Tag Archives: United States Coast Guard

16 October 1956

Boeing 377 Stratocruiser N90943, Pan American World Airways' Sovereign of the Skies, seen over San Francisco, circa 1947. (University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections, TRA0138)
Boeing 377 Stratocruiser N90943, Pan American World Airways’ Sovereign of the Skies, seen over San Francisco, circa 1947. (University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections, TRA0138)

16 October 1956: Pan American World Airways’ Flight 6 was a scheduled around-the-world passenger flight. The final leg, Honolulu to San Francisco, was flown by a Boeing Model 377 Stratocruiser with civil registration N90943, and named Sovereign of the Skies.

The airplane had a flight crew of 7 and carried 24 passengers. The aircraft commander was Captain Richard N. Ogg, a veteran pilot with more than 13,000 flight hours accumulated over twenty years. First Officer George L. Haaker, Flight Engineer Frank Garcia, Jr., and Navigator Richard L. Brown completed the flight crew. The cabin crew were Purser Patricia Reynolds, who had been with Pan Am for over ten years, and Stewardesses Katherine S. Araki and Mary Ellen Daniel.

The flight from Honolulu to San Francisco was estimated to take 8 hours, 54 minutes. Captain Ogg had the airplane fueled for a total flight time of 12 hours, 18 minutes.

Pan American World Airlines’ Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, Clipper America. This airplane is similar to Sovereign of the Skies. (Boeing)

Flight 6 departed Honolulu at 8:24 p.m., Hawaii Standard Time, 15 October (06:24, 16 October, GMT), and climbed to 13,000 feet (3,962 meters) on course.

4 hours, 38 minutes after takeoff, Flight 6 requested a pre-planned climb to 21,000 feet (6,400 meters), at a point about half-way—in terms of flight time—between the departure point and destination, what is dramatically called “The Point of No Return” in suspense movies. (Actually, this is called the Equal Time Point: Taking into consideration forecast winds, the time to fly back to the departing point is the same as the time to continue toward the destination.)

On leveling at the new cruise altitude at 1:19 a.m. (HST), First Officer Haaker reduced engine power. The propeller for the Number 1 engine, the outside engine on the left wing, suffered a prop governor failure and began to overspeed, with engine r.p.m. actually exceeding the limits of its tachometer. This created a very dangerous condition: If the propeller turned fast enough, it could be torn apart by centrifugal force. (See This Day In Aviation, 22 March 1956, for an example.)

The crew was unable to feather the propeller, which would cause its four blades to turn parallel to the slip stream, and increasing the load on the engine while reducing aerodynamic drag. The engine and propeller continued to turn at dangerously high speed so Captain Ogg decided to force the engine to stop by cutting off its lubricating oil supply. This caused the engine to seize but the propeller continued to “windmill.”

The drag caused by the propeller slowed the airplane considerably and the three remaining engines had to run at high power for the Boeing 377 to maintain its altitude. The Number 4 engine (the outer engine on the right wing) was developing only partial power at full throttle. At 2:45 a.m., it began to backfire and had to be shut down.

The airplane began to descend toward the ocean’s surface.

With the drag of the windmilling Number 1 propeller and only two engines running, Sovereign of the Skies could fly at just 140 knots (161 miles per hour/259 kilometers per hour), not fast enough to reach San Francisco or to return to Honolulu before running out of fuel. The navigator estimated that they would run out of fuel 250 miles (402 kilometers) from land.

The United States Coast Guard kept a high endurance cutter on station between Hawaii and California, at a point known as Ocean Station November. This ship provided assistance with weather information, radio communications and was available to assist should an emergency arise aboard trans-Pacific airplanes.

USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC 70) circa 1958. (U.S. Coast Guard)
USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC 70) circa 1958. (U.S. Coast Guard)

On 16 October 1956, this cutter was USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC 70), under the command of Commander William K. Earle, USCG. Pontchartrain was a 255-foot (77.7 meter) Lake-class patrol gunboat built by the U.S. Coast Guard ship yard at Curtiss Bay, Maryland, and commissioned 28 July 1945. The ship was redesignated as a high endurance cutter in 1948. Pontchartrain had a complement of 143 men.

The ship was 254 feet (77.42 meters) long, overall, with a beam of 43 feet, 1 inch (13.13 meters) and draft of 17 feet, 3 inches (5.25 meters). Its full load displacement was 1,978 tons (1,794 Metric tons). It was powered by a Westinghouse turbo-electric drive of 4,000 shaft horsepower and was capable on making 17.5 knots (20.41 miles per hour, or 32.41 kilometers per hour). Its maximum range was 10,376 miles (19,216 kilometers).

Pontchartrain was armed with a single 5-inch/38-caliber naval gun forward. It carried Hedgehog anti-submarine mortars and Mk 23 acoustic-homing antisubmarine torpedoes.

Captain Ogg notified Ponchartrain that he intended to ditch the airliner near the ship. The Coast Guard provided Captain Ogg with wind and wave information—five-foot (1.5 meter) swells, wind at eight knots (4 meters per second) from the northwest—and advised the best heading for ditching. The ship laid a trail of foam to mark this course.

Pan American World Airways Flight 6, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, ditches in the North Pacific Ocean near USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC 70), 6:15 am., 16 October 1956. (U.S. Coast Guard)
Pan American World Airways Flight 6, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, ditches in the North Pacific Ocean near USCGC Pontchartrain (WHEC 70), 6:15 am., 16 October 1956. (U.S. Coast Guard)

At 6:15 a.m., at approximately 90 knots airspeed (104 miles per hour/167 kilometers per hour), the Boeing 377 landed on the water. A wing hit a swell, spinning the airplane to the left. The tail broke off and the airplane began to settle.

Pan American World Airways’ Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, Sovereign of the Skies, with its fuselage broken after ditching in the North Pacific Ocean, 16 October 1956. (Pan Am Historical Foundation/The New York Times)

Injuries were minor and all passengers and crew evacuated the airliner. They were immediately picked up by Pontchartrain.

Captain Ogg and Purser Reynolds were the last to leave the airplane.

Twenty minutes after touching down, at 6:35 a.m., Sovereign of the Skies sank beneath the ocean’s surface.

Sovereign of the Seas sinks into the Pacific Ocean, 16 October 1956. (U.S. Coast Guard)
Sovereign of the Skies sinks into the Pacific Ocean, 16 October 1956. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Pan American’s Sovereign of the Skies was a Boeing Model 377-10-29, construction number 15959, originally operated by American Overseas Airlines as Flagship Holland, and later, Flagship Europe. Pan Am acquired the airliner during a merger. On 16 October 1956, the airplane had accumulated 19,820:51 total time on the airframe (TTAF) since it was built.

