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Air Rescue

With the increasing use of helicopters, the USAF developed new rescue techniques including using hydraulic winches. Here, an Airman is hoisted aboard a hovering SH-19. (U.S. Air Force photo)

With the increasing use of helicopters, the USAF developed new rescue techniques including using hydraulic winches. Here, an Airman is hoisted aboard a hovering SH-19. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Helicopters and seaplanes worked together. Here, Airmen transfer a patient from the SA-16 Albatross amphibian in the background to an H-5G helicopter. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Helicopters and seaplanes worked together. Here, Airmen transfer a patient from the SA-16 Albatross amphibian in the background to an H-5G helicopter. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Extreme conditions and rugged terrain challenged Air Rescue Service crews. Here, an H-5G helicopter evacuates an injured Ethiopian UN soldier from a remote, snowy mountaintop radar site in March 1952. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Extreme conditions and rugged terrain challenged Air Rescue Service crews. Here, an H-5G helicopter evacuates an injured Ethiopian UN soldier from a remote, snowy mountaintop radar site in March 1952. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An Air Force H-5G fitted with two stretchers prepares to evacuate a wounded soldier, July 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An Air Force H-5G fitted with two stretchers prepares to evacuate a wounded soldier, July 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An Air Rescue Service crew treats a wounded UN soldier on one of an H-5G helicopter’s two outboard litters. Note the whole blood hanging in the door, and the litter cover on the ground. (U.S. Air Force photo)

An Air Rescue Service crew treats a wounded UN soldier on one of an H-5G helicopter’s two outboard litters. Note the whole blood hanging in the door, and the litter cover on the ground. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The larger and more capable SH-19A supplemented the H-5. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The larger and more capable SH-19A supplemented the H-5. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This SA-16A Albatross amphibian stands ready for the next rescue mission. (U.S. Air Force photo)

This SA-16A Albatross amphibian stands ready for the next rescue mission. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The World War II Flying Fortress soldiered on in Korea as a rescue or staff aircraft. This SB-17G painted in yellow rescue markings was equipped with a droppable lifeboat. (U.S. Air Force photo)

The World War II Flying Fortress soldiered on in Korea as a rescue or staff aircraft. This SB-17G painted in yellow rescue markings was equipped with a droppable lifeboat. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF Air Rescue Service H-19 Chickasaw helicopter in Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

USAF Air Rescue Service H-19 Chickasaw helicopter in Korea. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Escape and Evasion artifacts. (U.S. Air Force photo).
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Escape and Evasion artifacts. (U.S. Air Force photo).

DAYTON, Ohio -- AN/URC-4 survival radio in the Korean War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- AN/URC-4 survival radio in the Korean War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

DAYTON, Ohio -- AN/URC-4 survival radio in the Korean War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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DAYTON, Ohio -- AN/URC-4 survival radio in the Korean War Gallery at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo)

"After a successful rescue mission, morale would be sky high from the rescue crew right down to the administrative clerk -- we all had a part in it."
- Richard McVay, 3rd Air Rescue Squadron Operations Officer

With courage and daring, the U.S. Air Force Air Rescue Service saved the lives of hundreds of UN personnel during the Korean War. This war saw the first large-scale use of helicopters in rescuing Airmen from behind enemy lines and evacuating the wounded.

The USAF's air rescue mission came into its own during the Korean War. Crews of amphibious aircraft performed spectacular rescues from North Korean rivers and off the coast, and USAF air rescue units used helicopters to reach downed Airmen on land deep in enemy territory. Rescue crews flying modified B-29 and B-17 bombers also dropped lifeboats to Airmen downed in the ocean, and a small number of Air Force crash rescue boats operating from Japan and Korea retrieved downed Airmen. Knowing they could be rescued quickly by air or sea greatly improved aircrews' morale.

The Air Force also evacuated many wounded troops from the front lines. In the war's early stages, USAF H-5 helicopters rushed critically wounded soldiers from the front to Army MASH (Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) units. Many would have died without such timely transport and treatment. During the course of the war, the U.S. Army eventually took over front-line helicopter medical evacuation, though USAF helicopters were still used on occasion.

Using helicopters for air rescue and front-line evacuation in Korea represented a fundamental change in tactics. Although helicopters were used for rescue at the end of World War II, it was not until Korea that their use became widespread and efficient helicopter rescue methods were developed. At the same time, the Korean War was the last time the Air Force used sea-going boats for combat rescue.

The Air Rescue Service brought back 996 UN personnel from behind enemy lines, including 170 American Airmen. Air Rescue also evacuated 8,598 sick and wounded UN troops, many of these from the front lines. With this record, the Air Rescue Service in Korea truly lived up to its motto, "That Others May Live."

Exhibit Case:
Blood Chit. Bryce Poe II, who flew the first U.S. Air Force jet reconnaissance mission of the Korean War, carried this "blood chit" during his tour. A blood chit, to be used if downed and evading the enemy, explains in several languages that the pilot is American and needs help. Poe later rose to the rank of four-star general and commanded the Air Force Logistics Command.

E-1 radio carrier vest. The E-1 vest carried a small AN/URC-4 survival radio, which was used to communicate with rescue aircraft.

C-1 Emergency Sustenance Vest. The World War II C-1 vest was the first military survival vest, and the USAF used it in large numbers in Korea. Pilots did not normally wear it in flight, but put it on after landing (the vest was stored in a bag attached to the parachute). Typical items in the C-1's 14 outside and 2 inner pockets included a waterproof match case, compass, toilet paper, first aid kit, bandages, flares, .45 caliber pistol and ammunition, fishing kit, lip balm, sunscreen, rations, water bladder, water purification tablets, signal mirror, gloves, and pocket knife.

Escape and Evasion Map. USAF crews carried cloth "E&E" (Escape and Evasion) maps.

Click on the following links to learn more about air rescue during the Korean War.

Lifeboat from the Sky
Air Force Sailors in Korea
Exposure Suits for Sea Rescue

Click here to return to the Korean War Gallery.

 

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