The Few, The Proud, The Generous

October 1, 2012 – January 31, 2013

 General Fund Donations

Col J. Laurence Adkinson,

Robert A. Almquist,

Col Donald W. Anderson,

Col Sam Badiner,

BGen George L. Bartlett,

CAPT Thomas G. Bauer,

Mr. & Mrs Dmitriy Bekkeman,

LtCol & Mrs Jay N. Bibler,

Richard Blomgren,

BGen William A. Bloomer,

Robert S. Bolt,

William F. Brindell,

LtCol G. Larry Brown,

Mr. & Mrs Keith J. Cameron,

E.R. Ciampa,

Civil Aviation Medical Association,

Col Bart Connolly,

MajGen Louis J. Conti,

Alisa R. Cox,

MajGen John V. Cox,

H. Norman Davies,

Jr., Gen J.K. Davis,

Maj Joseph G. Dentz,

LtCol Charles W. Dollard,

BGen Walter J. Donovan,

Constance A. Drowne,

Don R. Duffer,

Jon Epsten,

Frank Faust,

Donald R. Fraser,

Gladys R. Gallivan,

Gen Alfred M. Gray,

James Grimes, MD,

Jeffrey Guss,

Mr. & Mrs David W. Hall,

Mr. & Mrs Robert Hanevik,

Col & Mrs Hardy Hay,

Gen Joseph P. Hoar,

Leonard M. Horner,

Col George W. Houck,

BGen R.H. Huckaby,

Maj John Hyneman,

Mr. & Mrs John Irwin,

Maj Herb R. Jellander,

MajGen Harry W. Jenkins,

LtCol Foster H. Jessup,

Mr. & Mrs Ward Johnson,

Frank B. Kennedy,

Maj Peter A. Krueger,

Col George F. Kubal,

GySgt Paul T. Kuras,

Joyce D. Lang,

Col Lee F. Lange,

Col Elmer M. Lewis,

Col Jack R. Lousma,

Rex C. McCoy,

June A. McLernan,

MSgt Robert A. Marshall, Sr.,

Stephen M. Mayian,

Q. R. Meland,

MSgt James H. Merriken,

Sgt Henry G. Merritt,

LtCol Henry G. Miller,

Col Jack P. Monroe, Jr.,

LtCol Robert D. Mulcahy,

Col Jacques Naviaux,

RADM Edward Nelson, Jr.,

Col Duane F. Newton,

LtCol Richard E. Novak,

Lou Oberman,

MajGen G. Richard Omrod,

Col & Mrs O.L. Owens,

Jason Pilalas,

LtCol Larry D. Rannals,

Col Alvin F. Ribbeck, Jr.,

Terril Richardson,

LtGen John E. Rhodes,

CWO Alfred Rome,

RPM Pizza, LLC,

LaDelle Schroeder,

Col John F. Shine,

BGen David V. Shutter,

Capt Charles W. Smith,

Wayne Stafford,

Leo J. Still, Jr.,

Donald B. Stoneking,

Dr. Mark D. Strauss,

CDR Charles Sweeney,

MSgt Oscar Teel,

MGySgt James R. Todd,

Col & Mrs Kenneth Tollefson,

Jerry Toppel,

Col Jay R. Vargas,

Mr. & Mrs Robert W. Wardlaw,

Donald S. Waunch,

James G. Weatherly,

Lewis M. Webb,

Col Kenneth H. Wilcox,

Capt Floyd C. Williams,

Wilson Construction Company,

Col Alexander Wilson,

Col Eleanor M. Wilson,

LtCol W.J. White,

Robert D. “Woody” Woodbury

Building Fund Donations

Col Jerome T. Bertrand, Mr. & Mrs Stuart Hendrix, Jason & Brittany Sparks

Restoration Fund Donations

Mr. & Mrs John Herrold (In memory of LtGen Thomas H. Miller)

VMFA-115/513 Squadron Reunion, SgtMaj Mike Zacker

Foundation Computer & Office Equipment Support

Maj Glenn Ferguson, John Ferguson

In Memory of Col Donald E. Marousek

Dr. & Mrs Stan Jones, Mr. & Mrs Tom Lampley, Naomi Lin,

Shirley Luth, Ludmila Marousek, Vivian Matiossian

In Memory of Lt. General A. W. O’Donnell

Patricia L. O’Donnell

In Memory of Dr. Judson Russel Grosvenor

J. Mark Grosvenor Foundation

In Honor of Lt. General Keith A. Smith

LtGen Norman H. Smith

In Memory of Patty Butcher

LtGen Robert Milligan

In Memory of Major General Jeremiah “Jed” Pearson

LtCol Thomas M. Vetter, Sr.

