Claim to Fame

This section is for "ROTORHEADS" to document their claim to fame as related to Air Force helicopters. Whether it be the fastest, slowest, longest, shortest, highest, lowest accomplishment you had. Additionally you were the only one to accomplish a feat, or accomplished the most. Maybe it is that your claim is that you flew a high level government official. Maybe you were the first or the last to accomplish an Air Force helicopter feat. Finally any achievement that you wish to stake "your" claims send to us.


First combat rescue with UH-1F, and maybe the first night rescue in Southeast Asia.

On the night of 14 December, 1967 we were informed an A-1E from our unit was shot down at dusk. The Pilot was ok but local base rescue refused to go after him until first light. They were located in hostile country in Laos.

I was asked if I would go with my pilot (we always flew with the same pilot and copilot as a crew) to rescue him. We quickly installed the rescue hoist and went to him. It was a successful mission with an A-1E gun escort. While flying to the location the A-1E flew circles around us because he a hard time flying that slow. This was first combat rescue with the UH-1F. I was told that it was the first night rescue. The crew was submitted for the Silver Star however it was downgraded to a DFC.

(Ralph Graves - 09 SEP 2014)

My Claim to Fame, The only Flight Engineer to Sling a 26 foot Boston Whaler Under an HH-53.

During "Operation Honey Badger" and beyond training, circa, 1980, the Navy Seals asked this question.

Could we Sling Carry a 26 foot Boston Whaler with the H-53 Helicopter?

We were tasked to do a Slinging Test Flight in the one of the Training areas of the 20th SOS at Hurlburt Field.

We picked it up the Boston Whaler and transitioned slowly from a hover into Forward Flight, we had installed a Drogue-Shut on the Boston Whaler to keep it flying straight.

As we transitioned into Forward Flight the air drag form the Boston Whaler was tremendous, the faster we went the more Nose Down attitude we had to contend with, we got up to about 70 Kts; with 30 Deg. Nose Down Attitude for level flight and a fuel burn rate of about 1700 PPH on each engine, way too much for a very long flight. The Boston Whalers air drag was so great it pulled us around the air at its will, and it was a very unstable flight.

Again the Question was Answered: YES, we could Sling a 26 foot Boston Whaler Externally and fly away with it to any chosen location, however we could only do it where we could have a short flight time to deploy the boat due to our High Fuel Burn Rate, and at 70 Kts; an In-Flight Refueling would be not feasible. It was determined to be feasible, but again, not very practical for the Special Operations Missions.

(Note: If anyone has any photos taken during this claim...please send them to the webmaster)

(John Hatch - 08 NOV 2012)

My claim to fame is that I was the only Flight Engineer to put a 26 foot Boston Whaler inside a HH-53.

(Note: If anyone has any photos taken during this claim...please send them to the webmaster)

My second claim to fame is that I was the only Flight Engineer to Remove the Nose Gear Door “In Flight” on the HH-53.

(John Hatch - 30 SEP 2012)

I claim the record in our RotorHeads group for joining the service at the youngest age. I was 15 years, 45 days old when I joined the service in February 1948.

(Doug Lawson - 6 MAR 2011)

My claim to fame is that I was the first women, in modern times, to ever serve on a U.S. Navy vessel in a combat zone. While I was assigned to the 41st ARRS as a HH-53C "Jolly Green" helicopter Crew Chief I was deployed, in July 1979 during the Nicaragua conflict, to a declared combat zone aboard the U.S.S. Saipan off the coast of Nicaragua.

My second claim to fame is that my husband Gary and I were the first husband/wife team to ever serve aboard a U.S. Navy vessel in a combat zone. My husband Gary, who was also a HH-53C Crew Chief, was in the same squadron and we were deployed together aboard the U.S.S. Saipan during the July 1979 Nicaragua conflict.

Click here to view pictures

(Alice Surrency-5 JAN 2009)

My claim to fame is I am the only enlisted person to be awarded The Air Force Cross during the Mayaguez Incident. The Mayaguez Incident was the last combat action of the Viet Nam war; therefore I was the last enlisted person to receive The Air Force Cross during the Viet Nam war.

