A long range, heavy lift helicopter, the Sikorsky MH-53 Helicopter was developed for search and rescue operations for the US Air Force and used extensively during the Vietnam War.  The MH-53 is an upgraded variant of the CH-53 Sea Stallion.  Production on the MH-53 began in 1967 and continued into 1970.  After its introduction, the helicopters were transitioned for use in Special Operations missions.


Design and Development of the MH-53

The US Air Force originally ordered three variants of the MH-53 – the HH-53B and HH-53C for its search and rescue units and the MH-53J Pave Low variant for Special Operation missions.  Pave Low missions were low-level, long-range missions into denied access areas.  The aircraft was required to fly in undetected during daylight or night time hours and under all types of weather conditions.  Special Operation Forces also used the aircraft to infiltrate, exfiltrate and resupply their men.


Several other variants of the MH-53 emerged throughout its production run and were used extensively throughout military service.  The MH-53J pave Low III variant is one of the most technologically advanced helicopters, as well as the largest and most powerful aircraft in the US Air Force’s inventory.


History of Operations

Variants of the MH-53 have been used extensively since its inception.  The MH-53B was used by the USAF Aerospace Rescue and Recover Service for covert combat operations and also to ‘snag’ the reentry capsules of photo-reconnaissance satellites.


In November of 1970, the ‘Super Jolly Green Giant’ made headlines with the unsuccessful attempt to rescue POWs from the Son Tay prison camp in North Vietnam.  Later variants continued to operate in the US Air Force into the late 1980s with front-line service aircrafts being painted in a variety of camouflage colors and the rescue service aircraft, which remained stateside, being painted gray with a yellow tail band.



  • Crew:  6
  • Capacity:  37 troops
  • Maximum Take-off Weight:  46,000 lbs.
  • Maximum Speed:  196 miles per hour
  • Cruising Speed:  173 miles per hour
  • Range:  600 nautical miles – in-flight refueling capabilities can extend its range



  • 3 x 7.62mm M134 Miniguns and/or
  • .50 BMG M2 Browning machine guns


The Sikorsky MH-53 Pave Low Helicopters flew their last combat mission in  September of 2008 in Iraq.