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Development and design

The HH-53B and the HH-53C variants were ordered by the US Air Force for Search and Rescue units while the MH53J Pave Low was orderd for Special Operations missions

The key aspects in the Pave Low's mission is the ability to fly low for long distances, to penetrate denied areas during day or night, in adverse weather in order to allow infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces. Generally the MH-53 Pave Low operates in conjunction with MC-130H Combat Talon for navigation, communication and combat support, and with MC-130P Combat Shadow for in-flight refueling.


Known under the nickname "Super Jolly Green Giant" the HH-53B was intended for Search and Rescue operations. The nickname was a reference to the HH-3E "Jolly Green Giant", a stretched version of the H-3 Sea King, widely used in the Vietnam War for CSAR operations. The United States Air Force regarded favorably these Sikorsky S-61R/HH-3E "Jolly Green Giants" for their long range combat search and rescue CSAR capabilities and was interested in acquiring the more capable S-65/CH-53A. So in 1966 the USAF awarded the contract to Sikorsky to develop and build a CSAR version of the CH-53A. This helicopter was designated HH-53B.

Among the key features of the HH-53B are:
  • Spindle-shaped jettisonable external fuel tanks having a capacity of 650 US gallons (2461 L). These were fitted to the sponsons and braced by struts attached to the fuselage of the helicopter.
  • A rescue hoist above the right side passenger door, capable of deploying a Forest penetrator on a 250 feet (76m) steel cable
  • Retractable in-flight refueling probe located on the right side of the nose
  • 1200 pounds (540 kg) of armor
  • Doppler navigation radar in the forward belly
  • Three pintle-mounted General Electric GAU-2/A 7.62 mm six-barreled Gatling-type machine guns. One was mounted in a forward hatch on each side of the fuselage and another one on the tail ramp, with the gunner secured with a harness.

Initially the HH-53Bs was equipped with T64-GE-3 turboshafts with 3,080 shaft horsepower (2,297 kW) each, later these engines were upgraded to T64-GE-7 turboshafts with 3,925 shaft horsepower (2,927 kW).

The helicopters operated with a crew of five, including a pilot, copilot, a crew chief and two pararescuemen.





Operational Service


  • TH-53A - a training version used by US Air Force (USAF)
  • HH-53B - CH-53A type for USAF search and rescue (SAR)
  • 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
  • YHH-53H - prototype Pave Low I aircraft
  • HH-53H - Pave Low II night infiltrator
  • MH-53H - redesignation of HH-53H
  • MH-53J - "Pave Low III" - a special operations conversion of HH-53B, HH-53C, and HH-53H.
  • MH-53M - "Pave Low IV" further upgraded MH-53Js

For other H-53 variants, see CH-53 Sea Stallion and CH-53E Super Stallion.



MH-53 of the  20th Special Operations Squadron flying over Hurlburt Field, Fla,
MH-53 of the 20th Special Operations Squadron flying over Hurlburt Field, Fla,

Similar helicopters

CH-53 Sea Stallion
CH-53E Super Stallion
HH-3E Jolly Green Giant
Boeing MH-47 Chinook

Further reading

More info on helicopters: Helicopters
More info on Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation
List of active military aircraft of the United States

List Slides