This story is an attempt to document the history of Sikorsky Helicopter #63-09676, the “Black Mariah”, now on display at the USAF Aircraft Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB. The information offered is gleaned from personal experiences and other sources pieced together to hopefully portray a fairly accurate history of this aircraft.
CH-3C #63-09676 was delivered to the USAF on December 31. 1963.
The First CH-3's in SEA
In July 1965, two Sikorsky CH-3C’s arrived at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, Thailand, to initiate a new era for Search and Rescue in Southeast Asia. The two helicopters, 63-09676 and 63-09685, were on loan from the Tactical Air Warfare Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida. These early model CH-3C’s were not equipped with any armor, auxiliary fuel (drop) tanks, air refueling capabilities and the winch/hoist with only 100 feet of cable.
The helicopters were assigned to the newly fashioned Det. 1, 38th ARRS which currently had HH-43’s. The added speed and range over the HH-43 made the CH-3C a more adequate Aircrew Rescue Vehicle. The “Jolly Green Giant” nickname was originated by the pilots of the CH-3 and therefore these two aircraft were the first “Jolly Greens”.
CH-3C 63-09685 made the First “Jolly Green” combat rescue pickup in SEA.
CH-3C #63-09676 (later to become the infamous “Black Mariah”) made the second Jolly Green rescue pickup with the call sign “Jolly Green 2”. On 24 Aug 1965, Maj. Dean Pogreba (F105 pilot) was picked up by the helicopter crew of Captain Phil Stambaugh, Capt George Martin, HM Sgt Francis Hill, HM Sgt James Armenia and PJ Sgt George Thayer.
(On 6 November 1965, CH-3C 63-09685 was shot down during a rescue attempt over North VietNam. This was the first Jolly Green lost in SEA. The crew, Capt. Warren “Bob” Lilly, 1st Lt. Jerry Singleton, Sgt Arthur Cornier, bailed out and except for the Flight Engineer, were captured and held captive by the North Vietnamese for over six years. FE Sgt. Berkely Naugle was delayed in bailing out and landed a distance from the other crew members and was rescued by Navy helicopters several hours later. (See his story on the Jolly Green website)
In November 1965, the first HH-3”s arrived in SEA to assume the Air Rescue mission.
CH-3C #63-09676 was returned to the Tactical Air Command in January 1966 and soon assigned to the 20th Helicopter Squadron’s “Pony Express” and deployed to its operations in SouthEast Asia. The 20th split its CH-3C’s into three units at Tan Son Nhut, DaNang, and Cam Rhan Bay. It is not known exactly which base ‘676’ was initially assigned to. In the spring of 1966, all 20th CH-3C’s were moved to Udorn RTAFB, Thailand.
The Black Mariah
Just when or why “676” was painted black is not completely documented. Apparently a plan to conduct night infiltration missions into Laos and North VietNm was planned and a “black” bird would be harder to detect but the enormous hazards of night operations quickly dispelled this idea. There was no real need to repaint the aircraft now known as the “Black Mariah”.
The Black Mariah flew many support and counter-insurgency missions while assigned to the “Pony Express”. It was rumored that the VC had a $50,000 bounty on the Black Mariah.
In 1969, the 20th SOS CH-3E’s were reassigned to the 21st Special Operation Squadron at Nakhom Phanom RTAFB.
In 1971, 63-09676 was reassigned to the 6200st ABW, Clark AFB, Philippines and in 1974 to 405th FW, Philippines. It is believed that somewhere between VietNam and here she was repainted .
March 31, 1976 found the former Black Mariah assigned to the 302nd SOS, Luke AFB, AZ.
In December 1986, 676 moved to 304th ARRS, Portland, Oregon and in October 1987 to 71st SOS, Davis-Monthan AFB, AZ.
In 1990, CH-3E #63-09676 was selected to be refurbished and sent to the USAF Museum at Wright-Patterson AFB. The story goes that when the aircraft was being prepared to be re-painted the technicians discovered a coat of black under the existing top coat. Knowing that black was not the standard primer color an investigation began to uncover some of this helicopter’s history.
