Naval History and Heritage Command

National Museum of the U.S. Navy

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Sonobuoy Launcher Covers

With the first edition of the "FROM THE FLEET", I'm focusing on something near and dear to my heart.  As a retired LAMPS MKI and III pilot, I'm proud of the helicopter community's heritage as shown by the unofficial "nose art" painted on the community's sonobuoy launcher covers.  The following pages of incredible artwork were submitted by my alma-mater, the Warlords of HSM-51, and various squadron alumni.  The Warlords are the U.S. Navy's only forward-deployed Sikorsky MH-60R "Seahawk" expeditionary helicopter squadron.  Forward deployed in NAF Atsugi, Japan, the Warlords provide combat-ready, armed anti-surface, and anti-submarine helicopter detachments to ships deploying in the Western Pacific and Arabian Gulf regions.

For those of you unfamiliar with what a "sonobuoy launcher cover" is, the now-retired SH-60B and current MH-60R models can carry up to 25 expendable underwater listening devices known as sonobuoys.  They are pneumatically launched out of the port side of the aircraft, deploy a microphone into the water and radio any sounds they detect back to the helo or its host ship.   When the launcher is not in use, it is typically covered with a sheet metal panel screwed into place to keep dirt and water out.  You can see a launcher and the bay it occupies HERE and HERE.   This roughly 32" x 32" panel provides the perfect canvas for unofficial artwork on the helicopter.  

What you are about to see is a great collection of sonobuoy covers spanning from the late 1990's to current day, each telling a story in its own way, reflecting the detachment organizations of the FDNF squadron.  HSM-51 honors their heritage by displaying them for all to see along the mezzanine of their hangar in Atsugi.   You'll see depictions of traditional pin-up girls (frowned upon today, but a time honored practice throughout our armed forces); humorous memes and double entendres based on pop culture icons or stories long lost to all but the participants; various missions and liberty ports, including references to the host nation of Japan; patriotism in the wake of 9/11 and OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM/OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM; a mixture of iconic warrior cultures, whether samurai or Spartan, and even the sad stories of sun-downing of an airframe or a specific ship.   As with any art-beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and these are offered with minimal description or commentary.  

Many thanks to the Warlord PAO-LT Anthony J. Ivester, USN, for his absolutely indispensable support for this project, and to all the Warlords, past and present, for keeping your heritage alive - VARSITY SQUAD!   Also thanks to the unnamed individuals who also added a few pictures of covers from "back in the day".

J.B. Barta

CDR, USN (Ret.)

Acting Director