The story of the two HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters that made the first non-stop helicopter flight across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to the 27th Paris Air Show.

The first non-stop helicopter flight across the Atlantic Ocean

Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin company, celebrates its 100th anniversary during the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget this week emphasizing the deep and enduring relationship and the ongoing mission readiness and operational success shared by Sikorsky, its workforce in Poland and its commercial and defence customers across Europe.

Sikorsky’s history crosses paths with Paris Air Show: Fifty-six years ago, two Sikorsky HH-3E search and rescue helicopters — the first air-refuellable helicopters built — made the first non-stop helicopter flight across the Atlantic Ocean from New York, over London and finally to Le Bourget during the 27th Paris Air Show.

The US Air Force (USAF) developed the Sikorsky HH-3E helicopter, nicknamed the “Jolly Green Giant,” to perform combat search and rescue (CSAR) to recover downed Airmen during the Southeast Asia War. A highly modified version of Sikorsky’s CH-3 transport helicopter, the HH-3E carried both armor plating and armament to protect it from hostile forces during rescues of aircrews in a combat area.

HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicopters at the 27th Paris Air Show

Fifty CH-3Es were converted to HH-3Es with the addition of armor, defensive armament, self-sealing fuel tanks and a rescue hoist. With a watertight hull, the HH-3E could land on water, and its large rear door and ramp permitted easy loading and unloading.

“Today Sikorsky helicopters around the world regularly make long-range flights in some of the toughest conditions,” said Paul Lemmo, Sikorsky President, in a company news release. “Those HH-3E flights in 1967 — with refueling supported by a Lockheed HC-130P Hercules tanker — were a testament to the ingenuity and innovation that began 100 years ago with our founder Igor Sikorsky. Innovation is central to our 21st Century Security mission of supporting our customers with systems to address their most difficult challenges.”

Flight crews of the two 48th ARRS Sikorsky HH-3E Jolly Green Giant helicoptersat Le Bourget after a non-stop trans Atlantic flight, Jun. 1, 1967. (Sikorsky Historical Archives via This Day in Aviation)

“I was there with my father to welcome the crew of the U.S. Air Force’s HH-3E, the original ‘Jolly Green Giant,’ when it arrived at Le Bourget,” said Sergei Sikorsky, one of Igor’s sons who lived in Germany supporting the country’s CH-53G heavy-lift helicopter program starting in 1972. “On the flightline at Le Bourget, we watched the first HH-3E perform a flawless refueling demo with a HC-130P Hercules tanker and then land 30 hours and 46 minutes after it left New York.”

The HH-3E’s retractable fuel probe and external fuel tanks gave it a range limited only by the endurance of the aircrew.

The HH-3E Jolly Green Giant

The aircraft traveled 4,270 miles at about 131 mph before landing at 1:53 p.m. local time on Jun. 1, 1967, at Le Bourget. The second HH-3E, which took a slightly altered path so it could clock the New York to London record, landed about 12 minutes later.

This long-range capability allowed HH-3Es to conduct CSAR operations anywhere in the Southeast Asia theater of operations, and they participated in the attempt to rescue American prisoners of war from the Son Tay prison camp in 1970.

The first USAF HH-3Es arrived in Vietnam in 1967, and they operated out of Udorn Air Base, Thailand, and Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam. During the Southeast Asia War, HH-3 crewmen were awarded one Medal of Honor, twenty-four Air Force Crosses, and over 190 Silver Stars. A quarter of a century later, HH-3Es participated in Operation Desert Storm, and they provided rescue support in the early years of the Space Shuttle program. The USAF retired its last HH-3Es by 1995.

In 1967, two HH-3E helicopters made the first non-stop helicopter flight across the Atlantic Ocean from New York to the 27th Paris Air Show. Igor Sikorsky (right) and his son, Sergei, welcomed the US Air Force crew.

Photo credit: Sikorsky Archives

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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