CH-3 Water Landing Tests:


The picture of the CH-3C landing in the water was our testing at WPAFB. The first picture was at a speed of 40 knots ground speed in a lake on WPAFB called Bass Lake. We were evaluating the ability of landing in water with the Refueling Probe. Sikorsky told the Air Force that the CH-3C could land in water at 40 knots and in a sea state 3, which are big waves. We were testing in the Bass Lake to verify this but the Lake was always calm and never above State 1. This was a lot of fun and we would make landing after landing. WPAFB personnel would come down to Bass Lake and watch our landings. You could shut down the rotors and the CH-3C would sit in the water like a duck with the probe well above the water. The CH-3C was very stable in the water. On rotor engagement, the helicopter would turn about 100 degrees before you had enough tail rotor torque power to stop the yawing and the refueling probe remained above the water. We should have stopped there but we needed rough water to qualify the CH-3C so we decided to go up to Michigans Lake St Clair near Selfridge AFB to get rougher weather and sea states. The first day we got Sea States 1-2 and the CH-3C water landing characteristics were about the same as on Bass Lake. We had gotten the Coast Guard to put a ship near our landing area for rescue purposes. The next day was a lot more windy and the Coast Guard said they were getting sea state of 2-3. We performed some vertical landing and slow speed landings but didn't want to shut the rotors down because the CH-3C really bounced and rolled pretty bad in the water. We then decided to go for the 40 knot landing in the rough water. It was difficult to want to land the helicopter in this rough water at 40 knots with those waves. I made two approaches and my experience told me that I shouldn't do this so I pulled off both times. We climbed into the air and discussed the operation and decided that we were going to do it the next time. We alerted the Coast Guard to what we were doing and then I set up a 100 fpm descent from about 300 feet above the water and established 40 knots ground speed from our instrumentation speed. When we hit the water, the waves and water went entirely over the top of the windshield. We couldn't see anything out the windshield and everyone was thrown forward against our shoulder straps and the crew chief in the jump seat almost went into the instrument panel. Needless to say we were stunned, didn't know if we were upside down in the water or what was happening. After a few seconds, we recovered and decided that the engines were still running and that we were not upside down and even though we were scared to death, things were okay and I took off immediately. The Coast Guard starting calling us and wanted to know if we were okay. They said that the water and waves went entirely over the top of the helicopter and that they lost sight of us for a few minutes. We immediately started smelling strong fuel fumes and we started back to Selfridge AFB. While enroute, the crew chief opened the rear ramp and could see spraying fuel behind us. We declared an emergency and landed uneventfully at Selfridge AFB. The only complaint that we got was from some Colonel who was playing golf and we flew over him and he got fuel spray. After shutting down, we found that we had torn a hole in the main fuel tank, torn off all the antennas and light off the bottom of the helicopter. After getting the helicopter repaired in a few days, we returned to WPAFB and found out from Sikorsky Aircraft that the CH-3C was qualified for 40 knots in calm water and 0 knots (Hover) landing in sea state 3. So much for good communication. This ended our water test program and we qualified the CH-3C for Sea State 3 from a hover and 40 knots in a Sea State 2. I don't know if this was ever changed. We went back to enjoying the calm water landings at Bass Lake and a little wiser.

Don Eastman