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.
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.
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 either camo or silver.
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.
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.