(Jon Harston-4 MAR 2009)

H-53_200_mph_patch_Blue_BackgroundMy claim to fame is that I was the first and most likely the only Air Force person to receive this patch. The Superbird patch was for exceeding 200 mph on my 1st combat rescue tour in Thailand with the 40th ARRS, when our combat orbit was jumped by a MiG-21, south of the Fishes Mouth in northern Laos. The H-53 red line was 172 kts. When the MiGs entered our vicinity, the acft commander pushed the nose over and did a power dive. I manned the No#1 gun and looked forward into the cockpit and noticed the vertical velocity was pegged at 6000 ft per minute and the airspeed was indicating 210 kts. While at Edwards AFB, after my tour in Thailand, I related the experience to a Sikorsky rep and he issued me the patch. I've never seen another patch like it since.

(Stan Nelson-30 NOV 2008)


In 1949 I began my adventure in helicopter maintenance. I was told one day when we got three YH-5A's in the 72nd Liaison Squadron that I was to be crew chief on one of them. I objected to no avail so I went about reading the -2 to figure out what I should do to maintain the beast.

These birds had dope and fabric rotor blades which would get out of track sitting in the hangar overnight so they required frequent tracking. The first time I attempted to track my bird I caught the flag and one of the grommets in the flag went up through one of the blades which meant changing all three blades. I am glad to say I never had another incident like this in the many helicopters I tracked over the years.

In the YH-5A the seating arrangement was tandem with the pilot in back and observer or crew chief in front. If no one flew in the front seat, ballast had to be added up front for weight and balance purposes. Most of the time we crew chiefs flew up front. We always went along when cross country flights were made as there were few bases at that time that had any maintenance people familiar with helicopters.

Though we were required to fly we were not considered air crew nor were we paid flight pay. Sometime in late 1950 we griped enough that someone listened and we were awarded air crew status complete with wings plus we started drawing flight pay.

With all this said I believe we were the first to achieve helicopter air crew status with flight pay in the USAF. If I am wrong about this and someone else precedes us I'd like to hear about it.

(Don Waters-21 AUG 2008)

In April of 1960 I responded to an emergency called by a student pilot flying an F-102 at about eleven pm. He hit way short of the runway and burst into flames. I was airborne with the FSK and made a good approach and deployment of the FSK and firefighters who executed a textbook suppression and cockpit entry, blowing the canopy, severing the ejection gas tube, etc. Unfortunately, the pilot was killed on impact (not by the fire which was quickly controlled--this was determined later-of course). Now comes the strange twist to the story. Because the pilot was killed-ATC would not allow any mention of our participation vis-a-vis laudatory comments about the rescue effort or comments validating the Helicopter/FSK firefighting/rescue concept. So this event was buried until a successful night rescue was executed. I may be wrong but I think this happened several months later at Columbus or Biloxi. Major Price was so upset with ATC's stance that he composed and had printed at his own expense a beautiful Certificate of Outstanding Aerial Achievement along with a beautiful desk set to acknowledge the event.

(Tom Brumfield-7 JUL 2008)

My three claims to fame:

1. I was the first USAF Second Lieutenant to graduate UHT flying UH-60A Blackhawks in 1991.

2. I was the first Second Lieutenant ever to qualify as MH-53J Pilot in June 1992. There wasn’t another 2LT until 1997 or 1998 in the MH-53.

3. I received the Sikorsky Winged-S for a combat rescue in Iraq in 1993 and unless someone can refute my claim – there hasn’t been a combat rescue by a 1LT flying an H-53 since Vietnam.

(Carlos "Jackal" Halcomb-25 Feb 2008)

My two claims to fame:

First, I am the first woman to retire from the Air Force (1 August 1997) having spent my entire career assigned to helicopter maintenance positions.

Second, I am the first woman member of USAF ROTORHEADS (19 FEB 2008)

(Diane Revolinski-19 Feb 2008)

Claim to fame: The second of only three pilots given honorary membership in "The Swamp" (40th ARRS/MX Night Shift).

(Bob Blough-1 Sep 2007)

I was credited for saving Gen Charles Lindbergh’s life on Easter Sunday, 1972. Read the story here.

