Here we see an unusual 1982 shot, not so much for its subject, but for the angle, a bottom view of an SH-2 Seasprite Mark 1 Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS I) helicopter in flight. Note the surface search radar, ASQ-81 Magnetic Anomaly Detection (MAD), and anti-submarine warfare torpedoes (Mk 44s?).
The smallest of the Navy’s Cold War-era sub-busting helicopters, falling well behind the SH-3 Sea King and its replacement, the SH/MH-60 Hawk series, the Kaman Sea Sprite came about its name honestly. First introduced in 1962, only 184 were built for the U.S., with hoped-for export sales never really materializing.
The compact Sea Sprite, with a length of 38 feet, a rotor diameter of 44, and an empty weight of just 7,000 pounds, was small enough to operate from Knox1class destroyer escorts (later reclassed as frigates) and larger Hamilton-, Reliance– and Bear-class Coast Guard cutters in time of war, something the 15,000-pound, 65-foot SH-60 couldn’t pull off.
They even made stops on battleships when required.
Crew members aboard the Iowa (BB-61) wait for a Helicopter Light Anti-Submarine Squadron 34 (HSL-34) SH-2F Seasprite helicopter to be secured before transporting a badly burned sailor injured during NATO exercise North Wedding 86. Official USN photo # DN-ST-87-00280, by PH1 Jeff Hilton
This meant that, even as the Sea Hawk was meeting widespread acclaim from the fleet, there was still a need for the smaller chopper. This led to the SH-2G Super Seasprite, an upgraded version of the original with the same footprint, in 1993. The Navy kept two squadrons of Super Seasprites (or Triple Ss) around in the reserve until 2001, by which time the last of the NRF Knoxes were all being put out to pasture and the Coast Guard was out of the ASW biz. A shame about the latter.
The SSS went on to serve much more extensively overseas and is still kicking with the Poles, Kiwis, Peruvians, and Egyptians.
The top aircraft, BuNo 147980, was an original Kaman HU2K-1/HU2K-1U later converted to the SH-2F standard. Used as a test helicopter at the factory from 1962-63, it eventually saw service with “every LAMPS squadron on the East Coast,” including HU-1/HC-1, HC-4/HSL-30, HSL-32, HSL-34, and HSL-36.
An SH-60B Sea Hawk helicopter is secured by flight deck crewmen aboard the battleship Iowa (BB-61) on 1 Sep 1985. Official USN photo # DN-ST-86-02511, by PHC Jeff Hilton,
The Iowa-class battleships received official helicopter pads and a helicopter control station below their after 5-inch director–although no hangar facilities– in the 1980s during their Lehman 600-ship Navy modernization.
The helicopter control station on the 02 level of the battleship Iowa (BB-61). Official USN photo # DN-ST-86-09557, by PH1 Jeff Hilton
Crew members on board the battleship USS Iowa (BB 61) prepare an HSL-32 SH-2F Seasprite helicopter for launch from the fantail of the ship during NATO Exercise Northern Wedding in August 1986. NNAM photo
Crew members aboard Iowa (BB-61) wait for a Helicopter Light Anti-Submarine Squadron 34 (HSL-34) SH-2F Seasprite helicopter to be secured before transporting a badly burned sailor injured during NATO exercise North Wedding 86. Official USN photo # DN-ST-87-00280, by PH1 Jeff Hilton
CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter approaches the landing area at the stern of the battleship USS IOWA (BB 61)
A CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter is parked on the helicopter pad during flight operations aboard the battleship USS IOWA (BB-61).
A U.S. Marine Corps Boeing Vertol CH-46D Sea Knight (BuNo 154023) of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165 (HMM-165) prepares to land aboard the battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64). The helicopter was transporting Allied military personnel who were coming aboard the ship to be briefed by Wisconsin´s Commanding Officer, Capt. D.S. Bill. The meeting was taking place during the 1991 Gulf War. 6 February 1991 Navy Photo DN-ST-92-07868 by PH2 Robert Clare, USN
The curator of the Battleship New Jersey Museum tours the ship’s helicopter deck.
However, the 1980s-90s by far was not the first time those dreadnoughts sported whirly-birds.
Back in 1948, while the ships still had floatplane catapults and a quartet of Curtiss SC-2 Seahawk floatplanes on their stern, USS Missouri (BB-63) accommodated a visiting experimental Sikorsky S-51, piloted by D. D. (Jimmy) Viner, a chief test pilot for Sikorsky.
Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter (Bureau # 122527) landing on Missouri’s forward 16-inch gun turret, during the 1948 Midshipmen’s cruise. Guard mail, ships’ newspapers, and personnel were exchanged via helicopter while the Midshipmen’s cruise squadron was at sea. Most exchanges were made by hovering pick-up. The forward turret was used as a landing platform since the floatplane catapults on the ship’s fantail prevented helicopters from operating there. The photo was filed on 13 September 1948. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-706093
With the cats deleted in the early 1950s, the Iowas saw more HO3s, now equipped with folding blade rotors and externally-mounted rescue hoists.
USS New Jersey (BB-62) A Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter of squadron HU-1 takes off from the battleship’s afterdeck, while she was operating off Korea. The upraised green flag signifies that the pilot has permission to take off. Crash crew, in yellow helmets, are standing by with fire hoses ready. This helicopter is Bureau # 124350. The photograph is dated 14 April 1953. The photographer is Lt. R.C. Timm. 80-G-K-16320
USS Iowa (BB-61) steams out of Wonsan harbor, Korea, after a day’s bombardment. The photograph is dated 18 April 1952. Note HO3S helicopter parked on the battleship’s after deck. Also, note the WWII catapults are deleted but the floatplane crane is still on her stern. NH 44537
USS Wisconsin (BB-64) snow falling on the battleship’s after deck, 8 February 1952, while she was serving with Task Force 77 in Korean waters. Note 16″/50cal guns of her after turret, and Sikorsky HO3S-1 helicopter parked on deck. Photographed by AF3c M.R. Adkinson. 80-G-441035
Four Marine HO4S/H-19 (Sikorsky S-55) and one Navy HO3S/H5 on the fantail of USS Missouri during the Korean War, 1952. The H-19s are likely of HMR-161, which largely proved the use of such aircraft in Korea.
New Jersey also supported the occasional helicopter during her reactivation in the Vietnam war. Notably, she received 16-inch shells and powder tanks from USS Mount Katmai (AE-16) by H-34 helicopter lift, the first time heavy battleship ammunition had been transferred by helicopter at sea.
New Jersey (BB-62) underway off the Virginia Capes with an SH-3D Sea King from HS-3 “Tridents”, (attached to the Randolph CVS-15 and a squadron of CVSG-56), about to land on the fantail. However, it is more likely that the helicopter flew out to the “Big J” from NAS Norfolk. Official Navy Photograph # K-49736, taken by PH3 E. J. Bonner on 24 May 1968, via Navsource.
Two UH-1 Huey helicopters resting on the fantail of the New Jersey (BB-62) during her service in December 1968 off Vietnam. Courtesy of Howard Serig, via Navsource.
But wait, old boy
With all that being said, it should be pointed out that it was the Brits who first successfully used a helicopter on their last battlewagon, HMS Vanguard, in 1947, a full year before Missouri’s first rotor-wing visit.
Sikorsky R-4 Hoverfly landing on the quarterdeck of HMS Vanguard on February 1, 1947 off of Portland Bill.
Landing a Sikorsky R4 helicopter on the aft deck of the battleship Vanguard February 1, 1947
And Vanguard would go on to operate both RN FAA Westland WS-51 Dragonflies and USN Piasecki HUP-2s on occasion in the 1950s.