After 44 years of service at the Corps’ most historic helicopter squadron, the last CH-53 helicopters from Marine Helicopter Squadron 1 will soon be reassigned to the operating forces. The CH-53s will be redistributed as part of the Marine Corps fiscal year 2011 aviation campaign plan, which will increase the Corps’ number of CH53E helicopter squadrons.
Honored at an April 15 ceremony at HMX-1, the CH-53 was an integral part in presidential support mission since 1967. The CH-53 was responsible for “green side” HMX-1 missions: supporting the executive flight detachment, transporting the White House staff, United States Secret Service, and White House press corps, and facilitating training aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico.
Former pilots, aircrew and commanders paid tribute to the heavy-lift monster that first joined HMX-1 as the CH-53A in 1967. The last variant to serve the squadron was the CH-53E Super Stallion.
“The earth doesn’t spin--the Super Stallion drags it around,” said Blake Dunn, a former CH-53 crew chief who now works for the helicopter’s manufacturer, the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation.
Dunn wasn’t alone in his high praise for the largest, most powerful helicopter in the Corps’ inventory. Many HMX-1 personnel felt sad at seeing the workhorse depart, despite the ample supplies of barbecue served during the squadron stand-down.
“It’s the end of an era,” said Col. Matthew Glavy, commanding officer of HMX-1. “We bid farewell to this incredible capability… and what it’s done for this squadron.”
Retired Marine Lt. Gen. Fred “Assassin” McCorkle was the guest of honor at the ceremony. The former deputy commandant for aviation flew more than 1,500 combat missions in Vietnam and flew more than 60 types of aircraft in his career, according to his official biography on the Navy and Marine Corps Association Web page. McCorkle has flown all Marine Corps variants of the CH-53, from Alpha to Echo.
“This aircraft has really been the workhorse and the Cadillac of helicopters for the United States Marine Corps,” said McCorkle. “I think it’s going to continue to be that.
“To all the [CH-53] guys in here, thank you for all that you’ve done for the Marine Corps, for HMX-1 and in support of the presidential mission,” said McCorkle.
Though HMX-1 personnel said they would miss the Super Stallions, knowing that the aircraft would be going to the sound of the guns cheered the Marines.
“It’s a sad day, but the warfighter needs [CH-53s],” said HMX-1 pilot Lt. Col. Doug Ogden. “We’ve got to let them go. The best thing about them is they can do so many missions. They’re so versatile and that’s why they’re used so much by the [Marine Expeditionary Units] and the operating forces. Obviously, in Afghanistan, they’re helpful with the high altitude ops.”
This particular quality stems from the sheer power of the aircraft, something HMX-1 aviators said they would miss even as they spoke about the need for the CH-53’s impressive capabilities elsewhere.
“They’re using [CH-53s] a lot in Afghanistan,” said HMX-1 pilot Capt. Luke Frank. “They need them out there.”
Frank participated in the Big Iron’s final mission at HMX-1, flying in support of President Obama’s recent trip Philadelphia on April 6.
“I was very lucky get to go along on the 53’s last flight,” said Frank. “It’s kind of bittersweet. They’re very capable, very deep aircraft. We had a good time and we took a lot of pictures, that’s for sure. We got to do an over-flight of the Phillies game while they were playing.”
The CH-46E medium lift helicopter, known affectionately as the Phrog, will fill the gap at HMX-1 created by the CH-53’s departure, until V-22 Ospreys arrive in the summer of 2013. All CH-53 pilots at HMX-1 are in the process of re-qualifying on the CH-46, but having already completed his requalification, Frank was able to offer a comparison of the two aircraft.
“It’s very smooth, very big—it’s a really, really nice aircraft,” said Frank, “but it’s also complex, which is why the [CH-46] is good. The Phrog is simpler to maintain.”
Fourteen CH-46s have been added to the HMX-1 inventory to maintain the squadron’s capabilities until the arrival of the V-22s.
“Certainly [HMX-1] Marines have a lot of pride in this airplane,” said Glavy of the Super Stallions. “With that said, they’ve embraced the transition to CH-46s on the flight line.”
“All the love, sweat and tears Marines put into the [CH-53s], they’ll now put into the ‘46s,” said Glavy. “I’m very proud of them for that maturity, that professionalism, to be able to embrace that. They know what’s best for the Marine Corps. They know what’s best for the operating forces. If this squadron can help Marines in Afghanistan, everybody’s going to say ‘yes’ to that.”
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