(Bruce Ware-20 Aug 2007)

I flew as chase pilot for FAA certification of the Windecker Eagle with a HH-43B! In December 1967, a H-43B (1559) and a crew (P, CP, FM, & 2 FF's) from Det. 18 , WARRC, Webb AFB was detached and assigned on TDY to the Windecker Corporation at Midland-Odessa Continental Airport for three days. Upon arrival we were briefed by Dr. Windecker that our mission was to fly chase the next day with our FSK and full bunkered crew in case of a crash! We did that for two days without incident.

But there were some interesting side things going on! The Windecker Eagle was a two seat light commercial aircraft, manufactured completely out of fiberglass and composite materials! The only metal being the engine, firewall and landing gear! A lot of USAF officers, including a Lt General, were attending along with the FAA Certification Group! When I asked about the USAF interest, I was told they were interested in the material for radomes, etc. Also that AFR 30-30 (on gratuities, I think??) didn't apply (rental cars, motel, food, & booze went on the tab) and Windecker would pay for it. The other thing was we were flying along a pre-planned path and monitored by a radar site in the area. With the HH-43B being a lot of fiberglass and wooden blades, I believe to this day, they were running comparison radar tests on it and us for research into Stealth technology!. I was the Pilot; Dennis Olson, CP; Carlos Joiner, FM, and I don't remember the Firefighters!

As far as I know we were the only ones to do it! Or at least I've never heard of a helicopter being used as chase on a FAA certification of a plane of any type! You've got to realize the max we could do with FSK keeping under redline was about 80 KIASI.

(Joe Ballinger-13 Aug 2007)

I had 16 PCS moves in 22 years of active duty. Otis AFB MA, Malmstrom AFB MT., FE Warren AFB WY., Nha Trang Viet Nam, FE Warren AFB WY., Ubon Thailand, Indian Springs NV., Wheelus AFB Libya, Zaragoza Spain, Bitburg AFB Germany, Hill AFB UT., NKP, Thailand, Hill AFB UT., Woodbridge UK, Zaragoza Spain, Hill AFB UT.

(Jim Duffy-12 Aug 2007)

This is a joint claim. It all took place in the early 70s when a 33rd ARRS HH-3E flew from Kadena AB, on what we believe at the time was the longest over water mission. They recovered an individual off of a ship and flew to Iwo Jima where the patient was transferred to a C-9 to expedite the trip to a medical facility.

This is where we come into the picture. After landing at Iwo Jima the flight crew found one of the main rotor head lower hinge pin seals leaking. We were called in and briefed on the situation, gathered all the items we needed to change the seal, loaded on a C-130 and headed for Iwo Jima.

Approaching the island it brought back all those images we had seen from the terrible battle that took place during WW II. Fortunately things were much different when we arrived. The helicopter was parked on the ramp, there was a small Japanese Defense Force and upon seeing their flag flying we became somewhat tense. When we found out there was a U S Coast Guard LORAN station there we were ok.

We figured we would have to man handle removing the main rotor blade and informed the flight crew we would need their assistance. The FE noticed that we had the foresight to bring the blade handler and told us the Japanese had a crane we could use. In this manner we didn't have to remove the blade, just lift enough to remove and replace the seal.

We finished changing the seal and was servicing the reservoir to start a static leak check. About then the C-130 took off with the helicopter crew. One of the "Coasties" told us they said they would return in 2-3 days. Our first thoughts aren't fit for print but in the end it turned out as a couple days of R & R for us.

Now to our several claims to fame:

  1. We were the first U S Air Force Helicopter maintenance folks to be sent to Iwo Jima.
  2. We were the first U S Air Force helicopter maintenance folks on Iwo Jima to negotiate for support with the Japanese.
  3. We were the first U S Air Force helicopter maintenance folks to be quartered at a U S Coast Guard LORAN station. (Government meals and quarters so that ripped per diem)
  4. We were the first U S Air Force helicopter maintenance folks to stand on top of the infamous Mt. Suribachi. When the crew returned to pick us up they flew the chopper around the island as they wanted to insure the leak was fixed before the long over water flight back to Kadena. We were at the top of Suribachi and they came at us out of the sun just as the Japanese were famous for, and as predicted we couldn't see them till they were right over us.
  5. Saved the best for last. We were the first U S Air Force helicopter maintenance folks to ever spend evenings sitting in a small three or four stool Coast Guard honor bar, gazing out over the ocean watching the "submarine races" while partaking too many cool ones.