In Memory of Lt. Colonel Bill “Muddy” Waters

MajGen B.G. Butcher, MajGen Ross Plasterer

In Memory of Colonel Eugene R. “Pappa Fox” Brady

Hon Joseph P. Donovan

In Memory of Major General Frank C. Lang

Col Edward C. Kicklighter

In Memory of Colonel William L. Beach

Anita J. Beach

In Memory of Colonel Edwin J. McCue

Nancy McCue

In Memory of Colonel Frank N. Pippin

Mary Lou Pippin

In Memory of Gunnery Sergeant Glen H. Chapin

Sharon L. Chapin

In Memory of Colonel Chuck Sewell

Dr. Richard P. Hallon

In Memory of Lt. Colonel Barry Skinner

Jennifer Deweese, Mr. & Mrs Darrell A. Lowe, M. N. Phillips

In Memory of Lt. Colonel Art Anthony

Dennis Bowen

In Memory of Lt. Colonel Mike Mura

Dennis Bowen

In Memory of Sergeant Robert “Bob” O’Reilly

Col Christopher E. O’Connor

In Memory of Major General Donald “DEP” Miller

MajGen B.G. Butcher, LtCol & Mrs R.W. Kron, MajGen Ross Plasterer

In Memory of Lt. Colonel Guy O. Badger

Gina Adams, MajGen B.G. Butcher, Mr. & Mrs Kenneth H. Gilliland,

Mr. & Mrs Bertram Morgan, Mickey Muse, Sandra Sifuentes,

Edith Smith, Mr. & Mrs Jack W. Wagner

In Memory of Major General Leo LeBlanc

MajGen Richard Cooke

In Memory of Colonel Robert Todd Whitten

Kristian D. Whitten

In Memory of Major General W.R. Quinn

Margo Quinn

In Memory of Lt. Colonel H.A. “Hap” Langstaff

Ruth M. Langstaff

In Memory of John Thomas Garner

LtCol William M. Kull

In Memory of Colonel Richard Moeller

LtCol Jack W. Davis

In Memory of Colonel Frank Heins

LtCol John E. Carroll, Jr.

In Memory of Major Bob Captor

LtCol John E. Carroll, Jr

In Memory of Colonel Robert Ondrick

Donna M. Ondrick, Col Floyd Lewis

In Memory of Colonel Mike Yunck

MajGen Hal W. Vincent

In Memory of Major General Marion Carl

MajGen Hal W. Vincent

In Memory of Captain Hal Hellbach

LtCol Robert A. Gillon, Sr.

In Memory of Captain Warren Keneipp

LtCol Robert A. Gillon, Sr.

In Memory of Major Charlie Cronkrite

LtCol Robert A. Gillon, Sr.

In Support of 2012 Mike Philbin Memorial Golf Tournament

Col Bart Connolly

Medal of Honor Recipient

Medal of Honor Recipient


The President of the United States takes pride in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to:


for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

 The President of the United States of America, in the name of Congress, takes pleasure in presenting the Medal of Honor to Major Stephen Wesley Pless (MCSN: 0-79156), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 19 August 1967, while serving as a helicopter gunship pilot attached to Marine Observation Squadron SIX (VMO-6), Marine Aircraft Group THIRTY-SIX, First Marine Aircraft Wing, in action against enemy forces near Quang Nai, Republic of Vietnam. During an escort mission Major Pless monitored an emergency call that four American soldiers stranded on a nearby beach were being overwhelmed by a large Viet Cong force. Major Pless flew to the scene and found 30 to 50 enemy soldiers in the open. Some of the enemy were bayoneting and beating the downed Americans. Major Pless displayed exceptional airmanship as he launched a devastating attack against the enemy force, killing or wounding many of the enemy and driving the remainder back into a tree line. His rocket and machinegun attacks were made at such low levels that the aircraft flew through debris created by explosions from its rockets. Seeing one of the wounded soldiers gesture for assistance, he maneuvered his helicopter into a position between the wounded men and the enemy, providing a shield, which permitted his crew to retrieve the wounded. During the rescue the enemy directed intense fire at the helicopter and rushed the aircraft again and again, closing to within a few feet before being beaten back. When the wounded men were aboard, Major Pless maneuvered the helicopter out to sea. Before it became safely airborne, the overloaded aircraft settled four times into the water. Displaying superb airmanship, he finally got the helicopter aloft. Major Pless' extraordinary heroism coupled with his outstanding flying skill prevented the annihilation of the tiny force. His courageous actions reflect great credit upon himself and uphold the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.

