Subject: Submarine Saves Helicopter

Reference: Photo of USN HS-51 being piggy-backed safely to port by USS Corporal (SS 346) featured in American Submariner, issue 1/2009, page 16.

This narrative presents a decent broad brush account of the incident which fortunately came off without a hitch. The lack of any guidelines regarding how to actually land a distressed helicopter on board a U.S. Navy fleet boat, notwithstanding. The following thoughts and recollections provide amplification:

“EMERGENCY SURFACE…blow all main ballast” followed by, “Engineer to the bridge” over the 1-MC. The chief radio operator had just intercepted a “May-Day” call from the helicopter with which Corporal had been operating in the Key West op areas. The boat’s skipper, LCDR E. D. Proctor, then briefs the engineer officer, LTJG George Ellis, concerning the plight of HS-51.

The helicopter pilot had communicated to the Corporal CO that the bird could remain airborne for only a few more minutes and would the Corporal stand by to pick up survivors. Then from the CO SS-346, “Roger… but, how about attempting an on deck landing?” An instant reply, “Hell yes, let’s give it a go”.

Corporal immediately bent on all engines and raced toward the chopper.

At that point, the volunteer on-deck recovery party, headed by the COB, commenced to rig the after deck for a helo landing despite the danger from the whirling blades and hot engine exhaust.

Here again without benefit of instructions or precedence, the long wire antennae was taken down and mooring lines broken out on deck.

And now, the dangerous part…The after deck was cleared of the recovery team except for the Engineering Officer Ellis who straddled the after edge of the sail so as to act as the landing signal officer (LSO) for the helo’s pilot.

Using the combination of hand, foot and head signals, the LSO guided the helicopter over the submarine’s deck, at which time the pilot made a perfect three point mooring with a mere three inches to spare on either side of the chopper’s front landing gear.

The deck party secured the helicopter and Corporal set course for the barn.



H-19 landing on a sister boat to the one on which I served (USS Sealion). The Sealion files describe the exploratory configuration of a similar WWII fleet boat as a submersible landing pad for an H-19. Navy experimented with many concepts after WWII, including Regulus early cruise missiles and carrying Marines in an H-19 capable submarine for insertion across a beach. I don't think the boat in the picture carried the H-19, because there's no topside hanger. Other boats were fitted with topside hangers, but I don't remember what they contained.


George Steeg