Aerospace Rescue and Recovery






All search and rescue operations in Southeast Asia were under the control of the 3rd Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group (ARRGp) headquartered at Tan Son Nhut AB.  This organization had prime responsibility of providing a rescue and recovery capability for aircrews throughout SEA, an area covering 1.1 million square miles, 700,000 sq miles of which are jungle territory.  A secondary mission was to provide a Local Base Rescue (LBR) capability at bases which used tactical fighter aircraft in both Thailand and Vietnam.  The 3rd ARRGp exercised control over several rescue units operating in Southeast Asia, including the Joint Search and Rescue Center (JSARC) located at Tan Son Nhut AB.  The JSARC is the central coordinating agency for all search and rescue efforts within the 7AF area of operations.

Those units which the 3rd ARRGp controlled included:-

37th ARRS - Located at DaNang AB with 14 HH-3E Jolly Green helicopters.

38th ARRS - Located at Tan Son Nhut AB with 32 HH-438/F helicopters for LBR at 14 detachments throughout SEA.

39th ARRS- Located at Tuy Hoa AB with 11 HC-130P Crown aircraft for airborne mission control and refueling capability for helicopters  (10 acft located at Tuy Hoa AB, 1 at Udorn RTAFB).

40th ARRS - Located at Udorn RTAFB with 6 HH-53 Jolly Green Giant Helicopters.

40th ARRS - Det 1 Located at Nakhon Phanom RTAFB with 8 HH-3C Jolly Green helicopters.

The 3rd ARRGp was activated at Tan Son Nhut on 8 January 1966, but only after two years of frustrated and determined effort to establish an air rescue capability in Southeast Asia.- As stated previously, there was no USAF rescue capability in Vietnam as of 1 July 1964. Initially, the 2nd Air Division had requested four rescue units to provide extensive coverage of the SEA theater. In May 1964, CINCPAC approved the establishment of a USAF rescue capability.- On 20 October 1964, with the activation of a TOY detachment, consisting of 3 H-43B helicopters at DaNang, and three at Bien Hoa, the USAF had its first professional rescue unit in SEA.

The original TOY unit had been active at DaNang since August 1964.  Once the unit at Bien Hoa AB became completely operational on 5 November 1964, the original 3 HH-43Bs were shifted to Nakhon Phanom RTAFB to supplement the already established rescue unit. The first USAF Air-Sea rescue capability to be assigned to Thailand was established at Nakhon Phanom on 19 June 1964. Originally consisting of 2 HH-43B helicopters and 36 personnel, this unit acted as a built-up force against early Communist insurgency operations and as a forerunner for an air rescue service based in Thailand.

The familiar name, Jolly Green Giant, was given to the two versions of the air rescue helicopters used by the units of the 3rd ARRGp. The use of the HH-3E Jolly Green helicopters was successful, but because of altitude and weight limitations, the need for a more versatile and capable helicopter was evident. The following figures compare the HH-3E and the HH-53B aircraft to perform the air-sea rescue work in SEA.




500 nm



11-120 kts


130-150 kts

140 kts


170 kts

5 (2 pilots, 2 PJs,1 FE)


5 (2 pilots, 2 PJs, 1 FE)

750 rds


3,000 rds





The HH-53 proved itself mission after mission over Laos and North Vietnam. Pilots themselves have indicated its effectiveness because it can hover and refuel at higher altitudes than the HH-3, up to 10,000 feet, as opposed to 5,000 feet.- The first group of HH-53s arrived in Southeast Asia in September 1967, and from then through June 1968, the Jolly Greens from Udorn RTAFB made 82 pickups, 66 north of the 17th parallel.

Above information from: "The USAF Helicopter in SEA 4 Dec 1968  - Approved for public release, distribution unlimited www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a586313.pdf


Lineage.  Redesignated 3 Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group, and activated, on 14 Dec 1965. Organized on 8 Jan 1966. Inactivated on 31 Jan 1976.

Assignments.  Pacific Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Center (later, 41 Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing; 41 Rescue and Weather Reconnaissance Wing), 8 Jan 1966-31 Jan 1976.


Squadrons. 37 Air Rescue (later, 37 Aerospace Rescue and Recovery): 8 Jan 1966-20 Aug 1972. 38 Air Rescue (later, 38 Aerospace Rescue and Recovery): 8 Jan 1966-1 Jul 1972. 39 Air Rescue (later, 39 Aerospace Rescue and Recovery): 18 Jan 1967-30 Apr 1972. 40 Aerospace Rescue and Recovery: 18 Mar 1968-20 Aug 1972. 56 Aerospace Rescue and Recovery: 8 Jul-20 Aug 1972.

