Special Operations Aviation



The CH-53 Sea Stallion is the most common name for the Sikorsky S-65 family of heavy transport helicopters. Originally developed for use by the United States Marine Corps, it is also in service with Israel and Germany, and as the MH-53 Pave Low with the United States Air Force.

The dimensionally similar CH-53E Super Stallion is a heavier-lifting, improved version designated S-80E by Sikorsky. With a third engine, it is significantly more powerful than the Sea Stallion, and has replaced the Sea Stallion in the heavy airlift mission.


The CH-53A was ordered in 1962 to satisfy the Marine Corps’ requirement for a heavy-lift helicopter. The first aircraft flew October 12, 1964. It would be replaced by the CH-53D. The US Air Force ordered HH-53B and HH-53C variants for Search and Rescue units, and developed the MH-53J Pave Low version for Special Operations missions. Pave Lows often work in conjunction with MC-130 Combat Talon for navigation, communications and combat support, and with HC-130 for in-flight refueling.

Although officially known as the Sea Stallion, the large green airframe of the HH-53B earned it the nickname “Super Jolly Green Giant”. This name is a reference to the smaller HH-3E “Jolly Green Giant”, a stretched variant of the H-3 Sea King, used in the Vietnam War for search and rescue operations.

CH-53 helicopters arrived to the Israeli Air Force in August 1968 and were given the Hebrew name: Yas’ur (Petrel). Since then, they are the main cargo helicopters of the IAF, carrying both troops and heavy equipment. During the 1980’s, Israel Aircraft Industries, along with military high-tech firm Elbit Systems, upgraded and improved the IAF Yas’ur fleet. The project – which ended only in 1997 – improved the CH-53 avionics, robustness and extended its life span by at least two decades.

Due to its large size and troop capacity, aerial accidents that involve CH-53 helicopters were some of the deadliest helicopter accidents ever. In the “Helicopter Catastrophe”, that happened on of 4 February 1997 in Israel, the death toll was 73 people from two CH-53 helicopters. On 10 May 1977, 54 people were killed in a similar accident, also in Israel. On January 26, 2005, a CH-53 went down in bad weather in western Iraq, killing 31 U.S. service members. This was followed a year later by a crash of two CH-53 Sea Stallions on February 17, 2006, wherein eight Marines and two airmen were killed while supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in the Gulf of Aden near Ras Siyyan, northern Djibouti.

In late February 2006, the Marine Corps announced that the V-22 Osprey, a tilt rotor aircraft, will be sent into combat within a year with VMM-263. The V-22 Osprey will replace the Marine Corps CH-46E and CH-53D. However, it will not replace the Air Force’s MH-53 Pave Low helicopters.

Combat Experience

The CH-53/HH-53 has significant combat experience during its lengthy service, with both the U.S. military during the Vietnam War and as a Special Operations helicopter, and the Israeli Air Force.

Air Force HH-53 Super Jollies became the primary Search and Rescue helicopter in Southeast Asia between 1967 and 1975, inserted the Operation Ivory Coast rescue team into the North Vietnamese prison camp at Son Tay in 1970, and were the transport force for Marines attempting to rescue the crew of the SS Mayaguez. Marine-flown Navy Sea Stallions comprised the rotary wing element of Operation Eagle Claw, the attempted rescue of American hostages in Iran in 1980 that ended in disaster and embarrassment at “Desert One.”

In 1970, during the War of Attrition, IAF Yas’ur CH-53s landed in Egypt and conveyed a captured Soviet advanced radar system back to Israel for examination by Israeli scientists and engineers. The Yas’ur played a major role in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, moving artillery batteries around the fronts, evacuating wounded soldiers and rescuing pilots from behind enemy lines. In one engagement, a Yas’ur was damaged by cannon fire from a MiG-21 but managed to return safely to base. Since 1973 Yas’urs have also been used by the IDF to land and extract Sayeret commandos on deep raids into Lebanon and Syria.

In 1989, Yas’urs were used to fight a huge blaze on Mount Carmel. They dumped 700 tons of water on the fire’s centers, and succeeded in dousing it after carrying out dozens of low flyovers into the smoke and flames.

The CH-53 continues to be serviced by the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan.


  • YCH-53A – two prototypes
  • CH-53A – initial production for USMC, 139 built
  • RH-53A – mine countermeasures versions, 15 built
  • TH-53A – stripped CH-53As used for training
  • HH-53B – CH-53A type for USAF search and rescue
  • CH-53C – heavy-lift version for USAF, 22 built
  • HH-53C – “Super Jolly Green Giant”, improved HH-53B for USAF
  • S-65C-2 (S-65o) – export version for Austria, later to Israel
  • S-65-C3 – export version for Israel
  • CH-53D – CH-53A with improved transmission, 124 built
  • RH-53D – improved anti-mine version
  • VH-53D – two CH-53Ds for USMC VIP transport
  • VH-53F – six unbuilt VIP helicopters for the US Air Force
  • CH-53G – 110 built by VFW under license for the German Army Aviation
  • CH-53GS – version for the German Army Aviation with an additional ECM-system and two additional fuel tanks.
  • YHH-53H – prototype Pave Low I craft
  • HH-53H – Pave Low III night infiltrator
  • MH-53H – redesignation of HH-53H
  • MH-53J – “Pave Low III” Enhanced, HH-53B, HH-53C, et. al. types converted
  • CH-53D Yas’ur 2000 – CH-53D upgraded and improved by the Israel Aircraft Industries to extend life span beyond the year 2000.


General Characteristics

  • Crew: 2 Pilots, 1 or more Crew Chiefs
  • Capacity: 37 troops (55 in alternate configuration) or 24 stretchers
  • Length (overall): 26.97 meters (88 ft 6 in)
  • Width (overall): 8.64 meters (28 ft 4in)
  • Width (fuselage): 4.7 m (15 ft 6 in)
  • Height: 7.6 m (24 ft 11 in)
  • Rotor diameter: 22.01 m (72 ft 2.7 in)
  • weight (Empty): 10,740 kg (23,628 lb)
  • weight (Loaded): 15,227 kg (33,500 lb)
  • Maximum takeoff (Internal Load): 31,666 kg (69,750 lb)
  • Maximum takeoff (External Load): 33,369 kg (73,500 lb)
  • Powerplant: Two General Electric T64-GE-413 turbo shaft engines producing 3925 shaft horsepower each


  • Maximum speed: 240.76 km/h (130 knots)
  • Range: 1000 km ( 540 nautical miles)
  • Service ceiling: 5,106 m (16,750 ft)
  • Rate of climb: 750 m/min (2,460 ft/min)


  • Two Door Mounted XM-218 .50 caliber machineguns, Some have RMWS(Ramp Mounted Weapon System) GAU-21 .50 caliber machinegun


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