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Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant

Search and Rescue (SAR) Helicopter

The Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant distinguished itself in rescue operations of downed American airmen throughout the Vietnam War.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 5/28/2019
The HH-3E "Jolly Green Giant" was a specialized development of the original Sikorsky CH-3 transport helicopter. The HH-3E was specifically designed for Combat Search & Rescue (CSAR) which required long operational ranges, loitering times and hovering qualities and appeared during the American involvement in the Vietnam War (1955-1975). Due to its "combat" SAR classification, the HH-3E was purposely developed with extra protection for the crew and systems when operating in a theater of war. The HH-3E Jolly Green Giant is no longer in service with US military forces.

The Sikorsky CH-3E "Sea King" production model was selected for conversion to the CSAR role across fifty total airframes (the CH-3E was an offshoot of the Sikorsky S-61R product model). These helicopters were given a large rear powered ramp for ease of access to the cargo hold, self-sealing fuel tanks to counter the threat of small arms fire and armoring to increase crew survivability. Additionally, the CH-3E's were given armament for self-defense and a powered hoist for bringing up downed airmen. The hull was sealed to promote water-landings. In-flight refueling was made possible by way of a probe seated to the lower right of the fuselage. Overall, the airframe retained much of the general look and exact layout of the CH-3E when it in its revised HH-3E form.

Initial HH-3E units were deployed to Southeast Asia beginning in 1967 with the United States Air Force. From there, no part of the theater was out of reach from the high endurance mounts and HH-3E crews went to work, sometimes under lethal operating conditions, in rescuing their fallen comrades. Power was served through a pairing of General Electric T58-GE-5 series turboshaft engines rated at 1,500 horsepower each, powering a five-bladed main rotor and five-bladed tail rotor. The design was characterized by its large, deep fuselage to which the engines were mounted along the roof and the raised tail unit aft and above the cargo ramp area. Sponsons along the sides of the hull allowed for waterborne landings. The cockpit sat the two pilots and window panes dotted the sides of the fuselage. The wheeled undercarriage was retractable. A typical crew of four included the pilots, a flight mechanic and dedicated machine gunner. The HH-3E was generally armed with 2 x 7.62mm M60 General Purpose Machine Guns for suppression of enemy elements. The internal hold could house up to 25 passengers or 15 medical litters along with 2 medical specialists.

HH-3E systems were based in Udorn Air Base in Thailand and out of Da Nang Air Base of South Vietnam. The helicopter was a participant in the Son Tay prison camp operation of 1970. The operation involved some 50 US commandos in a raid attempting to rescue as many as 80 prisoners of war from the North Vietnam establishment. At least 29 US Air Force aircraft directly took part in the raid including HH-3Es. Much to the dismay of the rescuers, the prison was devoid of prisoners during the operation, they having been moved to another facility. The mission technically became something of a "failed success" for no POWs were released from captivity but worldwide attention was brought to North Vietnam treatment of their prisoners.

The Vietnam War certainly illustrated the bravery and sacrifice of Jolly Green Giant crews for they were awarded over 190 Silver Stars, 24 Air Force Crosses and even one Medal of Honor. HH-3E crews were exposed to very harrowing conditions during a typical work day - bullet riddled airframes, loss of windscreens and fractured rotor assemblies. It was not uncommon for a single aircraft to have rescued dozens of downed airmen across the theater of war. One of the more famous of the type became "Jolly Green 22" which is retained on display at the National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio - the vehicle having served 32 months in Vietnam skies.

Service for the HH-3E did not end with the conclusion of the Vietnam War for its special capabilities were put to good use in Operation Desert Storm during the Persian Gulf War of 1991. Again, the system served down airmen well and managed to further strengthen the history of this fine aircraft. Its involvement in the Gulf War would signal the end of the HH-3E line for the US Air Force retired its fleet by the end of 1995, bringing an end to a storied era.

The United States Coast Guard fielded a similar Sikorsky recovery model recognized as the HH-3F "Pelican". This, too, has been retired from active service.

Italy and Tunisia are the two remaining military operators of the S-61R model.


Retired, Out-of-Service
[ 50 Units ] :
Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation - USA
National flag of United States United States (retired)
- Transport
- Search and Rescue (SAR)
- Reconnaissance (RECCE)
73.00 ft (22.25 m)
62.34 ft (19 m)
18.11 ft (5.52 m)
(Showcased structural dimension values pertain to the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant production model)
Empty Weight:
12,346 lb (5,600 kg)
22,051 lb (10,002 kg)
(Diff: +9,705lb)
(Showcased weight values pertain to the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant production model)
2 x General Electric T58-GE-5 turboshaft engines of 1,500 horsepower each driving 5-blade main rotor and 5-bladed tail rotor.
(Showcased powerplant information pertains to the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant production model)
Maximum Speed:
153 mph (247 kph; 133 kts)
Service Ceiling:
21,001 feet (6,401 m; 3.98 miles)
Maximum Range:
779 miles (1,253 km; 677 nm)
(Showcased performance values pertain to the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant production model; Compare this aircraft entry against any other in our database)
2 x 7.62mm M60 General Purpose Machine Guns
(Showcased armament details pertain to the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant production model)
HH-3E "Jolly Green Giant" - S-61R / CH-3C "stretched" fuselage variant developed specially for the United States Air Force; rear-loading freight ramp.
Cockpit image of the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant
(Cockpit image represents the Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant production model)

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