RF-4B Phantom

McDonnell Douglas RF-4B Phantom II


RF – Type (Reconnaissance Fighter); 4 – (Numerical Designation); B – (Version or Variant)

The McDonnell Douglas RF-4B was the photo reconnaissance version of the versatile F-4 Phantom II. It first flew on March 12, 1965 with the first delivery going to Marine Composite Utility Squadron Three (VMCJ-3), based at MCAS El Toro, in May of 1965. The RF-4B also served with Marine Composite Squadrons VMCJ-1 and VMCJ-2, and entered combat in October 1966, equipping VMCJ-1 at Da Nang, Republic of Vietnam.

All 46 RF-4Bs produced by the McDonnell Aircraft Company went to the Marine Corps with the last RF-4B delivered on December 24, 1970. The last twelve of these RF-4Bs were built on RF-4C frames with larger tires, wheel wells and reinforced wings. Differing from the fighter version of the F-4, the RF-4B had a longer nose that housed forward and side oblique cameras, and featured photoflash cartridges for night photography. Film could also be developed in flight and film cassettes could be ejected at low altitude so that ground commanders could get aerial intelligence as rapidly as possible. The large AN/APQ-72 radar was also replaced with the much smaller AN/APQ-99 forward-looking J-band monopulse radar which was optimized for terrain avoidance and terrain-following, and could be used for ground mapping.

Initially each active duty Marine Aircraft Wing (MAW) had operational squadrons that supplied separate photo reconnaissance and electronic countermeasure aircraft. In 1975, the entire photo reconnaissance mission of the Marine Corps was assigned to VMCJ-3 of Third Marine Aircraft Wing (3rd MAW) and the squadron was soon redesignated as Marine Photo Reconnaissance Squadron Three (VMFP-3). The squadron then supplied detachments to the users, both Navy and Marine. The last RF-4B in Marine Corps service was retired in 1990, prior to Desert Storm.

The RF-4B Phantom II on display was initially accepted on 15 October 1965 and delivered to VMCJ-3 at MCAS El Toro, spending its entire service with that squadron and its predecessor, VMFP-3. It was retired on April 25, 1990 with 5,364 airframe hours and presented to the Command Museum. It is painted in the colors of Marine Photo Reconnaissance Squadron Three, (VMFP-3), while based at MCAS El Toro. This aircraft is on loan from the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Tyrone Power Marine Aviator

Did You Know About Tyrone Power?

Legendary film and stage actor Tyrone Power was widely known as a “matinee idol” during a career that spanned more than 25 years. He starred in numerous films including The Long Grey Line, The Mark Of Zorro, The Sun Also Rises and A Yank In The RAF. Power’s performance as an accused murderer in the motion picture, Witness for the Prosecution, is considered by many cinema historians to be his finest.  Tyrone Power Marine Aviator

Most people are familiar with Tyrone Power the movie star, but did you know that he was also an accomplished pilot? Power learned to fly in 1938 during the filming of the classic western Jesse James. He was also a Marine Corps aviator and served our country during and after World War II. Indeed, flying was a major part of Power’s life.

Power, like many of his Hollywood contemporaries, was caught up in the post Pearl Harbor patriotic fever sweeping the nation by early 1942. When the call to arms came, he promptly enlisted in the Marine Corps. Power’s initial goal was to become a Marine Corps glider pilot.  However, because of his age (28 at the time) and lack of a college education, he did not qualify for the Naval aviator training program as a cadet. As such, Power enlisted as a private and attended boot camp at MCRD San Diego.[1]

After completing boot camp, Power went through Officer Candidate at Quantico, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in June 1943. Because he was a seasoned pilot already, Power was assigned to an accelerated flight training program at MCAS Corpus Christi, Texas and trained as a multiengine transport pilot. He earned his Naval Aviator wings and was promoted to First Lieutenant April 1944.

