Text & Pictures: Chris Tonthat (an i2i Production) ©sbap 2021
  
The H-46 Sea Knight family is a medium-lift tandem-rotor transport helicopter powered by twin turboshaft engines. It was originally developed by Vertol Aircraft Corporation and ultimately manufactured by the Boeing Vertol Company following the acquisition by Boeing Airplane Company in 1960.

In 1956, Vertol Aircraft Corporation started the development of a new rotorcraft designated as the Vertol Model 107 (V-107) to replace to the first generation "Flying Banana" H-21 and H-25 helicopters, which were powered by conventional piston engines. The V-107 was designed to take advantage of the emerging turboshaft engine technology of the time. The maiden flight of the V-107 prototype took place on 22 April 1958. Shortly afterward, the US Army showed interest in the new rotorcraft and funded additional development. However, the development under contract with the US Army took a parallel path and eventually led to the introduction of the larger CH-47 Chinook in 1962. Meanwhile, the now Boeing Vertol Company continued to self-fund the development of the V-107 for other potential customers.

In 1961, the US Marine Corps (USMC) selected the V-107M variant and awarded a contract for further development of the type that became the H-46 Sea Knight. In 1964, the Sea Knight entered service with both the USMC and the US Navy. Affectionately known as the "Phrog", three major variants CH-46, HH-46, and UH-46 served with the USMC and the US Navy in military operations from Vietnam through Iraq. In the twilight years between 2007 and 2011, four original CH-46F Sea Knights, later upgraded to CH-46E, were converted to search and rescue configuration HH-46E for Marine Transport Squadron One (VMR-1) based at Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point. The CH-46F Sea Knight officially ended its military career in 2014 followed by the retirement of the last few HH-46Es in 2015.

The H-46 family enjoyed a long career serving the US military as well as some foreign militaries and governments. Some of the retired CH-46F models were refurbished and used to transport US government officials. A few other Phrogs found a new life in the civilian world to perform specific missions such as firefighting and heavy lifting. Naturally a handful of Phrogs were donated to museums for static display but a majority ended up in the boneyard after retirement awaiting the final chapter.

   
HH-46E trio in flight, note the presence of Pedro 01
(Reserved Rights via web)
Teamwork with the US Coast Guard
(Reserved Rights via web)
Operational SAR mission after a crash landing
(Reserved Rights via web)
Pedro 00 and Pedro 03 at MCAS Cherry Point
(Reserved Rights via web)
  
These days, twice a month, a small group of volunteers gather at KEFD airport on selected Saturdays for one common cause: Pedro 01.

Pedro 01 is the call sign for one of the last four HH-46E helicopters operated by the USMC at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina. After the retirement of the type in September 2015 from VMR-1, this Sea Knight made its way to the civilian world in February 2016 via the National United States Armed Forces Museum (NUSAFM) located in Houston, Texas, USA. The Boeing Vertol rotorcraft, MSN 2577 and BuNo 157678, was originally built as a CH-46F troop transport helicopter in 1969 but was later converted to an HH-46E SAR helicopter in 2008. Pedro 01 is currently registered with the FAA as N7678F.

In the civilian world, Pedro 01 is not just a museum piece for the NUSAFM. It is currently the only airworthy and active HH-46E in the world equipped with all of the original SAR gear ready to continue its core heritage. Being the sole survivor of the type, there are many challenges to keep this one-of-a-kind rotorcraft in the air and functional in all aspects. This is where the group of volunteers can make the difference. Made up of mostly veterans from the United States Armed Forces, but open to anyone with the passion for aviation, the men and women come together as a family to care for Pedro 01 and, at times, each other. From sweeping the hangar floor to cleaning the windshields to checking the oil, everyone has a part to play to ensure Pedro 01 is airworthy. The time spent to keep the Phrog flying allows veteran members to bond and share their service experiences, and find ways to help each other make the transition back into civilian life. The camaraderie can also help those experiencing difficulties, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, to overcome their challenges and heal their souls.  In a way, Pedro 01 offers priceless therapy for many involved to find a path going forward and serve the community which is now a part of them, and vice versa.

On the scheduled Saturdays, the volunteers would gather early in the morning to prepare Pedro 01 for the scheduled flight of the day. The Sea Knight is towed out of the hangar for a concerted effort to prepare the Phrog to fly. While the maintenance crew unpacks the rotor blades and check/double check every inch of the Sea Knight to ensure everything is functional, the flight crew would get a briefing for the scheduled flight. By noon, Pedro 01 is pretty much ready to take a hop but not before everyone is summoned for a break to enjoy a hardy lunch. After the delicious meal, both the maintenance and flight crews would perform the final inspections of the Phrog to ensure the highest level of safety for the flight of the day. After several hours in the air performing various training tasks, Pedro 01 returns to base to be packed up and stored in the hangar again until the next training flight. After completing the post-flight maintenance and debriefing, everyone gets to relax a little and have some fun before going home for the day.