The Boeing 377 was a large, four-engine civil transport which had been developed, along with the military C-97 Stratofreighter, from the World War II B-29 Superfortress long-range heavy bomber. It utilized the wings and engines of the improved B-50 Superfortress. The airplane was operated by a flight crew of four. It was a double-deck aircraft, with the flight deck, passenger cabin and galley on the upper deck and a lounge and cargo compartments on the lower. The airliner was pressurized, and could maintain Sea Level atmospheric pressure while flying at 15,500 feet (4,724 meters). The Model 377 could be configured to carry up to 100 passengers, or 28 in sleeping births.

The Stratocruiser was 110 feet, 4 inches (33.630 meters) long with a wingspan of 141 feet, 3 inches (43.053 meters) and overall height of 38 feet, 3 inches (11.659 meters). Empty weight was 83,500 pounds (37,875 kilograms) and the maximum takeoff weight was 148,000 pounds (67,132 kilograms). Sovereign of the Skies had a gross weight of 138,903 pounds (63,005 kilograms) when it took off from Honolulu.

Crew members of Pan American World Airways Flight 6 receive commendations for their service during the emergency of 16 October 1956. Left to right, Captain Richard N. Ogg; Navigator Richard L. Brown; Purser Patricia Reynolds; (unidentified); First Officer George L. Haaker; Flight Engineer Frank Garcia, Jr.. (Pan Am Historical Foundation/The New York Times)

The airliner was powered by four air-cooled, supercharged 4,362.49-cubic-inch-displacement (71.489 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Major B6 four-row, 28-cylinder radial engines which had a Normal Power rating of 2,650 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m., and 2,800 horsepower at 2,550 r.p.m. Maximum Continuous. It produced 3,250 horsepower at 2,700 r.p.m. for takeoff (3,500 horsepower with water injection). The engines drove four-bladed Hamilton-Standard Hydromatic, 24260 constant-speed propellers with a diameter of 17 feet, 0 inches (5.182 meters) through a 0.375:1 gear reduction. The Wasp Major B6 was 8 feet, 0.50 inches (2.451 meters) long, 4 feet, 7.00 inches (1.397 meters) in diameter, and weighed 3,584 pounds (1,626 kilograms).

The 377 had a cruise speed of 301 miles per hour (484 kilometers per hour) and a maximum speed of 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour). During testing by Boeing, a 377 reached 409 miles per hour (658 kilometers per hour). Its service ceiling was 32,000 feet (9,754 meters) and the range was 4,200 miles (6,759 kilometers).

Boeing built 56 Model 377 Stratocruisers, with Pan American as the primary user, and another 888 military C-97 Stratofreighter and KC-97 Stratotankers.

A U.S. Coast Guard film of the incident can be seen at:

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 October 1980: This Day in U.S. Coast Guard Aviation History

MIRACLE RESCUE: Cruise Liner PRINSENDAM—04 October 1980

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

On this day in 1980, the United States Coast Guard led one of the nation’s largest search and rescue cases when the 519 passengers and crew of the Dutch cruise liner PRINSENDAM were forced to abandon ship more than 130 miles (209 kilometers) off the coast of Alaska after an engine room fire spread throughout the vessel. Over the course of 24 hours, rescue aircraft deployed from Coast Guard Air Stations Sitka and Kodiak, AK. would work side-by-side with the U.S. Air Force, Royal Canadian Armed Forces as well as U.S. Coast Guard Cutters BOUTWELL, WOODRUSH, MELLON and an AMVER-tasked (Automated Mutual-Assistance Vessel Rescue System) tanker WILLIAMSBURG to rescue all hands from 12 to 15 foot (18–24 meters) seas and 25 to 30 knot (13–15 meters per second) winds generated by a nearby Arctic typhoon.

Holland America Line’s MS Prinsendam. (Cruise Critic)

The PRINSENDAM was a 427-foot (130 meters) long cruise liner built in 1973. The liner was transiting through the Gulf of Alaska, approximately 120 miles (193 kilometers) south of Yakutat, Alaska, at midnight October 4, 1980, when fire broke out in the engine room. With conditions too dangerous for the deployment of small boats from the ships, most survivors were hoisted and ferried to surface ships while some were ferried to shore during helicopter refuel transits. The helicopters would then refuel and head back out to the scene for their next load of passengers. Still others were forced to climb aboard the tanker and cutters with the help of two Air Force pararescuemen while hypothermic.

The rescue of the PRINSENDAM was particularly significant because of the distance traveled by the rescuers, the coordination of independent organizations and the fact that all 519 passengers and crew were rescued under challenging environmental conditions without loss of life or serious injury.

USCGC Boutwell (WHEC 719) in the Bering Sea. (Pinterest)

The following aircraft participated:

A USCG Lockheed HC-130H Hercules. (U.S. Coast Guard)

• Two Coast Guard HH-3F helicopters and two HC-130H aircraft from Air Station Kodiak. Distance 385 nautical miles (443 statute miles/713 kilometers) from PRINSENDAM.

• Alaskan Air Command Rescue Coordination Center (RCC), Elmendorf Air Force Base, Anchorage and 71st Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron: one HH-3E helicopter and one HC-130H Hercules. Distance: over 370 nautical miles (426 statute miles/595 kilometers).

A U.S. Air Force Lockheed HC-130H Combat King trails drogues to refuel two Sikorsky HH-3E Jolley Green Giant helicopters. (http://jollygg.blogspot.com/2018/11/)

• Two Coast Guard HH-3F helicopters from Air Station Sitka. Distance: 170 nautical miles (196 statute miles/315 kilometers).

A flight of two U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican helicopters from Air Station Astoria, Oregon. (United States Coast Guard)

• Canadian Forces from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron, 19 Wing Comox, British Columbia: Two CH-113 Labradors (CH-46) helicopters, two CC-115 Buffalo aircraft and one CP-107 Argus (from 407 Maritime Patrol Squadron). Distance: over 600 nautical miles (690 statute miles/1,111 kilometers).

U.S. Coast Guard rescue coordination centers began receiving Morse code SOS distress signals from the PRINSENDAM reporting a fire onboard a few minutes prior to 1 a.m. Saturday morning October 4, 1980. A few hours later, at 05:08 a.m., with fire visible on deck, 329 passengers were directed to take to lifeboats about 120 miles offshore in the frigid Gulf of Alaska.

The on-scene operation required unrehearsed teamwork by the U.S. Coast Guard, the U.S. Air Force and two Canadian units flying in close proximity. Overhead, the five long-range reconnaissance aircraft including the U.S. HC-130Hs and the Canadian CP-107 Argus aircraft staged and coordinated helicopter assets while acting as long range communication platforms. Behind the scenes, CC-115 Buffalos from the 442 Squadron operated a shuttle service between shore bases and staging areas, carrying medics, firefighters, supplies, fresh helicopter crews and rescued passengers.