After some additional training at the Flight Instructor Instrument School, Power was assigned to VMR-352 (“Raiders”), based at Cherry Point, North Carolina. In this assignment, Lieutenant Power flew the Curtiss R5C-Commando.[2]  He remained with VMR-352 from October 1944 until mid-January 1945.

In January 1945, Lieutenant Power was assigned to VMR-353, and was shipped out to combat zones in the Pacific. The VMR-353 squadron was briefly based at Kwajalein before moving on to Saipan in March 1945. Power flew numerous missions while assigned to VMR-353. He took part in the air supply and evacuation of wounded Marines from Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and did see some combat, especially on Okinawa. Power remained with VMR-353 until hostilities with Japan ended in September 1945.

Lieutenant Power was ordered off deployment in late November 1945, and returned stateside. He was released from active duty by the Marine Corps in January 1946. Power returned to his film career and made 22 more movies after World War II ended.

Power’s personal decorations for his service during World War II include the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two bronze stars and the World War II Victory Medal.

Although he was released from active duty and resumed his film career, Tyrone Power remained in the Marine Corps Reserve. He was promoted to Captain in May 1951. However, he was not called back to active service during the Korean War. Power remained in the Marine Corps Reserve until his death in November 1958. At the time of his passing, Tyrone Power was a Major. He was buried with full military honors, including a full Marine Corps honor guard from MCAS El Toro.

[1] At the request of 20th Century Fox, Power was allowed to finish production on the film Crash Dive before reporting for active duty. This movie was fairly typical of early World War II films that were generally geared to promoting support for the war effort on the home front.

 [2] The R5C Commando is more commonly known as the Curtiss-Wright C-46. This aircraft was used extensively in the Pacific Theatre by both Naval and Marine Corps squadrons. It was also used, to a much lesser extent, by US Army Air Forces is final days of the war in Europe.

Building a Foundation for the Next 100 Years

This is my first year with the Flying Leatherneck Historical Foundation, and it has already been a whirlwind of events, great people, and dedicated volunteers. Thanks to everyone for your support and advice as I ramp up our public relations and community outreach efforts.

As you well know, this year marks the Centennial of Marine Corps Aviation; all of our events this year celebrate our story from the last century, while focusing on the next 100 years of preservation and study.

Steve “Smitty” Smith, our adventurous curator and his crew, manned displays at the San Diego County Fair, the Gillespie Air Show and the Oceanside Armed Forces Day Operation Appreciation. He said during the San Diego County Fair alone, he averaged 100 to 150 visitors per day.

We had a film crew, led by a new volunteer named Herb Proske, who conducted a series of oral histories, and more will be filmed in the future. Our goal is to catalogue as many of our Marine Aviators as we can so that their stories are not lost. Airplanes are wonderful pieces of machinery, but those who fly them are the most important asset a museum can have, and we hope to record more and more of these aviator’s stories as we move into the next century.

While our museum crew was up at the San Diego Fair, the foundation hosted two very important events, the third annual Semper Fi Ride and the annual Black Tie Gala. The gala is one of the year’s most highly anticipated events, and nearly 200 guests gathered at the Westgate Hotel in San Diego to celebrate the 100-year milestone. This year, the foundation was honored to host our longtime supporters, Mr. and Mrs. T. Boone Pickens, as well as Marine Corps heroes from every conflict since World War II. We had a great turnout, and many of our guests commented that the evening was one of the best foundation events they have attended in years. The gala committee worked tirelessly to ensure the event was perfect, and it was a memorable evening of laughs and camaraderie.

During the gala, we presented the 2012 Irene Ferguson Marine Wife Recognition Award recipient, Mrs. Sasha Lightfoot. She was noted for having pulled together the families of the Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, who lost six Marines in a horrific crash in February. The unit was in Yuma, Ariz. training for an upcoming deployment. Her husband, LtCol Stephen Lightfoot, is the commanding officer and is currently in Afghanistan. The annual award is presented at the gala, and selected from a pool of applicants.

On June 16, nearly 100 riders came out to support the third annual Semper Fi Ride and post-ride “poker walk.” Both of our generous donors – the Fun Bike Center and Bangin’ Burgers – support this event, and really do all of the hard work! When the foundation staff arrived on Saturday, most of the work had already been finished, riders were out on the course, and we had a record amount of donations for the day. Many of the riders didn’t know about it, but said they planned on returning next year.

