“If a man is in need of rescue, an airplane can come in and throw flowers on him, and that's just about all. But a direct lift aircraft could come in and save his life.”
- Igor Sikorsky
Well when people talk Helicopters, it's usually the Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Better known as the "Huey") or the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk that are being named because of being very visible in either war movies, TV shows and footage of war zones.
But a chopper which is never named is the humble S-61/SH-3 Sea King, not glamorous, not flashy, no movie star but a dependable workhorse helicopter which has been in service for many years.
The Sea King Prototype during it's maiden flight in March 1959
The genesis of the Sea King came when the US Navy decided to replace their anti submarine helicopters and search and rescue helicopters with a single type which could perform both duties. In addition they specified that the helicopter had to be amphibious so that sensitive ASW equipment could be lowered into the water by means of the aircraft just landing. But the amphibious hull also made it possible to pull off difficult rescues where the normal hoist wouldn't have worked. The sea King also was the first Helicopter in the US inventory with Turbo shaft engines to enter service, it was those engines which gave the Sea King a good power to weight ratio, while the engines themselves were small enough to keep the fuselage big to accommodate troops, medical staff, VIP and cargo. On Paper that made the Sea King a winner.
And the rest of the world agreed, the Sea King was taken into service with many naval forces and Coastal patrol services all over the world and was the savior of many unlucky downed pilot, ship member who fell overboard, survivor of a ship wreck or any other situation at sea where Search and rescue had to be performed. While the Civilian version proved to be of high value for operations from oil rigs.
The S-61, the Civilian version of the Sea King
But it wasn't just naval air arms that saw the potential of the Sea King, the USAF saw the merit of having a large SAR, cargo helicopter too and ordered their own version, which differed from its Naval sister by having a redesigned much larger hull with a ramp at the back so that troops and cargo could be loaded and unloaded quickly on the battlefield. The result was a chopper which many Vietnam Veterans remember fondly: The CH-3 or to use the unofficial nickname "Jolly Green Giant"
This surviving "Jolly Green Giant" shows its kinship with the Sea King in its amphibious nature, but the floats are situated more backwards and it has a tricycle under carriage, rather than being a taildragger.
But the biggest difference is without a doubt the loading ramp.
Like the Sea King, the Jolly Green Giant found plenty of customers, being used as army transport helicopters but also for search and rescue, where its amphibious capabilities inherited from the Sea King played a vital role in its success.
a US Coast guard "Jolly green giant" (Jolly white giant?) showing off the amphibious capabilities of the type.
But if the "Jolly Green Giant" was a larger version of the Sea King, Sikorksi could also downsize things with the S-62 / HH-52A Seaguard, which was a smaller one engine version.
But to save on development costs, the Seaguard was made using much of the components of the earlier S-55/H-19 Chickasaw.
The most obvious shared component between the Chickasaw and the Seaguard was rotor assembly, as this picture beautifully illustrates.
The Seaguard saw much use as a "Bushchopper" operating from small airfields in inhospitable parts of the world, even going as far as being the helicopter of choice in the Antarctic region.
But it wasn't just Sikorsky aircraft which made and further developed the Sea King. The Sea King was also produced in in Italy by Agusta and in Japan by Mitsubishi but the biggest overseas producer of the Sea King was without a doubt Westland.
In the UK, Westland acquired the licencing rights of the Sea King and their Sea King variant was a specially modified version for the Royal Navy. It is powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Gnome turbines, and has British-made anti-submarine warfare systems and a fully computerised flight control system. This variant first flew in 1969, and entered service the next year. It is also used by the Royal Air Force in a search and rescue capacity, and has been sold to many countries around the world.
And Westland also produced their own version of the Troop transport version called the Commando but different from the "Jolly Green Giant" The Commando doesn't have a redesigned fuselage and can visibly told apart from the Sea King by the lack of floats on the wheel spars.
An Egyptian Air Force Commando, showing the different wheel struts and the larger than a Sea King's cargo door.
Both the Sea King and the Commando (Or "Jungly" as the crews refer to them) saw much action during the Falklands war, where the image of them performing daring rescues efforts from HMS. Sir Galahad made the Sea King a true British hero. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eo0BNYGgEV4
Note the Sea Kings and a single Wessex (A Westland version of the Sikorsky S-58/H-34 Choctaw) performing their rescue duties, using the propwash of their rotors to blow the rafts away from the burning ship. Note also the Sea King at the back of the ship rescuing people stuck there trapped by the fire, the crew of that particular aircraft were later rewarded the medal for bravery.
But the Westland Sea King's greatest achievement was during the 2004 Boscastle disaster. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yt8dix5j6pY
Currently the aging Sea Kings are being phased out of service, being replaced by more modern Seahawk and NH-90 choppers but for the thousands of people who owe their lives to the Sea King it'll be a sad goodbye to the old King of the sea.
“It would be right to say that the helicopter's role in saving lives represents one of the most glorious pages in the history of human flight.”
- Igor Sikorsky