The HH-3E Jolly Green Giant
The HH-3E is the USAF version of the Sikorsky S-61 amphibious transport helicopter developed for the US Navy. The USAF initially operated six Navy HSS-2 (SH-3A) versions of the S-61 in 1962, eventually designating them CH-3A/Bs. They were so successful the USAF ordered 75, modified as CH-3Cs, featuring a new rear fuselage design with a ramp for vehicles and other cargo. The first CH-3C was flown on Jun. 17, 1963. When 41 CH-3Cs were updated with more a powerful engine in 1966, they were redesignated as CH-3Es. Forty-five were newly manufactured. Later, 50 CH-3Es were modified for combat rescue missions with defensive armament, self-sealing fuel tanks, a rescue hoist, and in-flight refueling capability. They were redesignated HH-3Es and used extensively in Vietnam under the name “Jolly Green Giant.”
Moreover, because of its combat SAR classification, the HH-3E was purposely developed with extra protection (armor) for the crew and systems when operating in a theater of war.
Today one of these helicopters (the HH-3E serial number 67-14709) is on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.
A distinguished history
Noteworthy this HH-3E had a long and distinguished history. Assigned to the 37th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam, it flew with the call sign Jolly Green 22 in the Southeast Asia War.
As explained in the article “Jolly Green 22,” on Mar. 14, 1968, a two-ship helicopter rescue team attempted to rescue the aircrew of a U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) F-4 Phantom shot down over North Vietnam. One of the two crewmen was picked up, but heavy enemy machine-gun fire forced the rescuers to withdraw before saving the second Marine. Enemy fire had damaged Jolly Green 22, but its crew made a second attempt to rescue the stranded Marine. Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese had killed the Marine and set up an ambush for the returning rescuers. Despite intense enemy fire, Jolly Green 22 escaped the trap with 68 bullet holes, a shot-out windshield, and holes through the rotor blades.
For their efforts, the four crew members of the helicopter were nominated for the Air Force Cross, but instead, only three of the crew – the pilot, Maj. Stuart Hoag; the copilot, Lt. Col. Gerald Lowe; and pararescueman Sgt. James Locker – received Silver Stars. The flight engineer, Sgt. Dennis Richardson, who dangerously exposed himself to enemy fire and probably saved the helicopter, received the Purple Heart. However, the Air Force reviewed the documentation of the mission, and in 2008, retired Chief Master Sgt. Richardson received the Air Force Cross for his actions under fire in 1968.
The HH-3E Jolly Green Giant that saved 27 American Airmen
During the 32 months this helicopter – also known as “709” from its serial number – served in Southeast Asia, the crewmen assigned to it received one Air Force Cross and fourteen Silver Stars for heroism.
In addition, they were credited with the rescue of 27 American Airmen.
After the war, “709” participated in another daring rescue mission in the Yellow Sea. On the night of Mar. 30-31, 1979, Maj. James E. McArdle, Jr., and his crew flew this helicopter to save 28 sailors from the Taiwanese freighter Ta Lai after it ran aground. Fighting 15-foot waves and high winds, the HH-3E crew made three trips delivering the Taiwanese sailors to Kwangju Air Base, South Korea. For this rescue, McArdle received received the 1979 MacKay Trophy, which is awarded for the most meritorious flight of the year by an Air Force person, persons or organization.
Retired after Operation Desert Storm in 1991, this historic helicopter was restored by the museum in 2010.
Photo credit: Ken LaRock / U.S. Air Force