24 March 2000: In flight near Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, is this Sikorsky MH-53J Pave Low IIIE, a “Super Jolly Green Giant” special operations helicopter assigned to the 551st Special Operations Squadron. This helicopter, serial number 66-14428, was the very first HH-53B built. [A photograph of its first flight is posted on TDiA at “15 March 1967”]
15 March 1967: The first Sikorsky HH-53B, 66-14428, made its maiden flight at Stratford, Connecticut. In the cockpit were Sikorsky test pilots James R. (“Dick”) Wright and Patrick A. Guinn. The helicopter would be called the “Super Jolly Green Giant.”
A variant of the United States Navy/Marine Corps CH-53A Sea Stallion, the Super Jolly Green Giant was the largest, most powerful, and fastest helicopter in the United States Air Force inventory. Configured for combat search and rescue (CSAR) and special operations, the HH-53B was equipped for inflight refueling and was armed with three General Electric GAU/2A 7.62 mm miniguns or .50-caliber Browning machine guns. The HH-53B can be visually distinguished from other H-53s by the two diagonal sponson support struts on each side of the fuselage.
The HH-53B Super Jolly Green Giant was flown by two pilots and was crewed by a flight engineer/gunner, two additional gunners, and one or two pararescue jumpers (“PJs”). It has an overall length of 88 feet, 2.4 inches (26.833 meters) with rotors turning. With the refueling boom extended the total length of the helicopter is 91 feet, 11.34 inches (28.025 meters). The fuselage is 67 feet, 2.4 inches (20.483 meters) long and 8 feet (2.438 meters) wide. The height to the top of the main rotor pylon is 17 feet, 1.68 inches (5.224 meters). The maximum height (rotors turning) is 24 feet, 10.88 inches (7.592 meters).
The HH-53B’s fully-articulated 6-blade main rotor has a diameter of 72 feet, 2.7 inches (22.014 meters). The main rotor turns counter-clockwise at 185 r.p.m. (100% Nr), as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The main rotor blades are built with titanium spars and have -16° of twist. The semi-articulated four-blade tail rotor has a diameter of 16 feet, 0 inches (4.877 meters) and is positioned on the left side of the tail pylon. It turns clockwise at 792 r.p.m., as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The gap between rotor arcs is just 4.437 inches (11.270 centimeters).
The HH-53B had an empty weight of 26,500 pounds (12,020 kilograms). Its maximum takeoff weight was 42,000 pounds (19,051 kilograms).
The HH-53B was originally equipped with two General Electric T64-GE-3 turboshaft engines, producing 3,080-shaft horsepower, each.
The helicopter had a cruise speed of 150 knots (173 miles per hour/278 kilometers per hour), and a maximum speed of 170 nautical miles per hour (196 miles per hour/315 kilometers per hour). The service ceiling was 20,400 feet (6,218 meters). Its range is 600 nautical miles (690 statute miles/1,111 kilometers), and it is capable of inflight refueling.
The Air Force ordered eight HH-53Bs, followed by 58 improved HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giants.¹ The first HH-53B, 66-14428, was delivered to the Air Force Air Rescue and Recovery Service at the Sikorsky plant in June 1967. It was flown to Eglin Air Force Base, Florida by Lieutenant Colonel James Dixon and Captain Fredric Donohue of Detachment 2, 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. For the next two months ARRS crews trained with it at Eglin.
Along with the second HH-53B, the new helicopter was then shipped to Vũng Tàu, Republic of Vietnam, aboard the former U.S. Navy escort carrier, USNS Card (T-AKV-40) for assignment to the 37th ARRSq at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. They were soon joined by four more HH-53Bs.
As upgraded HH-53Cs became available, the six -53Bs were returned to the United States, where some were used as trainers, and others as test aircraft for the development of the Pave Imp and Pave Low systems. 4428 was one of five HH-53Bs modified to the initial Pave Low configuration. This was followed by the HH-53H Pave Low II configuration.
In 1988, all HH-53 and CH-53 helicopters in the U.S. Air Force inventory began to be modified to the MH-53J Pave Low III Enhanced special operations configuration. The modifications, along with incorporation of a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) were performed by Naval Air Rework Facility (NARF) at NAS Pensacola, Florida, or by the Marine Corps aviation depot at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina.
After nearly 40 years of service, 66-14428 was sent to The Boneyard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Tucson, Arizona, 7 January 2007. By September 2008, all U.S. Air Force Pave Low helicopters had been withdrawn from service.