Working with local authorities, Pedro 01 has been involved with SAR missions after natural disasters around the Texas Gulf Coast region of the United States. The NUSAFM is aiming to obtain more Phrogs in the future to join Pedro 01 to fulfill a greater SAR capability for the area. Because their mission is still not fully understood by most people, their dedication is yet to be realized and appreciated by the surrounding communities. But in time, the efforts of these volunteers will make a bigger difference than anyone would ever know.

If you are ever in the Houston area, stop by the NUSAFM for a visit and perhaps arrange to see Pedro 01. You will be amazed to see this beautiful example of the Sea Knight in its original SAR configuration still proudly and silently serving.

 
Pedro 01 being towed out from the hangar
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
The Boss and Vladimir assessing the Phrog before starting the preflight routines
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Pedro 01 in front of the hangar at KEFD
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
First order of business is to deploy the rotor blades
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
The roundel dotted by riveting details
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
The 'N' prefix was added to identify Pedro 01 as a civilian rotorcraft
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Walkway and built-in steps to climb on top of the fuselage
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Emergency exit
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Bubble window for a better view all around
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Main cabin with seats and stretchers
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Every seat is first class when your life depends on the Phrog
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
The plumbing that keeps the Phog operating
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Elelctrical wire bundles fill the main cabin
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
The cockpit with a great frontal view
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
The SX-16 search light - 40 million candlepower peak beam intensity
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
The airfoil of the rotor blade
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Clearly identifying HH-46E, BuNo 157678, Marines, and Rescue
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
The hoist installation details
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Pedro 01 identified to operate under the 'Experimental' category
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Front rotor being deployed by Rob with Johnny observing and being a spotter from the ground
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Rob making his way to the top of rear pylon
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Connecting all electrical cables for the rotor
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Rob deploying the rear rotor blades with Johnny looking on
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)

Rob positioning each rotor blade in place
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Johnny assisting and learning from the crew chief
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Rear pylon details
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Front pylon details
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Jack discussing objectives for the training day with the Boss
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
The Boss, Ed, engaging with Jack
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
John awaiting the flight crew briefing
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Rob and Johnny working on the front rotor
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Francisco checking the flight controls from the left seat
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Francisco, Johnny, and Sam assisitng and learning from Rob
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Johnny and Francisco getting their hands dirty
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)

Anything else to open up?
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Ed checking up on status and reminding the crew that lunch is ready!
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
A Fully disected Phrog
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)

Head-on look of the Phrog with its mouth wide open
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Time for a little reflection
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Jack doing his preflight check of the front rotor
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Rob continuing the preflight maintenance
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Inspecting around the rear pylon for anomalies
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Making sure all the electrical cables are connected
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Ensuring everything is in good order
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Tom performing the preflight checks
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Everything is checked and double-checked to ensure the highest level of safety
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
The flight crew checking up high and down low
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Buttoning up the Phrog after everything is checked and verified
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Ed, Sam, Rob, and Jack ready for the mid-afternoon flight
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Some last minute discussion and instructions
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Finally Pedro 01 is ready after almost five hours of the preflight routines!
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Except Rob noticed something and went up to verify the front rotor
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Everything checked out and Pedro 01 is ready to launch!
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Good to go... Rob giving the signal to crank it up!
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
All aboard!
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
All clear for takeoff
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)

Nose wheels off the ground
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Taking off under the watchful eyes of the crew chief
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
And Pedro 01 is off for a two-hour training exercise this Saturday afternoon around the Houston metropolitan area
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Peeking through the cockpit
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Thomas and Rob maintaining situation awareness at all times
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Almost like driving the pickup truck with the tailgate down...
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Rob getting a Phrog-eye view from his starboard position
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Phrog shadow upon landing
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
It was a great honor to spend time with the team and Pedro 01 for this story
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
Pedro 01 being towed in style by a Humvee back in the hangar for post-flight routine maintenance before ending the day
(Chris Tonthat© * an i2i Production)
 
"Pedro 01" real Ops!
 
Pedro 01 conducting SAR missions after Hurricane Harvey in August 2017
(© NUSAFM)
Operating from the flooded KIWS airport
(© NUSAFM)
The flood left the runway looking like a carrier deck
(© NUSAFM)
The team doing what they do best in difficult situations
(© NUSAFM)
 
Do you want more information? Just click on "Pedro 01"
 

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