency, risk management and a “back to basics” approach when it came to tactics, techniques and procedures. He guided a structured fleet-wide operational risk assessment and directed corrective actions which yielded a remarkable improvement in aviation professionalism and safety. These efforts added to his already robust Coast Guard Aviation legacy.

***********************

Retired Captain Sean M. Cross served 25 years in the Coast Guard as a helicopter pilot and aeronautical engineer. Flying both the MH-60T and MH-65D, he accumulated over 4,000 flight hours while assigned to Air Stations Clear Water, FL; Cape Cod, MA; San Diego, CA; Elizabeth City, NC and Traverse City, MI, which he commanded.

“There is only one Coast Guard Aviator’s name etched on the Harmon Trophy and the story of HOW it got there should be preserved for posterity.”

i Boston AP article – multiple sources – “The ‘Terry T.” of New Bedford called for help at about 3:30 a m. when its engine room filled with about four feet of water, spokesman Mario Toscano of the Coast Guard’s Boston Rescue Center said.” – available here: https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/439301890/
ii John Currier (HH-3F Aircraft Commander) in video discussion (Exit Interview) with Scott T. Price (Coast Guard Historian) in Washington, D.C. on April 23, 2014.
iii Jack Stewardson, “10 fishermen saved; 2nd trawler overdue,” The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass., October 27, 1980, page 1.
iv Jack Stewardson, “It was pretty hairy, but help came for fishing crew,” The Standard-Times, New Bedford, Mass.,, October 28, 1980, page 4.
v Ibid.
vi Ibid.
vii Gordon Warren (HH-3F Avionicsman) in phone interview with the author on September 30, 2021.
viii Currier interview
ix Ibid.
x Barrett Thomas Beard, “Wonderful Flying Machines: A History of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters,” (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1996), page 146.
xi Ibid
xii Currier interview
xiii Robert Abair (HH-3F Co-Pilot) in email message to author on September 30, 2021. “The term PATCH implies a coupled hover, which was not the case. All hovering was done manually. Because of the heavy seas, it was impossible to couple the aircraft to the radar altimeter. The entire mission from lift off to touch down was hand flown due to turbulence.”
xiv Ibid.
xv Ibid.
xvi David Seavey (HH-3F Flight Mechanic) in email message to author on September 22, 2021.
xvii Currier interview
xviii Seavey email.
xix Currier interview
xx Beard, “Wonderful Flying Machines: A History of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters,” page 147.
xxi Seavey email.
xxii Abair email.
xxiii Seavey email.
xxiv Staff Writer (1), “Manchester Man Cited by U.S. Coast Guard,” Manchester Evening Herold, June 22, 1981, page 20 – available here: http://www.manchesterhistory.org/News/Manchester%20Evening%20Hearld_1981-06-22.pdf
xxv Stewardson, “It was pretty hairy, but help came for fishing crew,” page 4.
xxvi Currier interview xxvii Ibid
xxviii Seavey email.
xxix Currier interview
xxx Beard, “Wonderful Flying Machines: A History of U.S. Coast Guard Helicopters,” page 147.
xxxi Stewardson, “10 fishermen saved; 2nd trawler overdue,” page 4.
xxxii Staff Writer (2), “CG pulls 10 from blazing trawler,” Cape Cod Times, October 27, 1980, page unknown
(Falmouth Public Library Microfiche retrieved on September 29, 2021 by Sue Henken). xxxiii Ibid
xxxiv American Helicopter Society International – Vertipedia. “Biography, John P. Currier, United States,” Last modified April 14, 2021. https://vertipedia-legacy.vtol.org/milestoneBiographies.cfm?bioID=428
xxxv Vertical Flight Society. “Frederick L. Feinberg Award previous recipients,” Last modified in 2021. https://vtol.org/awards-and-contests/vertical-flight-society-award-winners?awardID=3
xxxvi Staff Writer (1), “Manchester Man Cited by U.S. Coast Guard,” page 20.

© 2021, Sean M. Cross

24 October 1969: The Rescue of MISTY 11

by Captain Sean M. Cross, United States Coast Guard (Retired)

24 October 1969: During the Vietnam War from 1967–1972, eleven U.S. Coast Guard Aviators voluntarily served with high honor and distinction with the U.S. Air Force Aerospace Rescue and Recovery forces in Southeast Asia in the dual role of aircraft commanders and instructor pilots. They regularly risked their lives flying into harm’s way to save airmen in peril of death or capture. Their significant contributions and exceptional performance were highly commended by the Air Force with the award of four Silver Stars, sixteen Distinguished Flying Crosses, and eighty-six Air Medals, in addition to many other recognitions. The previous accolades did not come without cost —designated Coast Guard Aviator #997, Lieutenant Jack Columbus Rittichier was killed in action while attempting to rescue a downed Marine airman in hostile territory on June 9th, 1968. These Aviators carried out their noble mission with heroism and a focus on duty, honor, country and the Coast Guard. Their actions brought honor on themselves, the United States of America, the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Coast Guard.