Detachments. 1966-1972: Det 1 (Da Nang AB, South Vietnam): 8 Jan-15 Dec 1966; Det 1 (Phan Rang AB, South Vietnam): 1 Jul 1971-31 Jan 1972. Det 2 (Udorn RTAFB, Thailand): 8 Jan-15 Dec 1966. Det 3 (Ubon RTAFB, Thailand): 1 Jul 1971-30 Aug 1972. Det 4 (Korat RTAFB, Thailand): 1 Jul 1971-8 Jul 1972. Det 5 (Udorn RTAFB, Thailand): 1 Jul-20 Aug 1972. Det 6 (Bien Hoa AB, South Vietnam): 1 Jul-15 Dec 1971. Det 7 (DaNang AB, South Vietnam): 1 Jul-10 Aug 1971. Det 9 (Nakhon Phanom AB, Thailand): 1 Jul-10 Sep 1971. Det 12 (U-Tapao RTAFB, Thailand): 1 Jul 1971-20 Aug 1972. Det 13 (Phu Cat AB, South Vietnam): 1 Jul-10 Nov 1971. Det 14 (Tan Son Nhut AB, South Vietnam): 1 Jul 1971-20 Aug 1972. 

Stations.  Tan Son Nhut AB, South Vietnam, 8 Jan 1966; Nakhan Phanom RTAFB, Thailand, 15 Feb 1973; U-Tapao RTAFB, Thailand, 15 Sep 1975-31 Jan 1976

Commanders.   Col Arthur W. Beall, 8 Jan 1966; Col Albert P. Lovelady, 1 Nov 1966; Col Paul E. Leske, 6 Oct 1967; Col Hollon H. Bridges, 20 Sep 1968; Col Rayvon Burleson (acting), 17 Jun 1969; Col Malcolm C. Frazee, 17 Aug 1969; Col Frederick V. Sohle Jr., 17 Jul 1970; Col George C. Pinyerd, 18 Oct 1970; Col Herbert Leong, c. Jul 1971; Col Warner A. Britton, by Nov 1971; Col Cecil N. Muirhead Jr., 13 Jan 1972; Col Herbert R. Zehnder, by Jan 1973; Col Richard F. Burdett, 17 Dec 1973; Lt Col Melvin D. Mueller (acting), 11 Dec 1974; Lt Col Charles E. Trapp, 2 Jan 1975; Lt Col Cleveland E. Forrester, 3 Dec 1975-31 Jan 1976.

Aircraft/Missiles.   HH-43, 1966-1975; HH-3, 1966-1970; HH-53, 1967-1975; HU-16, 1966-1967; HC-130, 1966-1975; UH-1, 1975.

Operations.   Performed combat search, rescue, and recovery missions in Southeast Asia, 1966-1975. Credited with 3,681 saves, including 2,632 combat saves. Operated a Joint Service Rescue Center at Tan Son Nhut AB, Vietnam, for Commander, Seventh Air Force, 1966-1973.

Service Streamers.   None.

Campaign Streamers.   Vietnam: Vietnam Defensive; Vietnam Air; Vietnam Air Offensive; Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase II; Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase III; Vietnam Air/Ground; Vietnam Air Offensive, Phase IV; TET 69/Counteroffensive; Vietnam Summer/Fall 1969; Vietnam, Winter/Spring; Sanctuary Counteroffensive; Southwest Monsoon; Commando Hunt V; Commando Hunt VI; Commando Hunt VII; Vietnam Ceasefire.

Armed Forces Expeditionary Streamers.  None.

Decorations.  Presidential Unit Citations (SEA): 1 Aug 1965-30 Jun 1966; 1 Jul 1967-31 Jan 1969; 1 Feb 1969-30 Apr 1970; 1 May 1970-31 Mar 1972; 1 Apr 1972-27 Jan 1973. Air Force Outstanding Unit Award With Combat "V" Device: 1 Jul-31 Dec 1966. Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Crosses with Palm: 8 Jan 1966-28 Jul 1969; 1 Apr 1966-28 Jan 1973.


The majority of the Information on this page is from the USAF Historical Research Agency: http://www.maxwell.af.mil/au/afhra/

History from the units time in SEA is given.



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