Aircraft at a Glance
The HH-3F extended the range and capabilities of the Coast Guard in its search and rescue mission, incoporating a nose-mounted radar, hydraulically operated ramp, and an amphibious capability.
The museum's aircraft, HH-3F (CGN 1486), participated in the storied rescue of a father and son from their fishing boat during a winter storm in Alaska in December 1987, each member of the six-man crew receiving the Distinguished Flying Cross
In 1967 the Coast Guard sought a platform to extend its range and capabilities in search and rescue, choosing a variant of the HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant” employed in that role by the U.S. Air Force in Vietnam. Designated the HH-3F Pelican, the aircraft differed in its nose-mounted radar and watertight fuselage that allowed for water landings. The Pelican was also equipped with a hydraulically operated aft ramp that could be opened in flight, on the ground, or on water. It retained the large windows on the sides of the fuselage, which provided excellent visibility for aircrewmen searching the ocean surface during search and rescue flights.
Initial procurement totaled 40 HH-3Fs with final delivery in 1973. In 1989, the Coast Guard acquired five HH-3Es from the U.S. Air Force and converted them to the HH-3F configuration.
With a top speed of 160 M.P.H. and a range of 750 miles, the HH-3F extended the reach of the Coast Guard in an array of missions, from lifesaving rescues to protecting marine resources to drug interdiction. During their service HH-3Fs flew more than 54,000 search and rescue missions, saving more than 23,000 people.
The aircraft on display, CGN 1486, is notable in its longevity and operational service, serving as the platform for one of the most acclaimed rescues in Coast Guard history. On December 10, 1987, while on a trip on their 26-ft. wooden fishing vessel Bluebird, Jim Blades and his six-year-old son Clinton suddenly found themselves in the midst of a terrible winter storm, their boat thrown against the rocks off the coast of Sitka, Alaska, by towering waves.
After receiving the distress call, the crew of the museum’s HH-3F Pelican launched and headed towards the location of Bluebird. Slammed by 80 M.P.H. wind gusts, equivalent to the sustained winds experienced in a Category 1 hurricane, Lieutenant Commander John B. Whiddon and Lieutenant Greg B. Breithaupt fought with the controls to keep their craft from crashing, on one occasion barely avoiding having the tail boom strike the water. They eventually managed to get into a hover over the Bluebird.
When rescue from the boat proved impossible because of risk of the limited deck space and interference of the rigging, father and son put on survival suits and jumped into the water, which was so cold that they were incapacitated. On board the helicopter, Aviation Machinist’s Mate First Class Carl Saylor lowered the rescue swimmer, Aviation Survivalman Second Class Jeff Tunks, into the water. Swept away from the survivors’ positon, he had to swim the length of ¾ of a football field through waves that reached as high as 40ft. to their location. He managed to get them into the rescue basket, and Aviation Electronics Technician Third Class Mark Milne joined Saylor in getting the wildly swinging basket into the helicopter.
When the basket was lowered to Tunks and he climbed into it, a gust of wind threw the helicopter backwards, dragging the rescue swimmer into a wave that felt like hitting “a freight train.” Wrote Whiddon in an after action report, “Only by Herculean efforts were Milne and Saylor able to hoist and recover Turks.”
For their heroic rescue, each member of the helicopter’s crew received the Distinguished Flying Cross. They exemplified the motto of the Coast Guard— Semper Paratus (Always Ready).
Later, while operating from CGAS Clearwater, Florida, this HH-3F was part of the effort that pulled 60 people to safety amid 30-ft. waves during the “Storm of the Century” off Tampa Bay in 1993. The last operational HH-3F in the Coast Guard inventory, CGN 1486 made its final flight from Coast Guard Air Station (CGAS) Clearwater, Florida, to Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola for delivery to the museum in 1994, completing 22 years of operational service.
The aircraft has recently been restored through the generosity of the Coast Guard Aviation Association.
Manufacturer: Sikorsky Aircraft Division of United Aircraft Corporation
Dimensions: Length: 57 ft., 3 in.; Height: 18 ft., 1 in.; Rotor Diameter: 62 ft.
Weights: Empty: 13,255 lb.; Gross Weight: 22,050 lb.
Power Plant: Two 1,500 horsepower General Electric T58-GE-5 engines
Performance: Maximum Speed: 160 M.P.H.; Service Ceiling: 10,500 ft.; Range: 750 miles
Crew: Pilot, co-pilot, two aircrewmen, and provision for rescue swimmer