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.
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
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