Home » Aviation » Marines Bid ‘Phrog’ Farewell to Last Active CH-46E Sea Knight Squadron


Marines Bid ‘Phrog’ Farewell to Last Active CH-46E Sea Knight Squadron

A Ch-46E Sea Knight with Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron 164 with a MV-22 Osprey. US Naval Institute Photo

A Ch-46E Sea Knight with Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron 164 with a MV-22 Osprey. US Naval Institute Photo

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — It’s perhaps a most fitting tribute: The first active-duty Marine Corps operational squadron to get the CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter became the last one to fly it and officially transition to its replacement, the MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor.

That shift happened Thursday during a dual-hatted ceremony at Camp Pendleton, where Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron 164 held a change-of-command and redesignation as a tiltrotor, or VMM, squadron. It marked the end of an era, coming 50 years after the first Sea Knight model, the CH-46A, replaced the UH-34 flying combat missions in Vietnam in 1966.

“It’s bittersweet,” said retired Col. Daniel C. Hahne, who commanded the training squadron from 2002 to 2004. Hanhe was one of 10 former squadron commanders who joined Lt. Col. Gabriel Valdez for the pass-in-review before Valdez handed the squadron’s reins to Lt. Col. Eric Aschenbrenner. Aschenbrenner, a former F/A-18 Hornet jet pilot who transitioned to the MV-22 in 2009, will oversee the squadron of Ospreys as a deploying operational unit.

“How do you capture 50 years of clear awesomeness in 10 minutes? I can’t,” Valdez told the crowd, which included Vietnam veterans, active-duty Marines and veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He noted the shiny olive green-painted Phrog — aircrews long have affectionately called them Phrogs, or Battle Phrogs — parked in the hangar. “That’s going to be the last Marine Corps CH-46, ever,” he said.

That helicopter, designated by Bureau Number 153369, is one of the squadron’s last two CH-46E Sea Knights that will take their final flights from the flightline in a few days. It will see a new chapter when it becomes a static display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va. The Phrog saw combat for the first time in the jungles of Vietnam in 1965 and again a decade later, when it picked up the last Marines off the U.S. embassy rooftop in Saigon on April 30, 1975.

The other helicopter, BUNO 155306, retains the light gray paint of the Marine Corps’ operational fleet and will join dozens of other Phrogs in long-term preservation, parked at the military’s “Boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Base in Arizona. The final piece of the Marine Corps’ transition to the MV-22 Osprey as the backbone of its medium-lift transport fleet will come later this year with the redesignation of the last reserve squadron, HMM-774, to VMM.

But even as the Marine Corps long ago turned its attention to the MV-22, the venerable CH-46 is retiring with plenty of meat on its bones. That’s true of the 15 helicopters that HMMT-164 has had on the books through 16 months preparing for the transition to an Osprey squadron and since the squadron graduated the final class of Phrog crew chiefs.

The Phrogs sent to the desert “are in the best shape of their lives,” Valdez told the audience, which included Maj. Gen. Michael A. Rocco, who commands the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, the Marine Corps’ West Coast-based wing at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego. “They are combat ready. If and when they are needed again…, these aircraft would be up in the air in no time.”

 A patch worn by Capt. Brett Bishop commemorates the last CH-46E squadron mission with Japan-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. US Naval Institute Photo

A patch worn by Capt. Brett Bishop commemorates the last CH-46E squadron mission with Japan-based 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. US Naval Institute Photo

Valdez gave kudos to the squadron Marines, nicknamed the “Knightriders,” who he said remained dedicated and adhered to the combat mindset even as “we dropped the H and added a V.”

Aschenbrenner, the incoming CO, reminded the Marines that while taking on the Osprey, they “are all still Knightriders. We are going to write another chapter… like when the 46 replaced the 34.”

“It’s going to be a very challenging and historic and a good time,” he added.
The squadron was in the history books as the first to fly the then-CH-46A into combat in Vietnam. In 1999, it took on the role of the Corps’ CH-46E training squadron, or fleet replacement squadron, at Camp Pendleton. The stories of the Battle Phrog and its missions over the years are as varied and poignant as the memories and recollections of its aircrews and maintainers all now destined for the history books.

Retired Col. J.G. Smith praised the mission accomplishments and combat worthiness of the venerable Phrog, long known as a workhorse of the Corps. “This aircraft has been doing its job like designed for the last 50, 55 years,” said Smith, who commanded HMMT-164 from 2004 to 2006 and amassed 3,500 flying hours. “It has worked as hard as it could.” Hahne likened the Phrog to “the F-150 of the Marine Corps,” fulfilling a wide range of vital support missions in combat and in peacetime.

There was a hint of sadness and a somber tone to the afternoon event. The Phrog was “the linchpin” of the Corps, said retired CWO-4 J.J. Robles, a former avionics officer with the squadron. “It’s hard to get it into words.”