Interesting fact – of the roughly 200 Air Force Cross recipients, only 24 are enlisted rank, of which 12 are Pararescuemen (PJ). Nine PJs were awarded Air Force Crosses for Combat SAR missions in Vietnam…of those nine missions – two had Coast Guard Aviators as Aircraft Commanders – this is one (the other was the SCOTCH 3 mission involving LT Lance Eagan, USCG (CGA ’62) on 02 July 1968).

The goal of the combat rescue and recovery units was to get to those in peril before the enemy could capture of kill them. Whether the mission was an extraction or the pickup of a downed airman, each time they were successful it was a win. When it came to official Air Force data, this was labeled a “save,” but a “save” was much more than a statistic to these men. A “save” was a person, and they took it personally.

At Da Nang Air Base, Republic of Vietnam, the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS) was coming up on their 500th “save” in mid-October 1969. Everyone was looking forward to it. They arrived at number 497, then hit a dry spell for about a week. On 24 October, MISTY 11 went down and through a connected series of events, Coast Guard exchange pilots Lieutenant Richard Victor Butchka retrieved numbers 498, 499, and 500, and Lieutenant (j.g.) Robert T. Ritchie claimed numbers 501 and 502.

Similar to MISTY 11, this North American Aviation F-100F-10-NA Super Sabre, 56-3837, was also a FastFAC. It is in the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force)

Northeast of Saravane, Laos, MISTY 11, a U.S. Air Force North American Aviation F-100F Super Sabre “Fast FAC”—a jet Forward Air Controller) was designating targets along the Ho Chi Min Trail for ground interdiction strikes when it experienced engine failure due to antiaircraft fire. The stricken aircraft quickly descended to less than 1,000 feet (305 meters) above the terrain. The approximate time was 8:00 a.m. A MAYDAY was broadcast and the two crewmen ejected at low altitude. They parachuted into the jungle-covered mountainous terrain. MISTY 11 Alpha, 1st Lieutenant Alvin Donald Muller, and MISTY 11 Bravo, Captain Jack K. Clapper, were separated by about 800 yards (732 meters) due to the programmed delay in the ejection sequence between the front and rear ejection seats.

The survivors’ position was in a small valley formed by two ridges about 100 meters long oriented north and south. At the north end where the ridges joined, a road was cut 20 meters from the top of the hill. MISTY 11A was on the east side of the valley and MISTY 11B was on the west side.

Area of operation.

Each was equipped with a battery-powered radio and was contacted by an airborne Forward Air Controller (FAC), a North American Aviation OV-10A Bronco, NAIL 07, who had heard their pre-ejection call and was working in the area. The FAC said that he would notify Search and Rescue. MISTY 11A (Muller) informed MISTY 11B and the FAC that his leg was badly broken. MISTY 11B (Clapper) was unhurt.

Less than two hours from notification, two Douglas A-1 Skyraiders—call signs SANDY 11 and 12—and two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters—JOLLY 28 and 04—from strip alert in Quang Tri were on scene.

JOLLY 28 (HH-3E #66-13280) crew members: Captain Charles D. Langham, USAF (Pilot); Major Charles W. Bond (Co-Pilot); Staff Sergeant James E. Smith (Flight Engineer); and Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith (Pararescueman)

JOLLY 04 (HH-3E #66-13290) crew members: Lieutenant Richard Victor Butchka, USCG (Pilot); Captain John K. Coder, USAF (Co-Pilot); Sergeant Joseph J. Vai (Flight Engineer); and Airman 1st Class George P. Hoffman III (Pararescueman)

The helicopters went into orbit. One Jolly Green, referred to as the “low bird,” would make the rescue attempt while the second, the “high bird,” would remain in a 3,000-foot (914 meters) orbit as backup. Before sending in JOLLY 28, the two A-1s trolled the area, but their repeated passes brought no response from enemy ground-fire. It was determined that Muller should be rescued first because of his broken leg and at about 11:00 a.m., JOLLY 28 descended toward MISTY 11A.

A Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, 66-13290, of the 37th ARRS, hovering in ground effect at Da Nang, circa 1968. This helicopter was JOLLY 04, flown by Lt. R. V. Butchka, USCG, on 24 October 1969.(U.S. Air Force)

The terrain in the SAR area was rolling foothills with elevations varying from 1,500 feet MSL (Mean Sea Level: describes height above standard Sea Level) in the ravines, to 2,500 feet MSL on the hilltops (500 to 833 meters). The vegetation on these hills varied from dense triple-layered canopy jungles to open areas with tall jungle grass. The entire immediate area around MISTY 11A and B was defended by heavy small arms and automatic weapons as close as 50 feet to the survivors. The proximity of hostile forces to the survivors severely restricted the type of ordnance which could be delivered to protect them. There were scattered variable broken cumulus build-ups in the area with tops to 9,500 feet MSL and bases varying from 2,000 to 3,000 feet AGL (Above Ground Level: describes height above the ground). Visibility below the clouds was excellent.

Lieutenant Butchka, in the “high bird,” JOLLY 04, watched his good friend, Captain Charles Langham, descend for the recovery. JOLLY 28 entered a hover over MISTY 11A and lowered the “PJ,” Don Smith, by hoist. The PJ immediately had the downed airman on the canopy penetrator and gave the cable-up signal. Less than a minute had elapsed. When the penetrator was approximately 10 feet off the ground, the helicopter came under attack.

Butchka saw three sides of the blind canyon twinkling. It appeared that enemy forces had used the downed F-100F crewman as bait for a “flak trap.” The Skyraiders rushed in to suppress the fire, but the opening enemy volley had shot the hoist assembly off its mounts, sending it crashing into the flight engineer’s chest and dumping the PJ and MISTY 11A back on the ground. Realizing the hoist was inoperative, the flight engineer, SSGT James Smith, hit the switch shearing the hoist cable and yelled to Captain Langham to transition JOLLY 28 to forward flight.

Lieutenant Richard Victor Butchka, United States Coast Guard, in the cockpit of a Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant. (Butchka Collection)

Above, Butchka punched off his auxiliary fuel tanks and went into a plunging autorotative descent. Seeing Langham’s aircraft smoking and streaming fluid (was hit in the main gearbox and was losing oil pressure), Butchka told him to put the helicopter on the ground. Langham searched for a clear spot and put the aircraft into a small punch bowl-shaped valley. Langham and crew jumped out of the helicopter into the elephant grass, looking up for high bird. They did not have far to look. Butchka’s helicopter was in a 25-foot hover on the left side of Langham’s helicopter with its hoist cable waiting. Butchka expected ground fire from the enemy at any moment. During the swift pick up, the helicopter shuddered with a jolt to the right side. The aircraft’s skin was holed with a gash eight inches long by two inches wide.

Major Charles W. Bond had the honor of being the 500th save.

With the men safely on board, the next problem was getting out of there. Butchka did not want to go back out the way he came because of heavy enemy fire. Weather was hot and humid, pressure altitude was high, and the only other way out presented him with a vertical face rising about 130 feet. It was decision time. Butchka said; “I headed for the face, pulled every bit of power I could (‘pulled the collective to my arm pit’ was the description in another interview), and with a little bit of airspeed drooped the rotor to 94-percent — and just cleared the top.” As he eased over the ridgeline, the JOLLY immediately came under heavy ground fire from a different direction. SANDY lead hadn’t reported anything because he didn’t know where Butchka was. Miraculously they were not hit. However, JOLLY 04 “caught his blades in some trees and is requesting escort out of the area.” A forward air controller, COVEY 297, escorted JOLLY 04 to Lima Site 61, an Air Force TACAN navigation site at Muang Phalan, Laos.

There were still two MISTY crewmembers and Langham’s PJ on the ground at the initial recovery spot. The PJ, Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith, using his handheld radio, reported “contact with bad guys 35 meters to my west” and directed air strikes bracketing their position. JOLLY 76, a Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant from the 40th ARRS at Udorn, Thailand, made three recovery attempts but each time received intense ground fire resulting in extensive battle damage to the helicopter. JOLLY 76 sustained severe battle damage, loss of hydraulic systems and associated tail rotor control problems that forced the aircraft to withdraw. JOLLY 76 was escorted out of the area by JOLLY 72 and A-1s SANDY 01 and  04, and successfully recovered at Lima Site 44, an unimproved covert landing strip near Saravane, Laos.

