The story behind this photo of USS Austin amphibious transport ship being towed by a CH-53 Super Stallion heavy-lift helicopter

The CH-53 Super Stallion

The CH-53 Super Stallion has been a workhorse around the world for the US Marine Corps (USMC). It is capable of rapidly transporting troops and equipment from ship-to-shore: launching amphibious assaults, facilitating logistics and maintenance, providing sustainment and supplies, and equipping the warfighter for mission success.

The powerful Super Stallion is capable of lifting heavy military equipment, yet still compact enough to fit onboard an amphibious warfare ship where it can take off carrying 16 tons of cargo and deliver it 50 miles away before returning to base.

Additionally, the mighty Super Stallion acted as tug for ships as the impressive photo featured image of this post shows.

USS Austin towed by a CH-53 Super Stallion

Taken in January 1968 the image 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.’

Other helicopters towing ships

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.

View Comments

  • That is not a CH-53E Super Stallion hooked to that boat, it is either an HH-53 or H-53 which were called Sea Stallions. The CH-53E's first flight wasn't until 1974. The story says the picture was taken in 1985. Also, the Super Stallion has 7 blades not 6.

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