Thursday, May 26, 2011

CH-46 Sea Knight

Upon earning my naval aviator wings in Pensacola I was transferred to HMMT-302 at MCAF Santa Ana, California  to transition to the fleet aircraft I would be assigned to fly.  I spent several months learning to fly the CH-46 Sea Knight Medium Lift Helicopter in preparation for orders to Vietnam.

 The CH-46 was a new turbine powered tandem rotor helicopter built by Boeing-Vertol.  The Marines used it as a primary troop transport and medevac bird in country.  At the time it was underpowered and did not have the desired lift capability for the hot humid climate of Vietnam.  We learned the tactics and art of mountain flying,  landing with just our back wheels on the edge of a cliff while hovering the front of the bird over the drop-off below!  We did high speed spiral approaches at 90 degrees angle of bank from 3,000 feet into small landing zones.  This type of approach should keep you above ground fire and the rapid descent and spiral would make you a difficult target... if you did get hit you should "end up" near the LZ and friendly Marines.

A 46 casts a shadow as it climbs out of an LZ

The "46" earned the name of the "CH-46 Crowd Killer" because it went through a period where it broke in half in flight!  It was learned that massive loads used  to stop the high speed descent and a week splice joint in the aircraft caused the problem.  Modifications to the aircraft and to landing technique resolved that problem.

The "46" or as it was affectionately called "Phrog" (see the front view) became the workhorse of the Marine Corps from when it was first built in 1967-68 to today where it is just being replaced in Afghanistan.  That is not bad for an aircraft that last came off the assembly line 44 years ago. It is amazing how upgrades and good maintenance can extend the life of an aircraft.   

Finally,  over the past couple of years the CH-46 is being replaced by the Tilt Wing "Osprey" which also has had a difficult beginning.  As an old Phrog Driver I do not believe the Osprey will ever be able to replace the "46". I know there is no bird that will replace the Phrog in my heart!

A hard working Phrog ready for preflight

An emergency landing at Big Sur on a flight to San Fransisco

As things turned out I never flew in Vietnam.  However there were many other tales from the Phrog!  Stay Tuned!


  1. Fantastic article. I can only image what it must have been like to fly a helicopter!

    1. Thanks for your comment... It was the best job of my life!