USS Corporal SS346

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Sub Gives Helicopter Piggyback Lift Home

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WHIRLY-BIRD RIDES SUB - This Navy Helicopter freeloaded a ride to port yesterday afternoon after it suffered a mechanical failure at sea off Key West. The aircraft, on maneuvers with the submarine, the USS Corporal, landed on the sub's deck when its power failed. Navy sources said this is the first time a helicopter made an emergency landing on a submarine.

Heilicopter on Deck

The meeting of aviation & submarines

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April 27, 1956   The sleek silhouette of the Submarine USS Corporal (SS-346) coming to the rescue was a welcome sight to four Navy airmen aboard a disabled helicopter off Key West yesterday afternoon.

With only a few fleeting moments of air time left, the helicopter , number 51 of squadron VX-1, and piloted by Commander W. F. Culley, hovered over the submarine and landed safely on the fantail with only a few inches to spare.

Commander Culley, his co-pilot Lieutenant J. K. Johnson, and two other crew members, G. A. Dechamp, SO3, and M. R.Dronz, AT2, were participating in exercises some 18 miles from Key West when their plane had a mechanical failure .

The Copter radioed a distress signal to the other planes in the area and the message was relayed to the Corporal who had just surfaced after completing part of her operation.

The call was answered immediately by the submarine and it proceeded at maximum speed to the disabled plane. As the helicopter prepared to land it began communications with the submarine's radio room.

Nearing the submarine's fantail the 'copter received the message "Do You Think You Will Make It?" The reply was prompt and meaningful: -- "We're on your deck and damn happy to be here!!"

The crew was welcomed aboard by the Corporal's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander E. O. Proctor, USN, and after the plane was secured to the submarine, the vessel proceeded immediately to the Naval Annex and arrived there about 6:30 PM.

Cars and spectators crowded the pier and within a short time after docking the helicopter was again back in its own element, leaving the seas for ships and submarines like the fast - cruising Corporal.

On May 5th, 1956 The USS Corporal was steaming near Key West when it received an emergency message from a US Navy Helicopter stating that it was having engine problems and was going down.
The Corporal immediately contacted the helo and offered it's deck as a helipad. The craft landed successfully and the USS Corporal brought the helo and the crew back to Key West high and dry.  It was the first successful landing of a helicopter on the deck of a submarine.

Several years later the Corporal picked up a downed Navy flight crew and dropped them off at Bermuda.  Seems the aviators didn't take to the submarine lifestyle.

Helicopter Incident newspaper articl

Helicopter Incident Story from American Submariner 2009 #2

Incident Accounts from SS346 crewmembers:

Lt. Fred Edwards: - Not only aboard, but George Ellis and I were the ones on deck that attached the "come-along"s to the under carriage and cranked the chopper down on deck. We had already dropped the center-line antenna but were concerned that if that bird drifted forward the rotor might hit the sail and spoil our whole day.

You may already have this picture (see above). There are several others but I don't know where they are. There is one taken when we came into Key West with the helo on deck. We had used mooring lines to secure it and it looked more like a cocoon. That bird was so large that the deck curved away at the center of each tire.

 As I recall, they lifted it off at the city dock. Most of our Key West ops were daily but on this occasion we were scheduled for several days - a week perhaps - and when we took the helo aboard we were happily going in early. No such luck. They snatched it off and we were sent straight back out to finish our week.

I have forgotten the nature of the ops we were doing with the bird but I do remember that the exercise went on much longer than expected and finally we came to periscope depth to see what the delay was , stuck up an antenna and heard a highly stressed voice "saying surface and turn into the wind. We have lost lube to our rotor and will ditch along side you".

Our skipper, LCDR Tex Proctor, told them to hold on and we would drop the centerline antenna and they could try to set it on deck. And so they did. The crew of the chopper was hanging out and spraying CO2 into the engine to cool things off before they were really down. The crew said they were still flying twenty minutes after they should have been in the water.

We were told later that the pilot of the chopper was about the only one in the their squadron who had the skills to do such a thing. They said he had experience in autogyros. They later sent us a couple of gallons of ice cream."


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