Our Pedros, rotors of wood, men of steel
A look at the HH-43 "Huskie" aircraft
February 1, 2005
At first sight, especially when compared to the Jolly Greens, this helicopter looks like a toy. In this photo, you see a CH-3 used by the Jolly Greens on the left, with a HH-43B on the right. The HH-43 surely was not made for the job it was given. But by the time the crews finished with her, she was one "lean and mean fightin' machine."
As reported in the history summary, the USAF decided in May 1964 to deploy the HH-43 "Huskie" to Vietnam and Thailand to do search and rescue (SAR), and the Commander-in-chief Pacific (CINCPAC) finally agreed in June 1964. The aircraft and crews got over there in a hurry, the first arriving in June, the first USAF SAR aircraft to get into the war. We'll get into that deployment in another section.
First, let's take a brief look at the aircraft chosen for this job.
Kaman HH-43F "Huskie" at RAF Upper Heyford, England, Det 2, 40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing (ARRW), with Fire Suppression Kit (FSK) suspended under it. Photo taken in 1970. Photo courtesy of "Pedro's Posse," presented by Ken's Aviation.
The H-43 was produced by Kaman Corp. and was first flown in 1953. The emphasis was on ruggedness of construction and increased performance that would include medical evacuation capabilities at high altitudes. The Navy, Marines and USAF bought them. The Marines loved them, logging more than 10,700 flight hours in the western Pacific and western USA.
The Air Force saw the H-43 as a crash rescue and firefighting helicopter to be used near air bases, referred to as “Local Base Rescue (LBR). This is because the Air Force had done a study that said the lion's share of its aircraft losses occurred within about 75 miles of an air base. As a result, the Air Force was satisfied with a 75 mile range for this helicopter. When there was a fire, or risk of fire, with a crash, the H-43 was seen as the first responder, aloft in a minute or so, and to the scene. The pilots would drop off the firefighters on the crew, and they in turn would use the FSK to suppress the fire as best they could until the fire trucks could get there. The rotor design was such that they created such a strong downwash that the smoke and fire would be blown away from the firefighters so they could get in close to lay down the foam from the FSK. The H-43 would also bring along a medical technician.
In 1956, a Marine aircraft was tested with a new Lycoming T53 gas turbine shaft engine technology. The USAF liked that added power and in 1957 contracted with Kaman for the Huskie as a crash rescue helicopter, buying into the H-43A and the yet-to-be- flown H-43B. The Air Force began taking delivery of H-43As in November 1958, and assigned them to the Tactical Air Command (TAC), a fighter-oriented command. Assigning them to TAC reflected the requirement for the LBR mission for which the helicopter had been designed and was being procured. While the aircraft was not designed for combat SAR, you can see that it was designed as a “jack of several trades,” which is why it was not a major conceptual leap to add a SAR mission to its list of trades
Kaman HH-43B "Huskie" with the Lycoming T-53 turbine engine. Photo courtesy of the Helicopter History Site
Performance using the T53 turbine engine improved so much that the H-43B was developed and flown in 1958. Production began that year and deliveries started in June 1959. The USAF took about 175 HH-43Bs. In mid-1962, the USAF changed the H-43 designation to HH-43 to reflect its rescue role. The “Huskie” was retired in April 1973.
While this helicopter looks like a toy, it was a heckuva flying machine. Two Air Force pilots, Major William J. Davis and Capt. Walter J. Hodgson, flew a production H-43B to an altitude of 29,846 feet in 1959, setting a new world altitude record for helicopters. By 1961, the H-43B set five new world records: two international altitude records and three new time-of-climb records that took the aircraft to 29,526 feet in 14 minutes 30.7 seconds. In 1962, the H-43B set two new records for distance: 655 miles closed course, 688 miles straight-line course.
We want to show you a few close-ups of the aircraft so you can better understand our "war stories" later. This model is the HH-43F. All photos were presented by cybermodeler.com, unless otherwise indicated. We recommend you visit that site as it presents a full walk-around and shows views we have not presented here.
View from the right side. Note cockpit at the front, for pilot and co-pilot, then the sliding door entry to the cargo bay, the rescue hoist outside that door entry with the yellow forest penetrator. In looking at that forest penetrator, about half way down, you can see the tops of the fold-out seats. They are joined to the penetrator at the bottom. The penetrator folded out to provide three seats. Also note the rear cargo bay opening and the skids under the landing gears, called "Bearclaws." Also note the warning to approach the aircraft from the front, or risk grave injury from the rotors. The rotors were made of wood and "drooped" down, not so much in flight, but a lot during engine startup and shutdown. Photo credit: Terry Summer.
Forest penetrator (Yellow in the previous picture) made by Life Support International, Inc. Photo on left shows the closed forest penetration configuration. She went to the ground in that configuration with the helicopter hovering above. Photo on the right shows the three seats folded out. Each man sits on one of those, hugs the other, and holds on to the cable for the ride up.
This is the cockpit from the left side. Two seats and two sets of controls for the pilot and co-pilot. Bubble windshield and large side windows provided the flight crew with excellent visibility. Also note nose-mounted bullhorns "to direct traffic" below. Photo credit: Michael Benolkin
This is the instrument console on the left side. There are also a batch of controls above each pilot's head. Each pilot had such a console. Photo credit: Jay Rideout
The cockpit starts to fill up with survival gear, M-16s and six-shooters. Note the pilots aren't in here yet! This is a photo taken of a NKP-based bird sometime between July-October 1964 when then SSgt Burns was stationed there flying. Photo credit: SMSgt Jim Burns, USAF (Ret.), presented by Kaman HH-43 Huskie, a web site done by Johan D. Ragay of the Netherlands.
This is an empty cargo bay. You are looking from the rear forward. You can see the tops of the orange pilot and co-pilot seats. Looks big, from this view! Photo credit: Michael Benolkin
Here's the cargo bay as it starts to fill up with equipment. We still have to put crewmembers in, save some troops on the ground, and get them in here! This is a photo taken of a NKP-based bird sometime between July-October 1964 when then SSgt Burns was stationed there flying. Photo credit: SMSgt Jim Burns, USAF (Ret.), presented by Kaman HH-43 Huskie, a web site done by Johan D. Ragay of the Netherlands.
This is a good view because you can see the wrap-around rear cargo bay doors, referred to as the "clam shell doors," mostly window. You see the side door buttoned up, you see the hoist for the forest penetrator, on the right side, and you see the bend in the rotor blades, which were made out of wood. Photo credit: Michael Benolkin
This is a good view from the rear, where you get a good look at the rear cargo bay window-doors, the tail section, and the turbine exhaust. We will later point out that these aircraft were unarmed, except for what the crews could find and install themselves. You will see that they opened these cargo doors, called the clam shell doors, and set up their automatic weapons to shoot out the rear. This was a good exit for patients on a litter, but of course, the engine needed to be shut down and the rotors stopped. Photo credit: Michael Benolki
You've gotten some history under your belt, and now you've become acquainted with the aircraft. Let's now go to the next section, The HH-43 deployment to war. Remember, the HH-43 was the first USAF SAR bird put into the Vietnam and Laos wars. Given the state of affairs of those wars as you've learned from the brief history we presented, these deployments were no trivial matter.