The first 12 to 24 hours of a distress incident offers the best chance of successful rescue and recovery of survivors. After 48 hours chances of a successful rescue and recovery decrease rapidly. The remote and isolated location of the burning PRINSENDAM (and its lifeboats and life rafts) was barely within the timely response capability of the personnel and equipment available. The risks included—but were not limited to—climatic, season, weather, distance from shore and logistics of getting rescue teams and resources to the burning PRINSENDAM’s location. The survivability hazards to both survivors and rescuers included—but were not limited to—remoteness and isolation of the PRINSENDAM’s location from help, water temperature, worsening weather and sea conditions combined with duration the survivors would be vulnerably exposed to the furry of sea and weather. The remnants of Typhoon Thelma heading directly towards the incident area would result in the operational environment becoming more perilous during the on-going rescue operations.

“A U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican helicopter hovers near the stern of the Holland-America liner MS Prinsendam (ca. 520 passengers and crew) in the Gulf of Alaska.” (SSGT Richard D. McKee, U.S. Air Force/U.S. Department of Defense VIRIN DF-SN-86-12843)

Commander Bruce Melnick, USCG (Retired), who was also designated Coast Guard Astronaut Number 1 in 1992, participated in the rescue as an HH-3F pilot and made the following comments in a 26 October 2016 interview:

Bruce Melnick

“I was on the Prinsendam mission, where there was a Dutch ship from Holland, America cruise lines called the Prinsendam, where I was the SDO that night and we got a call, and the radioman thought the name of the boat was the “Prince and Don” and I said, “Wow. That’s …” and he said, “It’s on fire and it’s out here somewhere.” So, I ran over to the radio room and then I was aware of the cruise ship Prinsendam, how it used to come into the port of Sitka, and so I said … I can’t remember the name of the radioman’s name. I’m sorry. I said but, “That’s the Prinsendam. That’s the big cruise ship and they’re on fire.” So, we talked to RCC and Juno and we launched out, flew out there. They were probably 180 miles away and when we got out there they were listing seriously to starboard and they thought they had the fire out, and then all of a sudden the fire erupted again and the captain of the ship ordered them to abandon ship. When they started to abandon ship, they had all kinds of problems and it was dark at night, and it wasn’t real bad weather yet. There was like a 10-foot swell, but it wasn’t real bad yet. So, we used the night sun ¹ on the H-3 to illuminate the people abandoning ship and we were there until just about everybody got off the ship, and then we were low fuel. By this time, the rest of the resources were being called in.

“The Canadian Forces, the Kodiak Coast Guard, the Elmendorf Air Force Base. I mean we had alerted everybody, and we flew into Yakutat for fuel. We got into Yakutat, we refueled and came back out and by that time, there was a C-130 on scene, some other forces were on scene and the winds had started to pick up real bad. About the time we got on scene, the rest of the helicopters had to go back in for refuel. Now the seas are you know, 15 feet, wind blowing and we looked down and we called back to the on scene commander and said, “We think we need to start hoisting these people,” because the tanker Williamsburg, great big, super tanker was out there and they were trying to get these people over to the side of the ship, the big tanker and climb up the Jacob’s ladders to get up onto the deck of the ship and the average age of these people was 70 years old. So we said, “We think we need to hoist these people,” and I’m not going to mention any names, but he was a senior officer from our air station said, “Whatever you do, don’t hoist those people.” Joel Thuma was the aircraft commander with me, and he was in the left seat at this time, because we had swapped seats, and he says, “Oh …you’re breaking up. I think we’re going to go ahead. I got you, we’re going to start hoisting.” So, we ended up starting the hoisting routine and everybody at the PJ started jumping in. Make a long story short, by the time my day was ended, I’d picked up 115 of the survivors, made multiple trips back and forth to the Williamsburg. At one point they had 24 survivors on the helicopter at one time, and then we took a load back to the Yakutat and anyway, we ended up picking up … we had 519 saves that day. I picked up 115 of them. Great mission and I can talk about that at a great length.”

A U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican flies over the burning passenger liner MS Prinsendam, 4October 1980. (United States Coast Guard)

Aircrew rescue efforts continued around the clock for 24 hours. Despite the hardships and hazards of abandoning ship in the Gulf of Alaska about 120 miles offshore, all crew and passengers of the M.S. PRINSENDAM—329 passengers, 164 Indonesian crew members and 26 Dutch officers—were successfully rescued. With the exception of the U.S. Air Force HH-3E, which included an in-flight refueling probe, fuel endurance was a major factor, the other helicopters hoisted up as many people as they could from the lifeboats and dropped them on U.S. Coast Guard and AMVER surface vessels until they reached their fuel limits and returned to Yakutat, the closest point of land 130 miles away. This event led to the U.S. Coast Guard developing Helicopter In-Flight Refueling (HIFR) from surface vessels and implementing a Rescue Swimmer program. Interestingly, the next morning (05 October), BOUTWELL spotted a flare from a lifeboat containing the final 20 passengers and two Air Force technicians, completing the rescue of all 519 crewmembers and passengers. In 2007, after reaching the remarkable milestone of more than one million lives saved since 1790, the U.S. Coast Guard published a synopsis of the Top 10 rescues in the history of the Service – the PRINSENDAM rescue came in at number 2 behind the 2005 Hurricane KATRINA response. The combination of hardship, hazard, no loss of life, no significant injury has resulted in this incident being considered the greatest air-sea rescue operation in maritime history.

A U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican transfers M/S Prinsendam passengers to the AMVER-tasked 1,094-foot super tanker T/T Williamsburgh. A life boat is just astern the tanker. (Documentary Archives Radio Communications)

Helicopter Aircrews:

HH-3E (AF Rescue 802) crew was Captain John J. Walters-Aircraft Commander; Captain William T. Gillen-Copilot; Staff Sergeant Michael J. Engels-Flight Engineer; Staff Sergeant John F. Cassidy-Pararescue Team Leader; and, Sergeant Jose M. Rios-Pararescue Specialist.

The Lifesavers: Crewmen of Air Station Sitka were the first on scene when PRINSENDAM sent out a distress call. Air Station Sitka flight crews: (back row, left to right) LCDR Ron Simond, CDR Chuck Peterson (commanding officer), LTJG Tom Vasilou, CDR Tom Morgan (executive officer), LCDR Ray Hiner, LCDR Joel Thuma, AT3 Richard McManigal, AE2 Andrew Falenski, LCDR Robert Knapp, AD3 Carl Saylor, ASM3 Richard Driscoll, and AT 2 Dave Cook. Front row: AE3 Ron Dupont, LT Dave Barnes, LT Bruce Melnick, AD3 Mike Oliverson, AM3 Sam Overman, AT1 Larry Weygandt, AD2 Tim Burkholder. Photo by AD1 Barfield.