LT Richard Butchka, USCG is congratulated by CPT Charles Langham, USAF following the recovery of his JOLLY 28 aircrew during the MISTY 11 combat rescue. (Butchka Collection)

JOLLY 76 (Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant) crewmembers: Captain Donald R. Almanzar (Pilot); Captain Peter L. Fekke (Co-Pilot); Staff Sergeant Harold R. Hailey (Flight Engineer); Sergeant Anthony J. McFarr (Pararescueman); Sgt. Douglas W. Crowder (Pararescueman); and Sergeant Gregory Lee Anderson (Aerial Photographer).

JOLLY 15 (Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant) crew members: Coast Guard Lieutenant (j.g.) Robert T. Ritchie, USCG (Pilot); Lieutenant Colonel Sidney S. Sosnow , USAF (Co-Pilot); Technical Sergeant Frank Gaydos, Jr. (Flight Engineer); Staff Sergeant Jon K. Hoberg (Pararescueman); and Sgt. Edward K. Rendle (Pararescueman).

A Douglas A-1H Skyraider dive bombing a target during a close air support mission. (U.S. Air Force)

Later that afternoon the JOLLIES tried again. After multiple A-1 passes dropping CBU-19s ( a 130-pound modified dispenser containing 528 canisters with an incapacitating chemical CS—”tear gas”) SANDY 06 and 05 escorted “low bird” JOLLY 15 with Coast Guard Lieutenant (j.g.) Rob Ritchie into the rescue area.

Rob said; “The previous attempts that day were all into the wind approaches. I chose a downwind approach because all indications were the ‘bad guys’ were set up for us to come into the wind and were waiting.” The SANDYs made suppression runs and laid smoke as had been requested – then they joined in a daisy chain of passes that provided protective fire. Ritchie used the smoke for cover, swooped in fast and quickly put the aircraft into a hover over Smith and MISTY 11A. TSgt. Gaydos fearlessly operated the rescue hoist while completely exposed to the hostile fire impacting about him. His reassuringly calm hover instructions to the pilots, ensured Smith and MISTY 11A were quickly brought on board with only slight damage to the aircraft. During Ritchie’s next approach to pick up MISTY 11B they began taking very heavy ground fire on the way in. The element of surprise was no longer there and the North Vietnamese had repositioned. SANDY Lead called the approach off and both A-1s made several suppression runs.

Ritchie commenced his third approach immediately after the suppression runs. He said it was much quieter this time and he came to a hover over MISTY 11B. As the penetrator went down the ground fire became much heavier and the helicopter was taking numerous hits. The utility hydraulics to the hoist was disabled due to ground fire damage to a pressure line and fluid flow was lost. Unable to complete the pickup Ritchie exited the area. JOLLY 15 notified SANDY 03 that he would be unable to remain in the area and commenced a rendezvous for air refueling with KING 03, a Lockheed C-130 Combat King. JOLLY 15 landed at Lima Site 61  at 3:35 p.m.

1LT Don Muller, USAF, MISTY 11A, is assisted down from LTJG Ritchie’s HH-3E, JOLLY 15. (Rotor Review Magazine, Spring ’19)

Two additional tries to pick up MISTY 11B were made to no avail. A tropical thunderstorm moved in and heavy rain fell for the next 30 minutes. A third attempt was made while the squall was passing through and as the storm began to subside, the winds became relatively calm and the previously laid smoke screen began to envelope the area – adversely impacting the rescue helicopters’ visibility and making it more difficult to locate MISTY 11B.

Fortunately, the survivor’s emergency radio was operational and the pilot knew how to use it. By coordinating voice guidance from MISTY 11B on the ground and SPAD 09 (circling overhead), JOLLY 19, another HH-3E, flew over Clapper and lowered a canopy penetrator to him. He climbed onto the device and the helicopter quickly exited the area as soon as Clapper was clear of the trees. The gunner on the rescue helicopter pulled him in the door and the MISTY 11 rescue was successfully concluded at around 6:00 p.m.

JOLLY 19 (Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant) from Detachment 1, 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Crewmembers: Major Ted L. Smith (Pilot); Major Edward B. Robbins (Co-Pilot); Staff Sergeant Robert E. Hunt (Flight Engineer); Master Sergeant Paul L. Jenkins (Pararescueman); and Sergeant Leland H. Sorensen (Pararescueman).