We’ve launched our new website, which is still being worked on each month to bring visitors to the site all of the events coming up during the year. We encourage blogs, articles, photos and any other material we can use to post to our blog page. If you are interested in becoming a blogger, contact me at

So far, visitor numbers have remained about the same for the first half of the year, but donations have increased. Our mission is clear – build a world-class museum that is the only one dedicated to Marine Corps Aviation History – and with the dedication of our volunteers and staff, we can make it a reality.

Semper Fi,

Kalen Arreola

Marketing & PR

The Visionaries

By Lieutenant Colonel Ronald J. Brown

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired

The wake of the World War II, with its ominous specter of nuclear weapons, forced the Marine Corps to rethink existing amphibious doctrine. The conclusion was that previous methods of ship-to-shore movement were no longer sufficient to ensure a successful landing so alternative methods had to be developed. Several options looked promising, but the only one that stood the test of time and combat was vertical envelopment—the use of helicopters to move troops and supplies.

In 1946, Commandant Alexander A. Vandegrift—at the urging of Lieutenant General Roy S. Geiger, the “Gray Eagle” of Marine aviation who had just witnessed post-war nuclear tests—formed a special board culled from Marine Corps headquarters to study existing tactics and equipment then make recommendations for restructuring the Fleet Marine Force. Assistant Commandant Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, who was arguably the Marines’ most innovative division commander in the Pacific, headed the board. Shepherd was an excellent choice because he was both a traditionalist and a visionary who would later become Commandant. Other members of the board included Major General Field Harris, the director of Marine aviation, and Brigadier General Oliver P. Smith, the head of plans and operations division. All three men would be reunited in Korea in 1950 where they would put into practice the revolutionary doctrines they set in motion; Shepherd as the commanding general of Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, Harris as commanding general of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, and Smith as commanding general of the 1st Marine Division. Two colonels assigned to the board secretariat were particularly influential, Edward C. Dyer and Merrill B. Twining. Dyer, a Naval Academy graduate and decorated combat pilot, was master of all things aeronautical while Merrill Twining, a highly regarded staff officer, handled operational theory. Neither a formal member of the board nor its secretariat but keeping close tabs on what transpired was Brigadier General Gerald C. Thomas, Vandegrift’s trusted chief of staff. Dyer eventually commanded the first Marine helicopter squadron and Thomas replaced Smith as 1st Marine Division commander in Korea.

Doctrinal development for vertical assault was done at Marine Corps Schools located at Quantico, Virginia. First, a board headed by Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Hogaboom laid out what was needed in a document titled “Military Requirements for Ship-to-Shore Movement of Troops and Cargo.” Even though no suitable aircraft were yet available, the thinkers at Quantico came up with new doctrine published as Amphibious Training Manual 31, “Amphibious Operations—-Employment of Helicopters (Tentative).” One of the drivers of this project was Lieutenant Colonel Victor H. Krulak, a tough former paratrooper who had been wounded in the Pacific but was also known for his high intellect and an unsurpassed ability to get things done. He was a prolific writer and a demanding taskmaster who kept his finger on the pulse of several vital projects including helicopter development.

Despite the nearly unlimited future potential of helicopters for assault and support of landing forces, there was ingrained resistance to such a revolutionary concept. Most young pilots wanted to fly sleek jets and dogfight enemy aces, not manhandle temperamental aircraft to deliver troops and supplies; experienced fliers were comfortable with aircraft they already knew well and were reluctant to give up their trusted planes; and critics claimed helicopters were too slow and vulnerable. Twining took the lead in addressing these problems when he pointed out the Marine Corps had far more pilots than planes and noted that the wishes of the individual were always subservient to the needs of the Marine Corps. He also asserted that the speed and vulnerability of helicopters should not be properly compared to fixed-wing aircraft but to surface landing craft (helicopters were both faster and more agile than boats or amphibious tractors).

All early helicopter advocates were highly motivated and dedicated men. Their achievements and foresight kept the Marine Corps’ reputation for innovation alive despite severe budgetary constraints and concurrent inter-Service unification battles. In fact, many of the men also played key roles in the “Chowder Society,” whose behind-the-scenes work successfully protected Marine Corps interests during the bitter “unification battles” after the World War II.