The Mackay Trophy (NASM)

Captain John J. Walters, U.S. Air Force, of the 71st ARRS, was awarded the Mackay Trophy “For extraordinary achievement while participating in aerial flight as HH-3 Helicopter Commander in the rescue of 61, in adverse conditions, from the burning cruise ship Prinsendam.”

Captain Walters and Pararescue Specialists SSGT John Cassidy and SGT Jose Rios were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. Also receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross were CDR Thomas Morgan, USCG; LCDR Raymond Hiner, USCG; LCDR Robert Knapp, USCG; LCDR Joel Thuma, USCG;  LT Bruce Melnick, USCG; AT2 David Cook, USCG; AD3 Mike Olverson, USCG; AM3 Samuel Overman, USCG; and AD3 Carl Saylor, USCG. LTJG Tom Vasilou, USCG, and Radio Operators AE2 Andrew Falenski and AD3 Richard McManigal were awarded the Air Medal.

Lieutenant Colonel Clifford B. Fletcher, Royal Canadian Air Force, received the Order of Military Merit.

Aircraft

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green and HH-3F Pelican

Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant, circa 1977. (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-3F does not have this capability).

HH-3E three-view illustration (Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Three-view illustration of the Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican, with dimensions. (U.S. Coast Guard)

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.

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.

The very similar HH-3F Pelican is equipped with radar, an Automatic Flight Control System (AFCS) and a navigation computer, which allowed the helicopter to fly coupled search patterns.

The HH-3F served the Coast Guard from 1969 to 1994, when it was replaced by the Sikorsky HH-60J Jayhawk. According to the Sikorsky Historical Archives, during its 25 years of service, the HH-3F saved 23,169 lives, and assisted 65,377 others.

Sikorsky built 14 HH-3Es and 40 HH-3Fs. As many as 50 CH-3Cs and CH-3Es were upgraded to the HH-3E configuration. 5 USAF HH-3Es were converted to HH-3Fs for the Coast Guard. Sikorsky built a total of 173 of the S-61R series.

Sikorsky HH-3F Pelican 1497. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Boeing Vertol CH-113 Labrador

A Canadian Forces Boeing Vertol CH-113 Labrador. (Alain Rioux/Wikipedia)
CH-113 hovers over two lifeboats.

This aircraft is a twin-engine, tandem-rotor search and rescue (SAR) helicopter used by the Canadian Forces from 1963 until 2004. It was a variant of the Boeing Vertol CH-46 Sea Knight designed and built in the United States. A search and rescue version was purchased by the Royal Canadian Air Force in the early 1960s and became known as the Labrador. Soon after, the Canadian Army acquired a troop and cargo version known as the Voyageur. In the mid-1970s, these army machines were replaced by CH-147 Chinook heavy lift and transport helicopters and the Voyageurs were transferred to the air force when Air Command was formed in 1975. They joined the Labradors on search and rescue duties and all were modified to a common search and rescue standard.

Technical Information:

Rotor diameter 15.2 m (50 ft)
Length (rotors turning) 25.4 m (83 ft 4 in)
Height 5.1 m (16 ft 8 in)
Weight, Empty 5,104 kg (11,251 lb)
Weight, Gross 9,706 kg (21,400 lb)
Cruising Speed 253 km/h (157 mph)
Max Speed 270 km/h (168 mph)
Rate of Climb 465 m (1,525 ft) /min
Service Ceiling 4,265 m (14,000 ft)
Range 1,100 km (684 mi)
Power Plant Two T-58-GE-8F, 1,500 shaft hp turbines

De Havilland Canada CC-115 Buffalo

De Havilland Canada CC-115 Buffalo (John Davies/Wikipedia)

The CC-115 Buffalo plays a critical role in supporting life-saving search and rescue missions. Its agility and all-weather capabilities are well suited for the rough and mountainous terrain on Canada’s West Coast and in northern operations.

The Buffalo is a utility transport aircraft that can take off and land on the most rugged strips as short as a soccer field. It serves a vast territory from the British Columbia / Washington border to the Arctic and from the Rocky Mountains to 1,200 kilometers out over the Pacific Ocean.

Length 24 m
Wingspan 29.25 m
Height 8.53 m
Empty weight 12,474 kg
Maximum gross weight 19,560 kg
Maximum speed 420 km/h
Range 2,240 km
Locations Comox, B.C.
This aircraft is used for Search and rescue

Canadair CP-107 Argus

Canadair CP-107 Argus  (Pinterest)

The Canadian-built Canadair Argus was a unique hybrid that married the wings, tail surfaces and undercarriage of the British-designed Britannia transport to a completely new Canadian-designed, non-pressurized fuselage that was equipped with different American-designed engines. One of the most effective anti-submarine warfare aircraft of its day, the Argus was a mainstay for the RCAF in the maritime role. The principal difference between the Mark I and Mark II was in the different internal navigation, communication and tactical electronic equipment. Externally, the Mk II exhibited a redesigned smaller nose radome and additional ECM (electronic counter measures) antennae above the fuselage. The Argus replaced the Lancaster and Neptune aircraft types previously flown in the maritime roles and, eventually, the Argus was itself replaced by the current CP-140 Aurora aircraft.

Designation CP-107
Model number CL-20
Marks Mk I, II
Role Anti-submarine warfare (ASW)
Taken on strength 1957
Struck off strength 1982
Number 33
Service RCAF and Canadian Armed Forces

“October Saviours,” by Len Boyd, 2012. 18″ × 24″ (45.7 × 61.0 centimeters), acrylic on Masonite. “At daybreak an RCAF C-115 Buffalo ‘SAR’ transport dispatched from 442 Squadron, Comox overflies the burning and abandoned 425 foot Dutch cruise ship MV ‘Prinsendam’ as a lifeboat full of grateful passengers floats nearby; rescue flares fizzle in the waters.” (Canadian Aerospace Artists Association/http://www.aviationartists.ca/boyd/boyd_october_saviours.html)

¹ “night sun” refers to the Spectrolab Inc. Nightsun® high-intensity searchlight for aircraft.

© 2020, Sean M. Cross

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26 September 1971: This Day in Coast Guard Aviation History

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

During the Vietnam conflict 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.

A U.S. Air Force Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant. (National Archives at College Park)

26 September 1971: A Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant, crewed by Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Joseph Lawrence (“Jay”) Crowe, Jr., CGA ‘62 (Pilot), Xxxxxx Hampton (Copilot), William Simm (Flight Engineer), Daniel G. Manion (Pararescue Jumper) and Richard L. Steed (Pararescue Jumper), rescued the crew of a North American Aviation OV-10A Bronco (call sign “RUSTIC 07″), Lieutenant Lansford Elmer Trapp, Jr., and Cambodian observer, Sergeant Chap Khorn, after they ejected from their 12.7mm-damaged aircraft, about 10 miles (16 kilometers) northwest of Kampong Cham, Cambodia.