The story of the “Black Mariah” began to unfold. She is believed to be the only “black” CH-3 to serve in Southeast Asia. What better way to enshrine this aircraft but to return it to the color of its glory days. The “Black Mariah” left Tucson on February 15, 1991 and is now proudly on display at the USAF Air and Space Museum, Wright-Patterson AFB, at Dayton, Ohio.
676 Fact Sheet:
I attended the USAFHPA reunion there as she was being placed on display in 1992 and had the privilege of once again sitting at the controls of the historic aircraft. We had flown many missions together in 1967-68.
Comments from Bill Follette – 2012
William (Bill) Follette
Subject: Additional History of Sikorsky Helicopter #63-09676
I had the honor and privilege of flying this aircraft from 2 July 1971 thru the late 1980s.
I arrived at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, (NKP), in early June 1971 as a First Lieutenant-About-to-be-Captain, one of the last three CH-3E pilots to be sent to the theater to fly special operations missions with the 21st Special Operations Squadron in the CH-3E. CH-53s (BUFFs) were rapidly replacing the Nit Noy and a number had already been transferred out of country. Just prior to my arrival, two aircraft had been transferred to start a Base Flight operation at Clark AFB, PI. The two were 63-09676 and 63-09686.
After only a few weeks in-country I was sent on a two month TDY to Clark AFB to help start up the Base Flight operation. I flew both aircraft almost daily from then until 1 September 1971, including several flights a week from Clark to Cubi Point NAS (Subic Bay) to pick up Embassy pouches which I then flew to the Manila Embassy helipad, followed by taking cargo (shotgun ammo, golf equipment, clay pigeons, booze, etc.) to Wallace Air Station for delivery to Camp John Hay in Baguio, the all-ranks “spa” in northern Luzon. Hay had a skeet shooting range, a 9-hole golf course, and a “resort hotel & bar” that needed frequent resupply….
While flying during this short time period in the Philippines I was exposed to flying through an amazing combination of typhoons, tornados, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and even anti-USA guerilla cells (including receiving two bullet holes in the tail boom). I also supported the SAR and investigation of a Pan-Am Cargo plane crash where the pilot misread his altimeter by 10,000’ coming into Manila and implanted himself into a mountain..
I then had the great privilege (???) in August 1971 of burning a lot of JP-4 and personal time giving several U.S. Senators (who had just flown back from a boondoggle on an aircraft carrier to watch an Apollo capsule recovery in the south Pacific) a guided aerial tour of Bataan, landed on Corregidor to show them around the famous battleship rock, and then delivered them to the Manila Airport where they flew back to the good ol’ U.S. and proceeded to “bad-mouth” the U.S. Military for “wasteful spending”!!!!!!
I returned to NKP and flew with the 21st SOS regularly until December 1971 when I ferried the last CH-3E to Utapao to be cocooned and shipped to Davis Monthan for storage. With four months left on my “combat tour” I then “flew” the night duty officer desk of the TUOC until I managed a “two month PCS” back to Clark Base Flight where I took up where I left off with those cushy Embassy flights.
In April of 1972 I DROS’d to Grand Forks AFB, ND to fly Hueys for a year. After separating from the USAF in 1973 and returning to Arizona, I joined the 302nd SOS (AFRES) unit at Luke AFB, AZ in 1974, to fly the EXACT SAME AIRFRAMES I flew at NKP and Clark for another 12+years, INCLUDING 63-09676!!
FYI… 676 also had the nicknames “Patches” at the 21st SOS stemming from the myriad of holes in the fuselage resulting from a 37mm burst and the nickname Sick-Seven-Sick at the 302nd due to its maintenance unreliability as well as its well-deserved battle fatigue.
I am very proud that the Black Mariah, with whom I have a personal history, is on display in the nation’s premier aviation museum.
Maj. Retired USAF