Sikorsky HH-3A in Combat SAR Role
As the war in Southeast Asia heated up, increased onshore bombing missions were carried out by U.S. Naval air forces. A need arose for an armed and armored Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopter to handle rescue missions under hostile fire. As a result, twelve Sikorsky SH-3As were converted at NAS Quonset Point, Rhode Island to the Combat SAR role – HH-3A. The modifications included the removal of all ASW gear and the addition of armored titanium panels in the engine transmission areas, floor and armored seats for the flight crew. The avionics and hydraulic areas were also armored. Because of all the additional weight the engines were changed to more powerful General Electric T58-GE-8F engines and the aircraft was given provisions for the installation of 175 gallon fuel tanks mounted to the sponson supports.
HH-3A Self Protection and Armament
For self-protection in hostile areas, the Sikorsky HH-3A was fitted with a pair of 7.62mm mini-guns, one on each side of the rear fuselage. The guns were controlled by gunners who were provided with bubble windows, similar to the windows fitted to the RH-3A. The gun barrettes were placed on the aft torpedo shackles and this was found to cause an aft Center of Gravity (CG) problem and they were eventually replaced by GAU-2B/A 7.62mm mini-guns on mounts behind armored doors in the port forward and starboard cargo door areas. The hand held guns were provided with 6,000 rounds each in 1.500 round canisters. The GAU-2B/A had a firing rate of 2.000 or 4.000 rounds per minute.
HH-3A Service and Production
The HH-3As originally entered service with Helicopter Combat Support Squadron Seven (HC-7) Big Muthas. The HH-3A were operated well into the 1980s, when it was replaced by the HH-60.
A total of 245 H-3A versions were produced by Sikorsky at the Stratford, Connecticut plant. Over 150 SH-3A models were updated to the SH-3G and SH-3H standards and two SH-3As were updated to SH-3D standards. The H-3A will continue to fly well into the “future” as the VH-3A, since it is the only helicopter in the Navy inventory of sufficient size, operating range and cost per mile efficiency to operate in the executive flight role.