Lieutenant General Lansford E. Trapp bio: https://www.af.mil/About-Us/Biographies/Display/Article/105437/lieutenant-general-lansford-e-trapp-jr/

Cambodia (Encyclopedia Britannica)

A little more…(much of this content was slightly modified from the book Leave No Man Behind: The Saga of Combat Search and Rescue by George Galdorisi and Thomas Phillips, pages 393 and 394)

To better cover the southern portion of South Vietnam and be closer to the increasing levels of operations in Cambodia, the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (ARRS) had for some time maintained a pair of HH-53Cs at Bien Hoa Air Base, about fifteen miles northeast of Saigon.  On September 26, 1971, it was Coast Guard exchange pilot Lieutenant Commander Joseph “Jay” Crowe’s turn to stage at the forward operating location (FOL). Standing the alert with his crew, Hampton, Simm, Manion, and Steed, they were scrambled to rescue of the crew of an OV-10A from the 19th TASS who shared the ramp at Bien Hoa.

A U.S. Air Force North American Aviation OV-10A-5-NH Bronco, 67-14605, fires a white phosphorous rocket. (TSGT Bill Thompson, United States Air Force DFST8505744)

The Rustic FAC, the call sign that any FAC [Forward Air Controller] operating in Cambodia used, regardless of squadron, had fallen victim to a “.50-caliber trap” when it was hit at 3,500 feet (1,067 meters) by converging fire from four 12.7mm AA machine guns ringing the perimeter of a small village about ten miles (16 kilometers) northwest of the Mekong River town of Kampong Cham. When grouped as a battery, the 12.7 mm guns, “heavy guns” of the southern air war (where the heavy AA weapons of Laos and North Vietnam had not yet appeared in large numbers), were still quite deadly. The Bronco pilot, 1st Lieutenant Lansford Trapp, and his observer, Cambodian Sgt. Chap Khom, had parachuted down into the apex of the gun formation, and the hostile forces accompanying the AAA gunners were in no rush to go get them.

In an interview with his grandson recorded in 2018, retired General Lansford E. Trapp described the incident:

“When I was a lieutenant, and this would have been in 1971, I was flying an observation aircraft over in Vietnam. I was on a mission over in Cambodia and we were helping ground forces who were fighting against bad guys over there. That ensuing battle that went on as I was flying over head in my airplane, we actually got hit by ground fire and the left wing of the airplane caught on fire.

“I had a Cambodian interpreter sitting in my back seat, a Sergeant Chung (Khorn), and it was his seventh ride in an airplane. I didn’t even know that the wing was on fire until one of the other airplanes came by and said “hey your left wing is on fire”. So, I looked out, my wing was on fire, and we decided that I was gonna be able to land at one of the airports that was right there. So, we came in and tried to land, but I lost control of the airplane. So, I pushed the power back in and climbed up over the airfield. Then the left wing burned off, and so we started in a pretty good spiral into the wing that had burned off. We ejected from the airplane.

“Sergeant Corn (Khorn) went out first, and then I went out. The craziest thing was that we used to fly with about 250 to 300 big maps, so we could look at the country as we were trying to figure out where we were. Those all came flying out of the cockpit as we ejected. It looked like confetti outside. As we came down sergeant Corn he got burned pretty bad from the wing fire, and I banged my ankle up pretty badly, but we were OK. We got picked up by friendly forces and I got a nice helicopter ride back to home base that night.”

A gunner looks over a General Electric GAU2/A minigun, while his aircraft flies formation with a Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant over Southeast Asia. (U.S. Air Force)

Crowe’s Jolly approached at 8,000 feet (2,438 meters), safely above the range of the still-active hostile guns, while the A-1H Sandys of the 1st Special Operations Squadron (SOS) went in low to begin their routine of locating the survivors and the hostile guns. In the flat and relatively open terrain of central Cambodia, penetrating the ring of guns was going to be dicey, there not being the ridges, karsts, and dense vegetation of the 37th’s regular operating area to provide a modicum of masking for the helicopter. By this stage of the war, a low, treetop-hugging approach by the rescue helicopter was a well-known procedure, and the enemy gunners would be waiting for it, scanning the low horizon for the rescue helicopter sure to follow on the heels of the tough Skyraiders. Each gun guarded its quadrant of the circle around the downed airmen, waiting.

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

Crowe decided to use a variation of the diving spiral approach he had used June 4th with success, rescuing a Covey FAC crew up in southern Laos. Rather than descending some distance away prior to a low-level run-in, he entered an autorotation from directly overhead, copilot Hampton pulling the throttles of the twin engines back, and Crowe lowering the collective stick. Down the helicopter fell, with the rush of air up through the rotors keeping the blades spinning, while the engines idled (relatively quietly). The blades are unloaded in an autorotative descent, so the characteristic whop-whop is virtually eliminated, and with the engines at idle, there is significantly less of the distinctive noises that normally come from the helicopter.

With the Sandys rumbling around, strafing and bombing and attracting the eye of the gunners, the diminished but still telltale sounds made by the falling Jolly were masked.  Crowe kept the helicopter in a steep turn, spiraling down inside the perimeter of the four guns around the downed aircrew, literally behind their backs, careful not to swing out too wide, where he might catch a gunner’s eye. The Jolly would be easily seen should anyone glance straight up, luckily the last place a sane gunner would be looking for a helicopter.  They were falling out of the sky at more than five thousand feet per minute. As the Jolly approached the ground, Crowe began to level off, converting vertical speed to speed across the ground, still spiraling, and then raised the nose to decelerate.

HH-53C (VIRIN: DF-ST-83-02388)

At the same time, Hampton slowly and smoothly pushed the engine throttles forward, to accelerate them back into normal speed and gently engage their drive wheels with the spinning gears of the main rotors. The accelerating engines and the rotors digging into the air as Crowe pulled up on the collective and flared into a quick-stop created loud rotor beats, accenting the whine of jet turbines accelerating to maximum power, announcing their arrival to all. But the helicopter was safely down beneath the trees in a hover, and the telltale was too late to help the gunners acquire their target. This tight spiral autorotative descent and recovery to a hover requires a superior feel for the helicopter, and exquisite coordination with the copilot to return the rotors to engine-driven flight smoothly at just the right instant. Done right, the procedure is a dramatic and breathtaking maneuver and a grand entrance. But the room for error is very small, and a botched maneuver is perilous and very unforgiving.

It was not a gambit to be repeated very often; if the gunners had detected the helicopter, Crowe and company would have found themselves in a deadly crossfire. But this day it was brilliant: a tactical surprise, completely unexpected, and therefore completely effective. The Jolly crew snatched the two men quickly and escaped out of the circle with a low-level departure. A climbing spiral back up from the center of the guns, with the gunners now alerted, was clearly out of the question. The helicopter received only sporadic fire as it left the scene in the typical low-level escape, while taking no casualties.

