The story behind the photo of a CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter towing USS Austin amphibious transport ship

The photo in this post features a CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter acting as a tug for USS Austin LPD-4 in Long Island Sound.

Taken in January 1968 the impressive photo in this post features a CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter acting as a tug for USS Austin LPD-4 in Long Island Sound.

According to a post appeared on Twitter ‘After a Christmas and New Year leave period, Austin transported Underwater Demolition Team 21 to Key West, Florida in January 1968 for unit training, then visited San Juan and Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico and Port Everglades, Florida. This was followed by a visit to Bridgeport, Connecticut 12 through 23 February 1968 to participate in tests of the CH-53 helicopter with the Sikorsky Aircraft plant. Part of the test included Austin being towed by a CH-53 helicopter.’

Noteworthy, helicopters towing ships is not unique to the US Navy.

As the picture below shows, in 1957 a Westland Whirlwind (1 x 750 HP engine) towed the minesweeper HMS Gavington (c. 360 tons) as part of trials to show the utility of helicopters in salvage work, another Twitter user explains.

The Royal Navy (RN) also used to get the rowing boats out to tow becalmed ship’s.

As the following photo shows the US Coast Guard (USCG) used helicopters to tow boats too. Taken in 1958 the image shows a USCG Sikorsky HO4S Tugbird helicopter dragging the service buoy tender Juniper around the ocean off Florida.

The HO4S was equipped with a winch, a rescue basket, and a roomy passenger compartment. It was ideal for search and rescue. According to Air & Space Magazine, by early 1958, 30 were stationed at U.S. coastal cities. Along the way, someone thought it might be a good idea to use the helicopter for towing vessels—fishing, pleasure, and other types—out of harm’s way.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy, Royal Navy and U.S. Coast Guard

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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