Marine Helicopter Squadron 1

By Lieutenant Colonel Ronald J. Brown
U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired

Marine Helicopter Squadron 1 (HMX-1) is unique in the Marine Corps because it has several distinct missions and at least three different chains-of-command providing guidance and tasking.

HMX-1 was the first Marine rotary-wing squadron. It “stood up” at Marine Corps Airfield Quantico in Virginia on 1 December 1947 and has been located there ever since. Its activation was the first operational move that started a revolution in Marine aviation and tactical doctrine.

The squadron, initially manned by seven officers and three enlisted men, quickly grew and mustered 18 pilots and 81 enlisted men when the first helicopters, Sikorsky HO3S-1s, arrived. These first primitive machines carried only the pilot and up to three lightly armed troops, but they formed the basis for testing helicopter doctrine described in Marine Corps Schools operational manual Phib-31. Eventually, HMX-1 received a mix of early model helicopters with the addition of Piasecki HRP transports and Bell HTL trainers to test doctrine before the Korean War.

On 8 May 1948, HMX-1 pilots flew from Quantico to Norfolk, Virginia, to board the escort carrier Palau (CVE 122). The fly-on operation was described by HMX-1commanding officer Colonel Edward C. Dyer as a “complete shambles [with] sailors running all over the place in mortal danger of walking into tail rotors, and the Marines were totally disorganized as well. It was complete bedlam, there was no organization and no real system [in place].” By the next day, however, the Navy and Marine Corps were using the same basic ship-board flight operations procedures practiced today—circular lines delineated danger areas as well as personnel staging areas and approach lanes. Five days later, the HO3S-1s delivered 66 men and several tons of equipment to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina’s Onslow Beach during command post exercise Packard II.

The following year a similar exercise employed eight HRPs, three HO3Ss, and a single HTL. During Exercise Packard III, the HRP “Flying Banana” troop transports were carrier borne, the HTL was loaded on an LST for command and control, and the HO3Ss stayed ashore as rescue aircraft. The HRPs brought 230 troops and 14,000 pounds of cargo ashore even though choppy seas swamped several landing craft and seriously disrupted operational maneuvers. Many consider this superb performance to be the key factor in the acceptance of the helicopter as a viable ship-to-shore method, thus paving the way for the integration of rotary-wing aircraft into Marine aviation.

In 1957, HMX-1 acquired an unexpected mission— transporting the President of the United States. Helicopters were only considered for emergency situations until President Dwight D. Eisenhower used an HMX-1 Sikorsky HUS Sea Horse helicopter for transportation from his summer home on Narragansett Bay. After that, Marine helicopters were routinely used to move the President from the White House lawn to Andrews Air Force Base, the home of presidential plane “Air Force One.” That transport mission became a permanent tasking in 1976 and continues to this day.

Currently mustering more than 700 personnel, HMX-1 is the largest Marine Corps helicopter squadron. It is divided into two sections. The “White” side flies two unique helicopters—both specially configured Sikorsky executive transports, the VH-3D Sea King and the VH-60N Seahawk. The “Green” side provides basic helicopter indoctrination training for ground troops, tests new concepts and equipment, and assists the Marine air weapons and tactics squadron. Unlike any other Marine squadron, HMX-1 answers to three distinct chains-of-command: the Marine Corps deputy chief of staff for air at Headquarters Marine Corps; the White House military office; and the operational test and evaluation force commander at Norfolk. Marine Helicopter Squadron 1 was not only the first such Marine unit, it also currently holds a unique place in naval aviation.


Sikorsky HO3S-1

By Lieutenant Colonel Ronald J. Brown

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired


The Sikorsky HO3S-1 was the first helicopter assigned to the U.S. Marine Corps. The HO3S was the naval variant of Sikorky’s model S-51 commercial helicopter. Despite its observation designation, the HO3S was actually a utility aircraft used for a variety of roles. Among the 46 conceptual uses initially listed by Marine Corps Schools were the ones most used in Korea: search and rescue; aerial reconnaissance; medical evacuation; and liaison. The U.S. Air Force flew the  same aircraft as a search and rescue helicopter designated H-5F.

The HO3S was the lineal descendent of earlier Sikorsky designs, the initial HNS trainer and the first designated military observation helicopter (alternately known as the HO2S in naval service and the R-5A to the Army). The HO3S featured a more powerful engine that gave it added lift and an increased payload. During the immediate pre-war period, the HO3S proved to be an outstanding rescue craft that often utilized its winch to pull downed pilots out of the water. Likewise, the HO3S was an excellent observation platform for artillery spotting.