Epilogue

Lieutenant Commander Joseph Lawrence Crowe, Jr., U.S. Coast Guard. (Sean M. Cross Collection)

After graduation from high school in Weston, Massachusetts in 1958, Jay received an appointment to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut. Commissioned an Ensign in 1962, he served a tour at sea and then was assigned to naval flight training. Receiving his wings in 1965, he served at Coast Guard Air Stations San Francisco, California, Barbers Point, Hawaii; Cape Cod, Massachusetts; Port Angeles, Washington; Annette Island Alaska, and Sitka, Alaska.

He served during the Vietnam War on an exchange tour with the U.S. Air Force as a Combat Rescue Crew commander with the 37th ARRS Jolly Green Giants in Da Nang AB, RVN.

Jay was a 1981 graduate of the Air War College. He served as Commanding Officer Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, Washington, and Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts. His final assignment before retirement was as Chief, Operations Division, 11th Coast Guard District, Long Beach, California.

During Jay’s distinguished career he was awarded a Legion of Merit, three Distinguished Flying Cross Medals, nine Air Medals, two Meritorious Service Medals. Three Coast Guard Commendation Medals, a Coast Guard Achievement Medal, and a Meritorious Unit Commendation. Hangar 3172 at Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts, was named in his honor.

Captain Crowe flew west crossing the bar February 22, 2003. His family was at his side.

Aircraft

Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant three-view illustration with dimensions. (Sikorsky Historical Archives)

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.

© 2020, Sean M. Cross

For additional reading, see:

Coast Guard Aviation in Vietnam

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18 September 1946

NOTE: After 8+ years and 1,524 published posts, This Day in Aviation is going to try something new today. TDiA was contacted by a regular reader with a suggestion for a new post. He was so knowledgeable about the incident, that rather than reinvent the wheel, I asked him to write the following article. I hope that you find it as interesting as I did. Please welcome our first guest author, Captain Sean M. Cross, United States Coast Guard (Retired), and now the President and COO of Helinet Aviation Services, Van Nuys, California. —Bryan

SABENA Douglas DC-4-1009 Skymaster OO-CBR, sister-ship of OO-CBG

18 September 1946: In the summer of 1946, SABENA (Societé Anonyme Belge d’Exploitation de la Navigation Aérienne, the national airline of Belgium) began twice-weekly flights from Brussels, Belgium, to New York City, with refueling stops at Shannon, Ireland, and Gander, Newfoundland, Canada. The airline operated brand-new four-engine Douglas DC-4 Skymasters on the route.

A little after 8:00 p.m., Tuesday, 17 September, OO-CBG departed Shannon for the overnight flight to Gander. The Douglas Skymaster was under the command Captain Jean Ester, a Belgian who had flown with the Royal Air Force during World War II. The co-pilot was Albert Drossaert; with Leopold Verstraeten, navigator; Paul Fassbender, flight engineer; and radio operator Jean Dutoict. There were two flight attendants , Jeanne Bruylant and Jean Rookx, and 37 passengers.

OO-CBG was due at Gander at 0720, Wednesday morning. At 0737, the flight reported by radio, estimating that it was 16 minutes out.

SABENA OO-CBG never arrived.

The Skymaster crashed during harsh weather 24 miles (39 kilometers) southwest of Gander. An inbound Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA) DC-4 located the crash site and remained overhead until a United States Coast Guard Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina flying boat, serial number 48314 (c/n 1506) from Air Detachment Argentia, arrived over the scene and confirmed that the wreckage was that of the missing SABENA airliner and that survivors were seen.

A PBY Catalina flies over the crash scene of SABENA’s Douglas DC-4. (National Naval Aviation Museum 1993.501.073.099)

The crash site was heavily wooded and the ground proved to be a very large bog. As the aircraft could not land, emergency aid supplies were dropped by parachute and plans were formulated to rescue the survivors.

A PBY-5A with a U.S. Army medical team from Fort McAndrew, Argentia, under the command of Captain Samuel Preston Martin III.M.D., U.S. Army, landed on Dead Wolf Pond, a lake about one and a half miles (2.4 kilometers) long, located five miles (8 kilometers) from the crash site.

With the assistance of experienced woodsman from Gander, Dr. Martin and his medical team began the hazardous trip down a river known as Dead Wolf Brook from the lake to an area near the crash site. Martin’s team then made their way by foot through the boggy area to the DC-4 and the survivors.

Dr. Martin determined that many of the severely injured would not survive the rugged overland trip upriver and that some other way had to be found to extract the survivors and rescuers.

Transiting Dead Wolf Brook. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. Coast Guard decided to use helicopters to carry out the survivors. The nearest  were located at the Coast Guard Air Stations, Brooklyn, New York, and Elizabeth City, North Carolina, in the United States. In fact, these were the only helicopters operating in the Coast Guard at the time.

Helicopters were just out of their infancy in 1946, moving into the adolescent stage—Igor Sikorsky had made the first helicopter flight just six years earlier. [See TDiA, 14 September 1939] However, the U.S. Coast Guard had pioneered helicopter development alongside Sikorsky as the military service responsible for the testing and evaluation of helicopters during the latter years of World War II. This would be their first large scale rescue which would prove the helicopter’s amazing capabilities.

A U.S. Coast Guard HNS-1 Hoverfly, 39051, flown by Lieutenant Stewart R. Graham transports one survivor from near the crashed airliner. (Igor I. Sikorsky Historical Archives)
Captain Richard L. Burke USCG

On 20 September 1946, two days after the airliner crashed, orders were received from the East Area Rescue Officer, Captain Richard L. Burke, U.S. Coast Guard, to prepare a Sikorsky R-4/HNS-1 helicopter for immediate shipment to Gander to take part in the rescue of survivors of a crashed Belgian airliner. Instructions were given by telephone to Lieutenant Alvin Nightingale Fisher, USCG, at Elizabeth City to begin disassembly of an HNS-1 for transport aboard a C-54 Skymaster (the military version of the Douglas DC-4). No details were available on the orders for Air Station Brooklyn, New York.

Lt.  Alvin N. Fisher, USCG

An Army Air Forces C-54 from Westover Field, near Springfield, Massachusetts, arrived at Elizabeth City at 9:25 p.m., local time, on the 20th. The disassembled fabric-covered HNS-1, serial number 39051, and its crew were loaded aboard and the transport departed at 11:25 p.m. for the 1,215 nautical mile (1,298 statute miles/2,250 kilometers) journey, landing at Gander at 8:55 a.m., the next morning. The helicopter was unloaded and assembly began at once.

While the helicopter was being reassembled, the pilots were taken to the scene of the crash by a PBY from Argentia, and plans were laid for flying the survivors out by helicopter. It was decided to drop lumber at the clearing nearest the crash for the purpose of constructing a small landing platform as the muskeg would not support the weight of the helicopter. A second platform was built on the edge of the lake approximately 7 miles (11 kilometers) from the clearing so that survivors could be transferred  at this point to PBYs and flown to Gander.

