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Old 3 May 2019, 22:17
bc_ bc_ is offline
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USS Corporal (SS-346) & a daring helicopter recovery

I received an email regarding the helicopter landing aboard a submarine, summarized here:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Co...copter_landing

Caveat - I can't find very much other than a facebook post regarding this story, so I can't fact check this very well.

Here is the write up I received. It's a great read:

On Thursday, 26 April 1956, off the southern coast of Florida about 20 miles from Key West, Cmdr. William F. Culley of Augusta, Georgia noticed a problem mid-flight. Culley, the pilot of Navy helicopter #51 on an antisubmarine warfare (ASW) training run as part of Squadron VX-1, realized that he was losing oil quickly from the main rotor assembly. He was too far from the coast to return for an emergency landing. Culley’s mind raced as he considered his options. Bailing was certainly possible, giving Culley and his three fellow crewmembers the best opportunity to survive the incident, although at the cost of a very expensive Navy helicopter—the Sikorsky HSS-1, known as the Seabat because of its ASW package.

Finding a small cay in the vicinity to land on would be ideal, but a sweep of the ocean landscape failed to show any small land masses that might have provided such an opportunity. Crashing into the ocean was not a desirable option.

Culley, his co-pilot Lt. J. K. Johnson, and two other crewmembers, G.A. DeChamp (SO3) and M.R. Dronz (AT2), realized that they had precious minutes to make a decision before mechanical failure required a costly abandonment. A “May-Day” call was sent from the helicopter in hopes that another Navy or even merchant vessel could lend a hand.

Meanwhile, not far from the distressed chopper, the USS Corporal (SS-346), assigned to the submarine base at Key West, was submerged, also participating in the ASW exercises as a designated opposing boat. The Corporal was a Balao-class submarine. She was built at the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Connecticut and commissioned shortly after the conclusion of World War II in November 1945. She carried a complement of 10 officers and about 70 enlisted men. The Corporal was 312 feet in length with a beam of 27 feet, 3 inches. As it turned out, she would need every inch of that beam for her next unscheduled assignment.

The radio shack of the Corporal intercepted the May-Day call from the disabled helicopter. This news was communicated immediately to the sub’s skipper, Lt. Cmdr. Erman O. Proctor in the Conn. He wasted little time. “Emergency surface. Blow all main ballast.” The words reverberated over the sub’s 1-MC as the Corporal executed an emergency blow and came to the surface with a gargantuan splash. In contact with the helicopter, Proctor ascertained that the chopper could remain airborne for only a short time longer.

Culley requested the Corporal to make heavy knots in his direction to pick up survivors should the need to ditch the helicopter arise. The Corporal radioed that they were on their way to the scene directly and then proceeded at flank speed to the provided coordinates of the chopper.

In just a few minutes, the Corporal made it first visual contact of the stationary chopper suspended only a short distance above the ocean surface. Moving in to the helicopter’s immediate vicinity, Proctor had an idea that he shared with Culley. “How about attempting an on-deck landing?” The reply from the chopper was emphatic: “Hell yes, let’s give it a go.” Absolutely no one wanted to see a valuable asset plunge needlessly to the ocean depths; the replacement price for the Sikorsky helicopter was about $250,000.

The Corporal carefully positioned itself directly under the still-hovering helicopter. Communications between chopper and submarine continued at a fast and furious pace. The mechanical issue with the helicopter prevented it from turning in any direction; hovering was still functional, but no adjustment in heading could be made from the cockpit. Once the Corporal understood this problem, the submarine maneuvered herself in the open seas such that her after deck was lined up with the landing wheels of the chopper. But did the helicopter have enough room to land on the deck?

The answer wasn’t entirely clear from visual inspection by the submarine party standing topside and looking up at the spinning blades of helicopter #51.

There were two critical issues to ponder. First, was the beam of the submarine wide enough to accommodate the landing wheels of the helicopter? The answer to that question wasn’t immediately clear to those crewmembers of the Corporal who had gone topside to inspect the underside of the hovering helicopter. (The “recovery party” in this case consisted of volunteers headed up by the COB.) Second, assuming that there was enough room from side to side, could the pilot of the helicopter bring her down in the very tight window from fore to aft on the submarine deck without striking the sail with its main rotor or the fantail with its rear rotor?

Since no one had ever seriously contemplated the answers to these questions, all the men could do was to look closely and guess. To all who were there, it seemed like a very tight proposition, but there seemed to be just enough room from fore to aft and from port to starboard along the after deck to give it a shot. Still, given the vagaries of the sea and wind conditions that could shift the relative positions of the submarine and helicopter, the whole idea was incredibly risky. However, short of dumping the chopper there seemed to be no other viable alternatives, so the submarine crew prepared for the surprise drop-in.

The COB and his topside men had no protocol manual to draw from. They simply relied on their instincts to mitigate the risks of the impending landing—such as taking down the long wire antenna to avoid an inadvertent snag. The men then grabbed mooring lines in preparation for the next step. The helicopter began its final descent as pilot Culley attempted to keep his bird directly over the centerline of the submarine hull. Except for one intrepid sailor, the members of the recovery party stayed crouched at a safe distance just forward of the sail during this time.

