The Vietnam-era CH-53D heavy lift helicopter made its final mission on Thursday with one last flight over Helmand province.
Marines from Heavy Helicopter Squadron 362 from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar conducted the final flight. The squadron, known as the “Ugly Angels,” has used the D model since 1969. The E model, a faster and more powerful make, first entered service in the 1980’s and will replace the Vietnam-era aircraft.
Lt. Col. Christopher Oliver, commanding officer of HMH-362 described the D model as “awesome” and said the final mission was bittersweet.
“It was about as happy of a flight as you could have in a combat zone,” he said.
Oliver told Marine Corps Times the piloting crew had great pride during the memorial flight and said he feels fortunate to have been around the Sea Stallion for as long as he has.
“I would bet that all those that have supported, maintained and flown this helicopter in the past would wholeheartedly agree,” he said.
The D model was introduced during the Vietnam War and was designed to carry cargo, vehicles, artillery and troops operating in naval environments. The need for greater carrying capacity forced the development of the E model.
But Oliver said, even with the introduction of a more capable heavy transport helicopter, the Marine Corps still found good use for the CH-53D.
“There was still a need for additional assault support,” said Oliver. “The CH-53D fit nicely in a supporting role as an additional high quality assault support helicopter for the Marine Corps with capabilities resting between that of the CH-46 and the CH-53E.”
The CH-53K, a faster model with greater carrying capacity is currently being developed by Sikorsky Aircraft and is expected to have initial operating capabilities by 2015.
Oliver said the CH-53D should be remembered as a blue-collar workhorse that was always ready to serve. “It shows if you give the Marine Corps something we are going to take care of it for a long time. The American taxpayer got their money’s worth out of this aircraft,” he said.