A Sikorsky HOS-1 approaches two PBYs on Gander Lake. (U.S. Coast Guard)

While the Elizabeth City Sikorsky HNS-1 was being prepared for flight, another helicopter, the metal-clad Sikorsky R-6/HOS-1, serial number 23470, a newer and more powerful machine, was also on the scene being readied. The HOS-1 from Air Station Brooklyn arrived at Gander some twenty minutes before the Elizabeth City machine and was reassembled and ready for flight before the HNS-1.

Coast Guard aviation machinist’s mates work on reassembling the Sikorsky HNS-1. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mates Oliver F. Berry, Leo Brzycki, and AAM1 Merwin Westerberg were the primary mechanics in charge of the disassembly and reassembly of the HNS-1, while Chief Aviation Machinist’s Mate Vanelli was the primary mechanic for the HOS-1. (Other personnel could not be identified.)

Aviation machinist’s mates work on the HOS-1 at Gander. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Taking the helicopters apart in order to airlift them on transport aircraft, then putting them back together on arrival at Gander was critical to the operation. After reassembly of the Elizabeth City and during the run-up prior to its test flight, someone approached too close to the turning rotors and the test pilot did an emergency shut down. This caused a pin to shear and it was dark before the trouble could be remedied.

The Brooklyn HOS-1 managed to evacuate 8 people before dark on the 21st, all of whom had to be carried by stretcher due to the severity of their injuries.

Ground personnel off-load an ambulatory survivor from HOS-1 23470
The next day, the 22nd, both helicopters were used to fly out the remaining survivors by making  repeated flights between the crash site and Gander Lake, a distance of about 12 miles (19 kilometers). The 18 survivors were placed in wire Stokes litters attached to the outside of the HNS-1 helicopter, and inside the hastily-modified HOS-1. One at a time they were flown to Wolf Lake where they were further stabilized by the U.S. Army medics. The survivors were then placed in inflatable life rafts and rowed out to a PBY-5A on the lake. They were taken aboard the amphibian and flown to Gander Airport where they were able to receive more extensive medical care.
A survivor in a Stokes litter is transferred to life raft to be rowed out to a waiting PBY-5A Catalina. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The helicopters and PBY-5As made numerous trips before all eighteen survivors were evacuated to Gander Airport. In addition, the helicopters withdrew the fourteen members of the Army’s ground rescue team, and several others. The following day, after all survivors had been flown out, the investigators and airline officials were flown in by helicopter. In all, the helicopters made forty flights into the clearing. Landings, both at the clearing and at the lake, were made on the wooden platforms, thus permitting maximum performance of the helicopters.

A U.S. Coast Guard Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina 48314 on Gander Lake with injured survivors of the SABENA crash. (National Naval Aviation Museum 1993.501.073.116)

The U.S. Coast Guard helicopter pilots were Commander Frank Anderson, Lieutenant Commander Stewart Graham, Lieutenant Walter Bolton and Lieutenant August Kleisch. Three of these four officers had begun their Coast Guard careers as enlisted men.

The aircrews received the U.S. Air Medal, while the government of Belgium presented the Chevalier (Knight) of the Order of Leopold to all for the rescue.

Lieutenant Commander Frank Arthur Erickson, U.S. Coast Guard, at the controls of a Sikorsky HNS-1, circa 1946. (Coast Guard Historian’s Office)
Captain Frank Arthur Erickson, United States Coast Guard. (6 November 1907–17 December 1978) Captain Erickson was designated Coast Guard Aviator No. 32 in 1935, and later, Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot No. 1. On 3 January 1944, then Commander Erickson carried out the first-ever helicopter life saving mission when he delivered plasma for the survivors of USS Turner (DD-648) from Battery Park, New York, to a hospital at Sandy Hook. This occurred during a severe snow storm. Captain Erickson is internationally recognized for his pioneering efforts of helicopter rescues, hydraulic hoist systems, and flight stabilization systems. Erickson Hall at the Aviation Training Center, Mobile, Alabama, where the Coast Guard aircraft flight simulators are located, was named in his honor. Captain Ericson graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 1931 and was commissioned an ensign. He served until retirement in 1954.
Lieutenant Stewart R. Graham, USCG, in cockpit of Sikorsky HNS-1 near Gander, Newfoundland, September 1946. (U.S. Coast Guard)

Commander Stewart Ross (“Stew”) Graham, United States Coast Guard. (25 September 1917–13 August 2016) Commander Graham was designated Coast Guard Aviator No. 114 in 1942, and then Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot No. 2 in 1943. He was the leading pilot in pioneering Anti-Submarine Warfare tactics, and trained U.S. Navy pilots to conduct these critical missions. Commander Graham was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and two Air Medals. He was appointed Chevalier de l’Ordre de Léopold (Knight) by tPrince Charles, Regent of Belgium, for helicopter rescues.

August Kleisch

Lieutenant Commander August (“Gus”) Kleisch, United States Coast Guard. (2 October 1908–26 October 2003) Lieutenant Commander Kleisch was designated as an Enlisted Aviation Pilot in 1935, and after commissioning in 1942, Coast Guard Aviator No. 109. In 1943, at Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn (located at Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, he qualified as Coast Guard Helicopter Pilot No. 5. In 1945, “Gus” Kleisch pioneered the first use of a training helicopter to rescue seven crewmembers of a Canadian PBY flying boat which had been forced down in a remote area of Labrador. He also delivered two medical officers to the scene. For his heroism and innovation, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by the U.S. Navy, and the Royal Canadian Air Force Cross by Prime Minister of Canada. He was appointed Chevalier de l’Ordre de Léopold (Knight) by Prince Charles, Regent of Belgium, for the rescue of the SABENA survivors. Lieutenant Commander Kleisch served in the United States Coast Guard from 1927 until he retired in 1959.

ACMM Oliver F. Berry USCG

Chief Machinist’s Mate Oliver Fuller Berry, United States Coast Guard. (8 March 1908–13 September 1991) ADC Berry was one of the world’s first helicopter maintenance specialists. A distinguished expert mechanic on original Coast Guard aircraft, he was a lead instructor at the very first United States military helicopter training unit. He contributed significantly to the 1946 SABENA crash rescue operation. Of exemplary character, extraordinary technical knowledge, exceptional planning talent, and superior leadership traits, his untiring quest for excellence established the ensuing high standards characterizing Coast Guard aviation maintenance. The Chief Oliver F. Berry Aviation Maintenance Award was established in Chief Berry’s honor, and he is the namesake of the Sentinel-class cutter USCGC Oliver Berry (WPC 1124).

