Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant

  • By

The U.S. Air Force developed the Sikorsky HH-3E helicopter, nicknamed the "Jolly Green Giant," to perform combat search and rescue (CSAR) to recover downed Airmen during the Southeast Asia War. A highly modified version of Sikorsky's CH-3 transport helicopter, the HH-3E carried both armor plating and armament to protect it from hostile forces during rescues of aircrews in a combat area.

Fifty CH-3Es were converted to HH-3Es with the addition of armor, defensive armament, self-sealing fuel tanks and a rescue hoist. With a watertight hull, the HH-3E could land on water, and its large rear door and ramp permitted easy loading and unloading.

The first air-refuelable helicopter to be produced, the HH-3E's retractable fuel probe and external fuel tanks gave it a range limited only by the endurance of the aircrew. In fact, in 1967, two aerial refueled HH-3Es set the long-distance record for helicopters by flying non-stop from New York to Paris, France. This long-range capability allowed HH-3Es to conduct CSAR operations anywhere in the Southeast Asia theater of operations, and they participated in the attempt to rescue American prisoners of war from the Son Tay prison camp in 1970.

The first USAF HH-3Es arrived in Vietnam in 1967, and they operated out of Udorn Air Base, Thailand, and Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam. During the Southeast Asia War, HH-3 crewmen were awarded one Medal of Honor, twenty-four Air Force Crosses, and over 190 Silver Stars. A quarter of a century later, HH-3Es participated in OPERATION DESERT STORM, and they provided rescue support in the early years of the Space Shuttle program. The USAF retired its last HH-3Es by 1995.

The Sikorsky HH-3E on display (serial number 67-14709) 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.

On March 14, 1968, a two-ship helicopter rescue team attempted to rescue the aircrew of a U.S. Marine Corps 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 Jolly Green 22 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.

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 March 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.

TECHNICAL NOTES:
Crew:
Four (pilot, copilot, flight mechanic/engineer and gunner)
Armament: Two 7.62mm M60 machine guns
Engine: Two General Electric T58-GE-5 engines of 1,500 hp each
Maximum speed: 177 mph
Cargo: 25 passengers or 15 litters and two attendants

Click here to return to the Southeast Asia War Gallery.

Find Out More
Line
Related Fact Sheets
Rescue Attempt: The Son Tay Raid
"Jolly Green 22"
Line
Video
USAF CMSgt. (Ret.) Wayne Fisk-Origin of the Green Feet Tattoo
Line
Cockpit360 Images
View the HH-3E Cockpit Overview
View the HH-3E Cabin Compartment
Line