The following A-1 SANDY forces participated in the event:

SANDY 01 1st Lieutenant Rex V. Huntsman
SANDY 04 Lieutenant Colonel Dick Michaud
SANDY 03 Major Nelson Moffatt
SANDY 07 1st Lieutenant Noel Frisbie
SANDY 05 Captain Bob Crowder
SANDY 06 Captain Glenn C. Dyer
SANDY 11 Captain Jack L. Hudson
SANDY 12 Lieutenant Colonel George D. Miller

Epilogue: For their efforts during this combat rescue the following medals were awarded:

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

Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith, USAF, Pararescueman from JOLLY 28 was awarded  the Air Force Cross:

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Section 8742, Title 10, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Technical Sergeant Donald G. Smith for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as a Pararescueman on a HH-3E Rescue Helicopter in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1969. On that date, Sergeant Smith voluntarily descended to the surface on a forest penetrator to assist a downed pilot. As he and the pilot were being raised, hostile fire rendered the hoist inoperative and the cable was sheared, dropping them fifteen feet to the ground. Sergeant Smith’s position was surrounded by hostile forces, and his helicopter was downed by hostile fire. Remaining exceptionally calm, his resolute and decisive presence encouraged other survivors, while his resourcefulness in controlling and directing the aircraft providing suppressive fire, resulted in the safe recovery of all downed personnel. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of the enemy, Sergeant Smith reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Lieutenant Robert T. Ritchie, USCG, was awarded the Silver Star.

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star (Air Force Award) to Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Robert T. Ritchie, United States Coast Guard, for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force while attached to the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (USAF). Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Ritchie distinguished himself as Aircraft Commander of an HH-3E rescue helicopter in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1969. On that date, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Ritchie repeatedly penetrated an area of intense hostile fire in an effort to rescue three downed airmen before battle damage rendered his aircraft incapable of further rescue operations. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Lieutenant, Junior Grade, Ritchie has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

CPT Charles D. Langham Silver Star medal ceremony

Captain Charles D. Langham, USAF, earned the Silver Star:

Captain Charles D. Langham distinguished himself by gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force as Aircraft Commander of an HH-3E helicopter in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1969. On that date, while attempting to recover two downed Air Force pilots., Captain Langham’s aircraft was subjected to intense hostile fire. Displaying superb airmanship, Captain Langham nursed his critically damaged aircraft way from the immediate hostile area and effected an emergency landing in a confined, remote area which saved his crew from probable serious injury or possible death. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Captain Langham has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

LT Richard V. Butchka, USCG, earned the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat V.

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Flying Cross with Combat “V” (Air Force Award) to Lieutenant Richard V. Butchka, United States Coast Guard, for heroism while participating in aerial flight as aircraft Commander of an HH-3E helicopter, attached to the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron, United States Air Force, in Southeast Asia on 24 October 1969. On that date, in the face of known hostile forces, who had just shot down another rescue helicopter, Lieutenant Butchka, with complete disregard for his own personal safety, skillfully and expeditiously effected the rescue of three crewmen from the downed helicopter. The outstanding heroism and selfless devotion to duty displayed by Lieutenant Butchka reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Coast Guard.

The following Distinguished Flying Cross recipients were also confirmed for this mission: Major Charles W. Bond; Captain John K. Coder; Technical Sergeant Frank Gaydosl Jr.; Sergaeant Joseph J. Vai; Airman 1st Class George P. Hoffman III; Staff Sergeant Jon K. Hoberg; and Lieutenant Colonel. Sidney S. Sosnow.

Misty #132 Jack K. Clapper left the USAF in 1974, went to law school and is a trial lawyer in Novato, California.  Donald G. Smith passed away on 12 March 2016 at the age of 80. Richard V. Butchka passed away 28 July 2007 at the age of 66. Misty #119 Alvin Donald (“Devil”) Muller passed away on 16 November 2010 at the age of 67.

SSGT Gregory Lee Anderson, USAF

Aerial Photographer Staff Sergeant Gregory Lee Anderson, crewman on JOLLY 76, was aboard Jolly Green 71, an HH-53B, when it was shot down over Laos, 28 January 1970. SSGT Anderson is listed as Missing in Action. (Active Pursuit)

HH-3E 66-13280 caught fire in flight, 15 April 1970, and crashed near Kontum, Republic of Vietnam. Two of the five crewmen died.

HH-3E 66-13290 was retired to Davis Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 18 March 1991. It was withdrawn from storage and placed on display with the New York Air National Guard at Westhampton Beach, New York.

Aircraft
Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green

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.

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)

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 rpm., 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 rpm.

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).

HH-3E three-view illustration (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

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 HH-3E Jolly Green Giant (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

© 2020, Sean M. Cross