Sikorsky XR-4C 41-18874 at the National Air and Space Museum. (NASM)
The Vought-Sikorsky VS-316A (which was designated XR-4 by the U.S. Army Air Corps and assigned serial number 41-18874), established the single main rotor/anti-torque tail rotor configuration. It was a two-place helicopter with side-by-side seating and dual flight controls. The fabric-covered three-blade main rotor was 38 feet (11.582 meters) in diameter and turned counter-clockwise as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right). The three-blade tail rotor was mounted to the right of the tail boom in a tractor configuration, and rotated clockwise when seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade was below the axis of rotation.)
The XR-4 was 33 feet, 11.5 inches (10.351 meters) long and 12 feet, 5 inches (3.785 meters) high. It weighed 2,010 pounds (911.7 kilograms) empty and the maximum gross weight was 2,540 pounds (1,152.1 kilograms).
The VS-316A had originally been powered by a 499.8-cubic-inch-displacement (8.19 liter) air-cooled Warner Aircraft Corporation Scarab SS-50 (R-500-1) seven-cylinder radial engine, rated at 145 horsepower at 2,050 r.p.m. In the XR-4 configuration, the engine was upgraded to an air-cooled, direct-drive 555.298-cubic-inch-displacement (9.100 liter) Warner Super Scarab SS185 (R-550-3) seven-cylinder radial engine with a compression ration of 6.20:1. The R-550-3 was rated at 185 horsepower at 2,175 r.p.m. at Sea Level, and 200 horsepower at 2,475 r.p.m (five minute limit) for takeoff. The engine was placed backwards in the aircraft with the propeller shaft driving a short driveshaft through a clutch to a 90° gear box and the transmission. The R-550-3 weighed 344 pounds (156 kilograms).
The XR-4 was redesignated XR-4C. This would be the world’s first production helicopter. It is at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HOS-1
Sikorsky designed the HOS-1(R-6) as a follow on to his fabric covered HNS-1 (R-4). While retaining the R-4’s rotor and transmission system, the R-6 had an all-metal fuselage. In October 1944 the first of three XHOS-1 were delivered to the US Navy and transferred to the US Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn, Floyd Bennett Field, for test and evaluation. One of these crashed.
The Navy then acquired 36 HOS-1 (R-6A) from the Army Air Force which were purchased by the Coast Guard between January 1945 and January 1946. Of these, two were destroyed in crashes (no fatalities), and the majority of the remaining helicopters were returned to the Navy or disposed of with the closing of the helicopter training school.
On 18 June 1946 CDR Erickson was moved to the Coast Guard Elizabeth City air station. His downsized Helicopter Test and Development Unit consisted of a small group of dedicated personnel, one hangar, one HNS and two HOS helicopters. This was the thread that kept the Coast Guard helicopter program alive.
General characteristics
Crew: one
Capacity: one observer
Length: 47 ft 11 in (14.61 m)
Gross weight: 2,600 lb (1,179 kg)
Powerplant: 1 × Franklin O-405-9 piston, 240 hp (180 kW)
Main rotor diameter: 38 ft 0 in (11.58 m)
Performance
Maximum speed: 100 mph (160 km/h, 87 kn) – this new aircraft could attain 100 mph compared with 82 mph by the earlier design.
Service ceiling: 10,000 ft (3,000 m)
© 2020, Sean M. Cross
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11 March–6 April 1949

Lieutenant Stewart R. Graham, USCG, in cockpit of Sikorsky HNS-1 near Gander, Newfoundland, September 1946. (U.S. Coast Guard)
Lieutenant Stewart R. Graham, USCG, in cockpit of Sikorsky HNS-1 near Gander, Newfoundland, September 1946. (U.S. Coast Guard)

April 6, 1949: Lieutenant Stewart Ross Graham, United States Coast Guard, and his crewman, Aviation Metalsmith 2nd Class (AM2) Robert McAuliffe, completed the longest unescorted helicopter flight on record. They flew a Sikorsky HO3S-1G, serial number 51-234, from the Coast Guard Air Station, Elizabeth, New Jersey, to Coast Guard Air Station Port Angeles, Washington, via San Diego, California, covering a distance of 3,750 miles (6,035 kilometers) in 57.6 flight hours over 11 days.

Lieutenant Graham was the first pilot to fly a helicopter from a ship. On 16 January 1944, he flew a Sikorsky YR-4B, serial number 46445, from the deck of a British freighter, SS Daghestan, while in convoy from New York to Liverpool. After 30 minutes, he returned to the freighter. He was a pioneer in the use of the helicopter by the Coast Guard and the Navy.

U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HO3S-1G 51-232. (U.S. Coast Guard)
U.S. Coast Guard Sikorsky HO3S-1G 51-232, sister ship of 51-234. (U.S. Coast Guard)

The HO3S (Sikorsky S-51) was a second-generation helicopter, capable of carrying a pilot and up to three passengers. The cabin was built of aluminum with Plexiglas windows. The fuselage was built of plastic-impregnated plywood, and the tail boom was wood monocoque construction.

The main rotor consisted of three fully-articulated blades built of metal spars and plywood ribs and covered with two layers of fabric. (All metal blades soon became available.) The three bladed semi-articulated tail rotor was built of laminated wood. The main rotor turned counter-clockwise, as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The tail rotor was mounted on the helicopter’s left side in a pusher configuration. It turned clockwise as seen from the helicopter’s left.

The helicopter’s fuselage was 41 feet, 7.5 inches (12.687 meters). The main rotor had a diameter of 48 feet (14.630 meters) and tail rotor diameter was 8 feet, 5 inches (2.2.565 meters) giving the helicopter an overall length of 57 feet, 1 inch (17.399 meters). It was 13 feet, 1.5 inches (4.001 meters) high. The landing gear tread was 12 feet (3.7 meters).

The S-51 had an empty weight of 4,050 pounds (1,837.05 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 5,500 pounds (2,494.76 kilograms). Fuel capacity was 100 gallons (378.5 liters).

The helicopter was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney R-985 AN-5 (Wasp Jr. T1B4) direct-drive,  nine-cylinder radial engine which was placed vertically in the fuselage behind the crew compartment. This engine had a compression ratio of 6:1 and was rated at 450 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m., Standard Day at Sea Level. The R-985 AN-5 was 48.00 inches (1.219 meters) long, 46.25 inches (1.175 meters) in diameter and weighed 684 pounds (310.3 kilograms) with a magnesium crankcase.

The S-51 had a maximum speed (Vne) of 107 knots (123.1 miles per hour/198.2 kilometers per hour). Range was 275 miles (442.6 kilometers). The service ceiling was 14,800 feet (4,511 meters). The absolute hover ceiling was 3,000 feet (914.4 meters).

Sikorsky built 220 helicopter of the S-51 series.

U.S. Coast Guard HO3S-1G, serial number 51-238, sister ship of Lieutenant Graham’s record-setting helicopter. (USCG/Smithsonian Institution)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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