The twin turbine powered Sikorsky H-3 was first flown on March 11, 1959 as the Navy XHSS-2. Developed as a US Navy antisubmarine warfare platform, the H-3 was first used to fill an Air Force requirement for a support aircraft for its Texas Tower radar sites located in the Atlantic and to recover drones in the Gulf of Mexico. These six CH-3Bs were virtually identical to the Navy’s Sea Kings.
The U.S. Air Force version CH/HH-3 was a long-range, amphibious transport helicopter that performed a number of duties for the Air Force for more than 30 years. However, the H-3’s most prominent role was combat rescue in Southeast Asia. The first USAF specific version was the CH-3C, which featured a redesigned fuselage, a rear cargo ramp, and retractable tricycle landing gear and was first flown on June 17, 1963. It had two 1300shp-turbine engines, a maximum gross weight of 22,050 pounds, cruise speed of 120 knots (maximum 140 knots). It had a range of 465 miles on internal fuel, 779 miles with external drop tanks and the later HH-3 models with in-flight refueling extended the range indefinitely. The first CH-3Cs were sent to Vietnam in 1965. The definitive Air Force version was the CH-3E, which featured uprated (1500shp) engines. The HH-3E (rescue version) also had the newer engine, more than 1,000 pounds of titanium armor, additional tankage, and an in-flight refueling boom.
The HH-3Es, universally known as “Jolly Green Giants” because of their green-and-tan camouflage schemes, were used on 496 of the 980 aircrew rescues made between 1966 and 1970 in Southeast Asia. On May 31–June 1, 1967, two Air Force crews flying HH-3Es made the first nonstop flight across the Atlantic by helicopter. The 4,271-mile flight took 30 hours, 46 minutes and required nine in-flight refuelings. Lt. Col. Herbert E. Zehnder, the pilot on one of the HH-3Es on the transatlantic flight, flew that same aircraft in the raid on the Son Tay prisoner of war camp near Hanoi on November 20–21, 1970. The Jolly Greens had some limitations and were mostly replaced by the HH-53. The CH/HH-3s continued to serve in ANG and AFRES and with Air Force Special Operations Forces into the 1990s. One Reserve HH-3 unit served in Operation Desert Storm. All the H-3s were retired by 1995.