USS ESSEX, At Sea --
Forty-eight years after joining the ranks of Marine Corps rotary aircraft, the CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter continues a long tradition of reliability and resilience as the work horse of the Marine Air Ground Task Force.
Aircraft 12, one of the dozen CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters operated by Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 265 (Reinforced), 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, now serves as a beacon of the aircraft’s resilience by flying past a significant milestone in surpassing 12,000 flight hours, March 22.
“It felt like any other flight,” said Capt. Sarah Smith, CH-46E pilot for HMM 265 (REIN), “It worked great today, had no issues and flew just as smooth as one with half the flight hours.”
Smith, a native of New Tripoli, Penn., attributes the continued reliability and smooth flights of her aircraft to the continuous maintenance and inspections done by the dedicated crew of mechanics and quality assurance Marines assigned to the squadron.
For every flight hour logged by the crew of aircraft 12, an average of 14 hours of maintenance is required to make it flight ready once again.
“Our most common fixes are simple wiring gripes, corrosion cleaning and minor repair of the airframe,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher A. Habershaw, an avionics quality assurance representative for HMM-265 (REIN). “We have a special group of Marines that take a lot of pride in these aircraft.”
The CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter, commonly referred to as a “Battle Phrog” by its operators, was first procured in 1964 to meet the medium lift requirements of the Marine Corps and serve as a day or night, all weather assault transport for troops, ammunition and equipment.
The “Battle Phrog” saw its first significant action in the Vietnam War, where Marine aviators had to work through problems with the aft transmission and other “growing pains” of the new aircraft.
“Having been a Marine mechanic, I can appreciate the job these Marines have to do,” said Marine veteran John Long, who served as a CH-46E crew chief for HMM-265 from 1965-1967. “New aircraft always have problems, and seeing the CH-46 from that standpoint, making 12,000 flight hours is astonishing.”
The accomplishment marks the second time an aircraft with HMM 265 (REIN) has reached the 12,000 flight hour milestone, which is not taken lightly by those involved.
“Having an aircraft fly 12,000 hours shows that hard work will always produce a good product,” said Habershaw, a native of Roaring River, N.C. “From the commanding officer down, we are proud to have reached this goal.”
Aircraft 12 was produced on March 15, 1967, and has served five Marine Corps and two Navy units. The aircraft has operated in Vietnam, Iraq, and most recently in support of Operation Tomodachi to provide relief to the Japanese citizens affected by the tsunami.
But its greatest accomplishment by far, is the amount of time it has spent in flight. Conservatively, a helicopter spends half its flight time in hover and the remainder at an average of 100 knots-indicated air speed.
“This aircraft has logged enough time to easily fly to the moon and back,” said Lt. Col. Damien March, commanding officer of HMM 265 (REIN). “The most impressive trip this aircraft has taken is that, through time.”
The 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit is the only continuously forward deployed MEU and the United States’ force in readiness for the Asia-Pacific region.