This is our story and taking CRS into consideration we believe this to be accurate, at least #5.

(Dwayne Huffman & Jim Moore-9 Aug 2007)

My claim to fame is that I was instrumental in the first successful recovery of a downed HH-3E Jolly Green in SEA. I can't remember the date, but I think it was sometime in June of 68 with the 37th ARRS at Da Nang.

The day started out with a FAC being shot down in Happy Valley. They found the pilot was trapped in the aircraft. They removed the pilot from the aircraft and called for the low bird to come in and pick them up. When the Jolly landed to pick up the people on the ground, he sucked up elephant grass in the engine and it flamed out. At that point the high bird came in to pick everyone up.

Back at the 37th they were talking about blowing up the Jolly so the bad guys wouldn't get it. As they were planning on how to do this, I asked Col Devlin if we could crane it out. He told me they had bad guys in the area.

Now is when I get stupid. I told him I was willing to go out there and get the bird ready to crane out if he could get us some Army troops to give us some security. I checked with the maintenance troops and had plenty of volunteers. We got the okay to go ahead and see if we could get the Jolly back. I had about six maintenance people with me as we headed out to the scene.

While we were on our way to the scene, they put about eight Army troops on the ground for security. We were given the okay to come in and get the Jolly ready. We drained all the fuel on the ground and took off all the blades. We also took out all the equipment inside the bird. Now we waited for the crane.

It was getting late and no crane. We finally got a call that they were picking the Air Force people up because they didn't think the crane would get there before dark. As we started back to Da Nang, Maj. John Robbey called me on the intercom and told me the crane was on scene and ask me if I would go back and hook up the Jolly. I told him let’s do it.

I had to climb up to the top of the Jolly to hook up to the crane that was on final. As he made his approach he turns on his landing light and lit me up for all the bad guys to see. I must have made the fastest hookup ever made. I made the hookup and jumped from the top of the Jolly to the ground, a long way down, but never felt a thing. I finally made contact and the Jolly came in and picked me up.

A more detailed version of this story may be read on the Blog, “Recovery of a Jolly”, Jan 2007 archives.

(Jack Watkins-8 Aug 2007)

My claim to fame. I was instrumental in what was probably the only recovery of a USAF CH-3B that had crashed. In 1969 a CH-3B made a controlled crash landing at the 5,000 fool level of a mountain on the big island of Hawaii. It took me and my crew of top helicopter mechanics four days to inspect and rebuild the aircraft to enable to fly it off of the mountain to our ship. It was then returned to Hickam where it was restored to serviceable flight status.

I was selected to go to CH-3 school at the Stratford CN., Sikorsky factory. I was Test Maintenance Coordinator for all CH-3 Programs. I was on the selection team for the CH-3 buy at Wright Patterson AFB OH. When it was time to pickup Edward’s CH-3, I spent time at the factory till the aircraft was ready. I flew the test flight for the Air Force and ferried the chopper to Edwards for Cat 2 Testing.

I was selected to go to H-19 factory school in Bridgeport CN. When school was over it was time to pickup five new H-19 helicopters to be ferried to San Marcos. We had five pilots and five mechanics and off we went.

In 1964 I was involved in a special test by USAFTAWC to prove the Air Force's capability to support the Army. Part of the Air Force requirement to prepare for Gold Fire I was to prepare six CH-3 helicopters for air shipment in a C-133 aircraft. They would be airlifted to another location and made ready for the exercise. This all had to happen within a 24-four period. This was to be the first ever airlift of the CH-3 in a C-133. The tasked involved many hours of training and hard work to insure the helicopter would be broken down to fit within the C-133. It all paid off and the task was accomplished and the chopper flew to support Gold Fire I in Missouri.

In 1970, if I remember the date correctly, I was on a recovery crew that was sent to recover a downed HH-3E in SEA. We removed the blades and prepared the aircraft to be lifted out with an Army crane and returned to Da Nang. To the best of my knowledge this was the second of the only two HH-3Es to be recovered in this manner.

