Search and Rescue – II (Jul 1965)

At the beginning of 1965 the USAF search and rescue forces in Southeast Asia amounted to just 12 HH-43s and five HU-16s.  However, in 1965 search and rescue recieved a new impetus and the SAR task force was born which evolved throughout the war to become one the most successful operations of the war.  In June 1965 three HC-54D Rescuemasters were deployed to Udorn to replace the HU-16 in the rescue command post role.  The HC-54s carried airborne mission controllers who coordinated major SARs.  The aircraft had a greater endurance than the Albatross but its communications fit proved inadequate.  Escort for SAR helicopters was provided over South Vietnam and Laos mainly by A-1s and T-28s and tactical fighters could be called upon if needed.  SAR missions into North Vietnam sometime had a MiGCAP flight of fighters to protect the task force from enemy MiGs.  On 1 July Detachment 3 of the Pacific Air Rescue Center was redesignated as the 38th ARS with its headquarters at Tan Son Nhut.

On 5 July the SAR capability in Southeast Asia increased dramatically when two Sikorsky CH-3Cs on loan from Tactical Air Command arrived at Nakhon Phanom.  The twin-turbine CH-3 had a greatly increased performance over the little HH-43 but the CH-3C was a transport version and was being used only until a new SAR model, the HH-3E, became available.  The CH-3C was one of the first aircraft in Southeast Asia to be painted in the three-tone green and tan camouflage scheme and the type was consequently nicknamed the Jolly Green Giant, a name that was adopted for their call signs.  One of the CH-3Cs was lost on 6 November but the other aircraft was joined by the first two HH-3Es on 10 November when all three helicopters moved to Udorn.  Four more of the new helicopters arrived the following month.  This was the first of 13 Jolly Green Giants that would be lost on SAR missions in Southeast Asia.  In December 1965 the HC-54s were replaced by two new HC-130Hs, specially modified versions of the Hercules transport.  These aircraft represented a quantum jump over the capabilities of the HC-54 and HU-16 and became the airborne command posts for the SAR task force for the rest of the war.  Three more aircraft arrived in June 1966 and the HC-130H detachment became the 39th ARRS on 16 January 1967.

By the end of the year the 38th ARS had replaced the various temporary duty detachments with nine numbered detachments at Nakhon Phanom (No1), Takhli (2), Ubon (3), Korat (4), Udorn (5), Bien Hoa (6), Da Nang (7), Pleiku (9), and Binh Thuy (10) and flew six HH-3Es, one CH-3C and 25 HH-43B/Fs.  In addition the rescue forces had two HC-130Hs and five HU-16 amphibians available in Southeast Asia.  On 8 January 1966 the USAF Air Rescue Service became the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service and the 3rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group was formed at Tan Son Nhut to coordinate all SAR activity in Southeast Asia.  Rescue control centres were set up at Da Nang and Udorn and the 37th ARS was formed at Da Nang with a detachment at Udorn.  This squadron was given responsibility for SAR over North Vietnam, Laos and the Gulf of Tonkin (notwithstanding the US Navy’s contribution) while the 38th ARS concentrated on SAR in South Vietnam together with local base rescue.