“I’m going to miss it,” Capt. Brett Bishop said as a crowd of several hundred people waited in the hangar for the ceremony to begin. The Phrog “is very reliable, easy to fix, and it’s combat ready for any situation.” Bishop is assigned as the logistics and communications officer with the “Purple Foxes” of VMM-364, which in late October sent its last CH-46E to the Boneyard as it transitions to the Osprey.

U.S. Marine Corps CH-46E Sea Knight transport helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 364 and Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron (HMMT) 164 in 2013. US Marine Corps Photo

U.S. Marine Corps CH-46E Sea Knight transport helicopters with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 364 and Marine Medium Helicopter Training Squadron (HMMT) 164 in 2013. US Marine Corps Photo

The Phrog was Bishop’s first choice in flight school. “The mission impressed me. And it’s always cool to have guns,” he said, with a chuckle. “The big thing that sold me on it… is what we can do with it, and what we can do as a family.”

He noted the close relationships among flight crews and within the squadrons, and the close ties with others outside the wing, including infantry units they have supported and anyone who has relied on the helicopter for combat support, resupply or a lift under fire. “I picked it based on the people, and I loved it,” he said.

Bishop has tallied 1,400 hours flying the Phrog during his eight years in the Marine Corps. His most recent flight? Flying BUNO 153369 to the naval aviation depot, the Fleet Readiness Center-East, at Cherry Point MCAS, N.C., where it got the green paint job and preparations for its museum assignment. But Bishop will leave the service later this year. Unlike the Marine Corps, flying the Osprey is not in his future.

  • ChiChiChiba

    “I’m going to miss it,” Capt. Brett Bishop said as a crowd of several hundred people waited in the hangar for the ceremony to begin. The Phrog “is very reliable, easy to fix, and it’s combat ready for any situation.”

    Why retire them?

    • Secundius

      @ ChiChiChiba

      I suspect most will find their way into Wildland Firefighter/Firefighting Service, as Vertical Forest Firefighting Water Bombers, with the Petroleum Industry as Off-Shore Oil Platform Taxi’s, or even the Forestry Wood Cutting Companies…

      • Steve Skubinna

        In Hadlock, WA is the Valley Tavern, favorite watering hole for many MSC ammo ship crews. Hanging from the ceiling is a single H-46 blade.

        The owner, a former US Navy aviator, flew H-46s in Vietnam. On his return to civilian life he made a career flying them for logging companies in the Northwest. He told me that those logging helos were so thoroughly stripped (armor, troop seats, APU, even the floor panels in the rear compartment) that they were the hottest birds he ever flew.

        Nowadays most of the logging helos I see up there are Kaman K-Max.

        • Secundius

          @ Steve Skubinna.

          Very few Chopper Pilots have that kind of skill. Carrying Logs suspended from a cable a hundred-feet or more from a helicopter. And not have them Pendulum like a Metronome, shifting the Center-of-Gravity as you fly…

  • ChiChiChiba

    The military industrial complex. The reason I never re-upped I guess.

  • The USMC should offer them up to the Philippines or Iraq

    • Secundius

      @ Nicky.

      The Philippines and Taiwan or even the Ukraine, I can see. But, IRAQ? Iraq, seen to have a Flight (abandon your equipment) over Fight mentality…

      • The Philippines, yes but I can’t even see Iraq

  • old guy

    From a great, upgradable, adaptable helo to a piece of high maintennance, low availability JUNK. The aircraft company’s welfare program is alive and well. What a shame.

  • Ruckweiler

    Have jumps from a -46. Great bird which will be missed.

  • Pat Patterson

    Flew in them many times in Iraq. Those winter flights were darn cold with the gunners’ positions open.

  • Frank Langham

    My ULTIMATE fantasy Recreational Vehicle !!
    I *SO* wish I could afford to live on one of these and
    to have a small stable of motorcycles to ride down the ramp.
    I would set it down in places like Southern Utah or Baja and choose from among my various enduro or motor-x bikes and, of course, take my buddies and their bikes along with. … The Ultimate Tail-Gate party … Dude … I can DREAM, can’t I ?

  • Frank Langham

    Do you see the uniformed operator, on the ground, in this photo ??
    click on the photo and then click again to enlarge … It is a uniformed soldier with a rather large video camera.

  • Terry Doherty K/3/3

    WAs an 0311 in VN in 66 when the first 46s showed up there. The difference between getting in and out of a hot LZ in a 34 versus a 46 was like day and night. The 34s thrashed into then sky sometimes having to shed a grunt or two to get up, but the 46 was like getting on an elevator in a skyscraper.

  • Phantomfly

    Not so great during 66-67 RVN. Lost too many friends when the aft pylon separated and departed on its own way.

    • Roca

      I’m very sorry for your loss. However, all new aircraft have problems that engineers can’t foresee. The Phrog’s were solved through trial end error but what she evolved into was a beautifully balanced, great flying and reliable aircraft.

  • Pingback: US Military Power: Marines - Right Side News()