Back on Earth, but not home yet, 53 years ago today

(18 Dec. 1965) — Astronaut James A. Lovell Jr., the pilot of the Gemini-7 spaceflight, is hoisted from the water by a recovery helicopter from the Aircraft Carrier USS Wasp. Astronaut Frank Borman, command pilot, waits in the raft to be hoisted aboard the helicopter.

The helicopter is Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King (HSS-2/S-61) BuNo #149006 (Sikorsky #61-080) of “The Dragonslayers”  the “Sub Seekers” (thanks, Fabio!) of Helicopter Squadron 11 (HS-11). Contrary to popular belief, most astronaut scoopers were regular fleet ASW helicopters and crews.

The SH-3A, only 245 of which were made before the line was upgraded, when it was introduced in 1961 set new speed records for helicopters over a 3 km sea level course (198.8 mph) and a 25 km course (210.6 mph), making them literally the fastest production whirlybird in the world at the time. From Scott Carpenter’s Mercury mission in May 1962 to the end of the Apollo lunar program in December 1972, every NASA spacecraft crew retrieved by helicopter was recovered by a Sikorsky Sea King.

The particular airframe shown above was later upgraded to SH-3H standard and was retired by the Navy in 2005, now preserved in her later white livery at Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum at McMinnville, Oregon (home of the Hughes H-4 Hercules, the Spruce Goose)– but a very close sister #149003, is still in long-term storage at AMARC  where it has been since 1992.

As for HS-11? They are still around, assigned to Carrier Air Wing 1 out of NAS Norfolk, but they fly MH-60S’s now as HSC-11, The Dragonslayers.


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