In Korea, its primary uses were as a liaison aircraft and as an aerial ambulance. A first-rate liaison aircraft with good range, the HO3S had a dependable engine, and was rugged enough that it required relatively little maintenance when compared to other rotary-wing aircraft of the day.

Even though the HO3S performed yeoman service at the Pusan Perimeter, it had significant shortfalls as a combat aircraft. The tricycle landing gear and its high center of gravity made the HO3S unstable on all but flat solid terrain; the aircraft could not accommodate interior stretcher loads; its lack of back-lit instrumentation precluded extended night and bad weather operations; and the high engine location made aircraft maintenance difficult. Another major drawback was that it required a great deal of strength and endurance to handle such a heavy aircraft for an extended period without servo-controls. In addition, the single main rotor and long tail assembly combined with a centrally located engine mount often required field expedient ballast adjustments to maintain in-flight stability, so it was not unusual for pilots to keep several sandbags or a sea-bag filled with rocks in the cabin.


Aircraft Data

Manufacturer: Sikorsky Division of United Aircraft


Power Plant: Pratt and Whitney R-985 AN-7 Wasp Jr., 9

cylinder, 450 horsepower, radial engine

Dimensions: Length, 57’ 1/2”; height, 12’ 11”; rotor, 48’

composite construction blade

Performance: Cruising speed, 85 mph; range, 260 miles

Lift: Pilot plus two passengers or about 500 pounds of

cargo (excluding fuel)

Pitcarin First Marine Helicopter

Pitcarin OP-1 Autogiro

By Lieutenant Colonel Ronald J. Brown

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired


The first rotary-winged aircraft used by naval aviation was not a helicopter. It was an autogiro, an airplane propelled by a normal front-mounted aircraft engine but kept aloft by rotating overhead wings, a phenomenon known as “autorotation.” Although rather ungainly looking due their stubby upturned wings, large tails, and drooping rotors, autogiros took well to the air. Their ability to “land on a dime” made them favorites at air shows and an aggressive publicity campaign touted them as “flying autos, the transportation of the future.” Autogiros, however, turned out to be neither a military nor a commercial success.

The aircraft itself was an odd compilation of a normal front-mounted aircraft engine used to generate thrust and three overhead free-spinning blades attached to a center-mounted tripod to provide lift. The fuselage included a pair of stubby wings that supported the landing gear and had a semi-standard elongated tail assembly. Typical of the day, it had an open cockpit.

Although a rotary-winged aircraft, the OP-1 was not a helicopter. The engine was used to start the rotors moving but was then disengaged and connected to the propeller to deliver thrust. A speed of about 30 miles per hour was needed to generate lift and maintained for controlled flight. The OP-1 could not hover, it required conventional engine power to take off and move forward in the air; the plane could, however, make a vertical landing. This unique feature made the OP-1 attractive to the military.

The specific autogiro model first tested by the Marine Corps was the OP-1 built by Harold F. Pitcarin, who would later found Eastern Airways. His company was a licensed subsidiary of a Spanish firm. All American autogiros were based upon designs formulated by Spanish nobleman Juan de la Cierva. His first successful flight was made near Madrid in 1923. More than 500 autogiros flew worldwide during the next decade. Although his airplanes never lived up to his high expectations, de la Cierva did develop rotor technology and recorded aerodynamic data later applied by helicopter designers Igor Sikorsky and Frank Piasecki.

The Navy purchased three Pitcarin autogiros for extensive field-testing and evaluation in 1931. The only carrier tests were conducted on 23 September of that year, but the OP-1’s performance was virtually identical to that of carrier-borne biplanes then in use. The Marines took one OP-1 to Nicaragua to test it under combat conditions. Again, its performance was disappointing. The pilots of VJ-6M noted it lacked both payload and range. The only practical use they found was evaluation of potential landing areas. This was not enough reason to incorporate the OP-1 into the Marine inventory. Overall, the OP-1 was described as “an exasperating contraption,” not fit for military use. Further trials of a wingless autogiro in 1935 revealed no improvement, so director of aviation Major Roy S. Geiger recommended against adoption of that aircraft type.