¹ By the time the United States withdrew from the Vietnam War, Sikorsky had produced 52 HH-53B and -53C Search and rescue helicopters, and 20 CH-53C transports. Of these, 9 HH-53s and 7 CH-53s were destroyed in combat, and 2 HH-53s and 1 CH-53 were lost in accidents in the United States.
© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes
27 September 2008: A United States Air Force Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV special operations helicopter, serial number 68-8284, assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron, flew its final combat mission before being withdrawn from service and retired after 40 years and 12,066.6 flight hours.
“Cowboy 26” was flown by Major Philip Cooper, Captain Peter Hettinger, and Colonel Scott Howell, with Technical Sergeant Henry Woodie, Staff Sergeant Shawn Lewis, Senior Airman Eric Harp, and Airman 1st Class Joshua Lucas.
68-8284 was built by the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation at Bloomfield, Connecticut, as one of 40 HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giants for Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR). It was delivered to the Air Force in August 1968. 68-8284 was assigned to the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, 1971–1972. It operated as “Jolly Green 55.”
On 5 September 1971, with flight crew Major Jerry R. Thompson, Gary L. Gamble (CP), FE Raymond Duarte and PJs William D. Brinson and Michael D Vogele, it rescued the survivors of “Knife 33,” a 21st SOS CH-3E that went down in Laos. On 19 December 1971 (Capt Harold O. Jones (P), David G. Daus (CP), FE Jerrold T. Dearmans, with PJs Leon Fullwood and William D. Brinson, the crew of Falcon 74, a 13th TFS/432 TFW F-4D Phantom II which had gone down shot down 17 December by a SAM near Ban Poung Ban in northeastern Laos. Maj. William T. Stanley, Capt. Lester O’Brien were safely recovered.
8284 was later assigned to the 67th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing) at RAF Woodbridge, Suffolk, England. 68-8284 has been constantly modernized and upgraded. It was initially converted to the MH-53J Pave Low III/Enhanced configuration by the Naval Air Rework Facility, NAS Pensacola, Florida, in the late 1980s. The helicopter was further modified to the MH-53M Pave Low IV configuration at the Naval Air Depot, MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina.
The MH-53M Pave Low IV is a variant of Sikorsky’s S-65 heavy-lift military transport helicopter series. The MH-53M is a single main rotor, single tail rotor, twin-engine helicopter. It has a crew of six: 2 pilots, 2 flight engineers and 2 gunners. The Pave Low IV is equipped with Terrain-Following Radar and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) for low-level operations in darkness and low visibility.
The MH-53M fuselage is 67 feet, 2.4 inches (20.483 meters) long, and the helicopter has a maximum length of 91 feet, 11.34 inches (28.025 meters) with rotors turning and the refueling boom extended. The height to the top of the main rotor pylon is 17 feet, 1.68 inches (5.224 meters). The maximum height (rotors turning) is 24 feet, 10.88 inches (7.592 meters).
The fully-articulated 6-blade main rotor has a diameter of 72 feet, 2.7 inches (22.014 meters). The main rotor turns counter-clockwise at 185 r.p.m. (100% Nr), as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The main rotor blades are built with titanium spars and have -16° of twist. The semi-articulated four-blade tail rotor has a diameter of 16 feet, 0 inches (4.877 meters) and is positioned on the left side of the tail pylon. It turns clockwise at 792 r.p.m., as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The gap between rotor arcs is just 4.437 inches (11.270 centimeters).
Empty, the MH-53M weighs 32,000 pounds (14,515 kilograms). Its maximum takeoff weight is 46,000 pounds (20,865 kilograms).
Its two General Electric T64-GE-100 axial-flow turboshaft engines have a Normal Continuous Power rating of 3,810 shaft horsepower at 85 °F. (30 °C.), Military Power rating of 4,090 shaft horsepower, and a Maximum Power rating of 4,330 shaft horsepower. The T64-GE-100 is 79 inches (2.007 meters) long, 20 inches (0.508 meters) in diameter and weighs 720 pounds (327 kilograms). Output (100% N2) is 13,600 r.p.m.
The MH-53M has a maximum speed of 196 miles per hour (315 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 16,000 feet (4877 meters). It carries two 450-gallon (1,703 liter) jettisonable fuel tanks under each sponson.
The MH-53M is armed with two M134 7.62mm miniguns and a GAU-18/A .50 caliber machine gun.
At the time they were retired, the MH-53Ms were the fastest, heaviest, most powerful helicopters in the United States Air Force inventory.
After leaving Iraq, 68-8284 was transported by C-17 Globemaster III to England. It was loaned to the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford, where it is on display.
© 2018, Bryan R. Swopesby