(Otto Kroger-7 Aug 2007)

My claim to fame as a Launch Controller. This was at Eglin AFB. Our LBR shared our expertise with the proving ground center, and did things no one else could do. The crew was Bobby Overturf I think! Capt Joe Gagnon and me, Harvey. As the pictures show, the missile nose assy did not fit under the 43. So we had two flat beds parked, and we hovered up onto it. Shutting down the rotors was really" SHAKEY". I mean the trailers were all over the place. I asked CE to put 4x4's under the ends and that helped a lot. We then loaded the nose cone, hooked up the launch panel, and away we went. The mission was over the gulf test range, and 10K ft. Also the airspeed was required to be as close to 0 kts as we could get. When we reached the drop zone I became the launch controller. We had to coordinate with the ground camera stations and when all was set I fired off the nose cone. When it leaves us it would fall about 20 feet and then 3 tiny rocket motors would unscrew the nose cone. It would then deploy a chute. The motor section would just drop. Then just after launch I dropped 3 MK 5 smokes. The AF (navy) which had a boat squadron at Eglin would recover both items. We had an H-21 from Hurlburt as chase with photogs aboard. They could not get near our altitude. When the rockets fired there was plenty of smoke. They started yelling over the radio that we had an explosion!! Of course when the smoke cleared that was not the case. Big Joe Gagnon said let's see what a 10K foot autorotation is like!! It doesn't take as long as a powered decent. We did several more of these missions.

Another memorable moment was when Capt L. Luttrell was pilot and he confused the wind direction. The telemetry station told us we were flying BACKWARDS at 15Kts. Helicopters are Fun!

(Harvey Meltzer-7 Aug 2007)

Here is my Claim-to-Fame that is published in the USAFHPA Claim-to-Fame section of their web site.

Flew an H-43 from Spangdahlem, Germany to Geneva Switzerland to participate as the only U.S. rescue helicopter at the International Red Cross Centennial celebration (1964).

Picked up a downed H-43 from the Greenland ice cap and delivered it via another H-43 to the deck of the USCG icebreaker Southwind (Kanak, Greenland 1967).

Helped plan and develop (Scott AFB) tested (Chanute AFB) and installed and operationally employed the first and only "smokeless fire pit" for USAF H-43 training at Hill AFB (1973).

Longest continuous H-43 flying assignments, Stead, Spangdahlem, Moody, Thule, Robins, Scott, SEA (1961 -1974).

Most different models of helicopters flown (20) - (ie. start, take- off and land at the controls) H-19, H-21, H-34, HH-43B, HH-43F, UH-1D, UH-1F, HH-1H, UH-1N, UH-1P, Model 412 (four bladed N), CH-3C, CH-3E, HH-3E, HH-53, HH-53H, HH-53J, UH-60, MH-60 and HH-60. (1961-1988)

On my fini flight at Hurlburt I got to take off in the H-60, land and switch to the H-53 and land and finish up the fini flight in the H-3. What a great day! (1988).

Lived in six (6) on base houses during three (3) different tours at Scott AFB, last one (1983 - 1986).

(John Flournoy-7 Aug 2007)

My claim to fame is that I was involved in the first Air Force helicopter support for the Atomic Energy Commission Nuclear Test Program. I was part of a crew that flew an H-19 from Wright-Patterson AFB OH to Mississippi in the fall of 1964 to support the Atomic Energy Commission’s Test Called Project “Dribble”. We were there along with some H-43s and H-21s to insure the area was clear before the explosion. The first detonation called code name “Salmon” took place at precisely 10 AM on Oct. 22, 1964, when a nuclear bomb was exploded 2,700 feet beneath the surface.

(Dick Kuenzli-7 Aug 2007)

A UH-1 from Edwards AFB was flown at an altitude of approximately 90 feet below sea level. This is for real! We flew through Death Valley at a height of about 10' AGL where it was marked 100' below sea level. We also have a hovering record at the same place. I know, I was there. We did hover below sea level just to say that we did it. This occurred in 1969.

I would like to claim the following record for the longest cross country flight in a helicopter in the US since no one else has done so. In 1958-59, we ferried all of our H-21s from Otis to Beiser Aviation in Marana AZ. for structural mods. This was a five day trip with stops at only civilian fields and drawing full per diem, (which, as I recall was a princely $9.00 per day). The return flight was via commercial air. We left the birds there and on the return, we flew out commercial and flew the 21s back. I made this trip twice myself, and the total mileage by road miles was about 2500.

(John Dorgan-6 Aug 2007)


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