In the barnstorming days between the World Wars, autogiros proved to be the ultimate novelty attraction. Aviator Charles A. Lindbergh often put on demonstrations, aviatrix Amelia Earhart set an altitude record in one, and Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams flew in an autogiro to join President Herbert C. Hoover at an isolated fishing camp in Virginia. The Royal Air Force actually used autogiros for convoy escort and observation during World War II, and the Soviet Union developed its own autogiro.

Although the OP-1 never became a mainstream Marine aircraft and was not a true helicopter, some aviation enthusiasts assert that the technology and data developed by de la Cierva was crucial for rotary-winged flight. They, therefore, make the case that the OP-1 should be considered the progenitor of today’s helicopters.

Early Naval Helicopters

By Lieutenant Colonel Ronald J. Brown

U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, Retired

The first U.S. Navy experience with rotary-wing aircraft was not a good one. The Pitcarin OP-1 autogiro, an airplane not a true helicopter, had been tested and found wanting during the era between the World Wars. It was not until Igor Sikorsky introduced his VS-316 model helicopter on 13 January 1942 that vertical takeoff and landing aircraft became feasible. Sikorsky had earlier flown the first practical American helicopter, the VS-300, but that machine was only a test bed. The follow-on VS-316, designated the XR-4 by the U.S. Army, had a two-seat side-by-side enclosed cabin. A 200 horsepower Warner R-550-3 engine that ran a single overhead main rotor and a smaller anti-torque rotor on the tail powered the aircraft. The XR-4 prototype could hit a top speed of around 85 miles per hour, cruised at about 70 miles per hour, and had a range of about 130. In July 1942, the Navy tested its first one; an R-4 transferred from the Army and then promptly re-designated HNS-1 by the Bureau of Aeronautics. Two more were requisitioned from Army stocks in March 1943. The new helicopter was a success, and 22 more were procured for use as trainers beginning on 16 October 1943. The HNS-1 served as the primary naval aviation helicopter trainer until the Bell HTL-series replaced it.

Several other early helicopters (the Platt LePage R-1 and the Kellet R-2 and R-3) produced by other manufacturers were considered but not selected. All was not lost, however, because a bright young Kellet engineer, Frank Piasecki, would later develop tandem-rotor helicopters that would become a mainstay of naval aviation. The Bell Aircraft Company was too busy turning out jets to enter the initial helicopter competition, but that corporation’s mathematician and engineer Arthur M. Young would soon revolutionize light helicopter design.

Sikorsky Aircraft produced 133 HNS helicopters; the Navy accepted 23, the Army kept 58, and the British Royal Air Force got 52. The first shipboard helicopter trials were conducted by America’s first certified military helicopter pilot, Army Captain Hollingworth “Frank” Gregory. He put his HNS through its paces by repeatedly landing and taking off from the tanker Bunker Hill operating in Long Island Sound on 7 May 1943. Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Frank A. Erickson flew the initial naval service helicopter mercy mission when he delivered two cases of blood plasma to a hospital at Sandy Hook on the New Jersey shore. Doctors credited Erickson’s timely arrival with saving several lives. Other rescue missions aiding both civilian and military personnel in the New York area soon followed. The U.S. Army and the Office of Strategic Services both used helicopters for special combat missions in Asia during World War II.

The Navy was satisfied enough with the HNS to order an additional 150 helicopters from Sikorsky, 100 HOS-1s (designated R-6A by the USAAF) and 50 HO2S-1s (Army designation R-5A) before the end of the war. The HOS-1 was more compact, more powerful, and more maneuverable than its HNS predecessor. It mounted a single overhead main rotor, and was powered by a 240 hp Franklin O-405-9 engine. Three XHOS-1s were requested for testing from Army R-6A stocks in late 1942 and were accepted by the U.S. Coast Guard, which was by then running Navy helicopter training at New York’s Floyd Bennett Field in March 1944. After the war a second batch of 36 HOS-1s were assigned to the Navy helicopter development squadron (VX-3) after passing acceptance tests. The Navy also took two HO2S-1 (Army R-5A) test models in December 1945, but opted to place an order for slightly modified S-51 commercial models (designated HO3S-1) which became the standard Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard light utility helicopters in 1947.

When the Coast Guard returned to the Treasury Department from the Navy Department on 28 December 1945, the U.S. Navy took over helicopter training and development. Marine helicopter pilots learned their trade with VX-3 before moving on to HMX-1 at Quantico, Virginia, prior to the Korean War.