The person who volunteered to remain in harm’s way was engineering officer LTJG George Ellis, who braced himself along the after edge of the sail and provided hand signals for the pilot to fine-tune his landing. Ellis’ role was critical as the margin for error was razor-thin. He risked serious injury or even death from any errant move during his makeshift role as a signal officer, as the main rotor blades of the descending helicopter spun very close to his head.

The radio shack of the sub sent the message, “Do you think you will make it?” Any response from the helicopter was delayed, since the message was received just as the three wheels of the chopper (2 front, 1 rear) made contact with the weather deck. The landing had to be absolutely perfect, and fortunately the seas had become mercifully calm during the attempt. With the precise teamwork between the hand signals of LTJG Ellis and the considerable skill of the chopper pilot, the bird miraculously touched down. Incredibly, a small part of each front wheel ended up overhanging the deck edge on each side, but there was just enough room for most of the rubber for the helicopter to remain stable topside. The men on board estimated that an inch or two longer span on the landing gear would have made the attempt a no-go.

“We’re on your deck and damn happy to be here!”, came the relieved reply from the helicopter. The pilot had stuck the landing on the very first try. The recovery party rushed over with their mooring lines to tie up the chopper to the submarine. It was the first time that a submarine had ever rescued a helicopter, and it was entirely coincidental (and fortuitous) that the width of the submarine deck was just enough to accommodate the chopper’s landing gear.

Once the blades of the helicopter had spun to a complete stop and the assembly was properly secured, the crew emerged onto the deck, where they were met by Lt Cmdr. Proctor. “Welcome aboard!”, offered the skipper, in perhaps one of the most unusual unplanned visits in submarine history. The guests were escorted down the hatch and offered food and drink, while the Corporal steamed back to the Naval Annex at Key West, arriving just before sunset around 1830 hours local time.

Word had spread about the plight of the helicopter and the unconventional heroism aboard the Corporal that had saved her; as a result, a large crowd had gathered spontaneously at the pier to greet both submarine and helicopter. It must have been quite a curious sight to witness the sleek submarine heading into her berth with the most unlikely bounty lashed to her dorsal hull.

Navy mechanics made the necessary repairs to the helicopter rotor casing after a large crane lifted the bird from its precipitous perch on the Corporal. The broken oil casing was replaced, and the chopper again was ready for flight. Subsequently, the four-man crew climbed back into the cabin to depart, after grateful handshakes had been exchanged all around.
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Old 3 May 2019, 23:19
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"Volunteers" headed by the COB?

The line handling party is a pre-designated group with experience working together (on my boat the torpedomen formed the core of the group because they were the only people who routinely handled ropes and tackle, and subs didn't carry boatswain mates who would do that kind of thing on surface ships). The COB went topside with them on this occasion. The last thing you want during helicopter operations is extra people topside. The CO was probably on the bridge with the OOD, the XO was probably in the control room with the Diving Officer, and everyone except the COB not on the line handling party was below decks, with the maneuvering watch set and off-duty personnel plus the corpsman standing by below the deck hatches with gear to recover the helo crew if they bailed into the water or if one of the line handling crew went overboard.
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Old 3 May 2019, 23:34
Akheloce Akheloce is offline
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Great story, but calling BS on the "helicopter could only maintain a hover" and that the sub had to maneuver under the bird.

There's no mechanical reason for that to be feasible.
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Old 4 May 2019, 07:29
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Hang on. Can we go back to the part about the emergency blow
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Old 4 May 2019, 11:08
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hawkdrver View Post
Hang on. Can we go back to the part about the emergency blow
Seems a bit excessive. It isn't that hard to just surface. I think the author watched too many movies.
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"I don't know whether the world is run by smart men who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it." - Twain

"I agree that his intentions are suspect, and that he likely needs to die...." - SOTB

"Just a lone patriot acting alone at a fulcrum point, ideally in a deniable fashion. A perpetrator of accidents." - Magician
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Old 4 May 2019, 11:51
bc_ bc_ is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hawkdrver View Post
Hang on. Can we go back to the part about the emergency blow
The comments are awesome! I don't know submarine protocol, so it's funny seeing the ttps get pulled apart.
I expected this story to get shredded because the writing style is so romanticized, the facts must have gotten a bit muddied. I wasn't able to find a good source, so I hoped a board member would know this story and let everyone know if there is a less emotional writeup.
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Old 4 May 2019, 12:01
bc_ bc_ is offline
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What I meant to say in the last comment but didn't: sorry if I posted a turd. I hoped it was legit enough to warrant a post, but if it's garbage, then mea culpa.
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Old 4 May 2019, 12:40
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bc_ View Post
What I meant to say in the last comment but didn't: sorry if I posted a turd. I hoped it was legit enough to warrant a post, but if it's garbage, then mea culpa.
It was a real incident that happened vaguely along the lines of what you posted. Whoever concocted the version you posted saw the need to fluff it up a bit along the lines of a made for TV movie "based on a true story." There is a photo on wikipedia of the helicopter sitting atop the Corporal, but of note is that the sea is as flat as glass, the only sea state that would allow transporting the helo back to port that way. Under those conditions, the landing isn't all that dramatic, it is just something nobody had done before. Anything that happens is done first by someone.
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