MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CHERRY POINT, N.C. -- The H-46 model “Phrog” helicopter has served the Marine Corps for nearly 50 years, but its era is drawing to a close. During a ceremony here Nov. 9, Fleet Readiness Center East sent off the last HH-46 helicopter it will service to Marine Transport Squadron 1.
The helicopter is being replaced by the MV-22B Osprey, the Marine Corps’ tiltrotor aircraft, which can lift off and land like a helicopter or fly like a plane. VMR-1 is the last Marine squadron on the East Coast that flies the HH-46. The training school for H-46 pilots on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., has trained its last pilot and closed its doors.
“For 46 years, this command has supported the war-fighter with the maintenance, repair, overhaul, (modifications) and upgrades of the H-46 helicopter,” said Col. Mitchell A Bauman, the commanding officer of FRC East. “The H-46 assault support aircraft was always there. If you need beans, if you need band-aids, if you need ammo, if you need reinforcements, or you need the wounded to be evacuated, the H-46 was the first responder in most instances.”
During its service, the helicopter served as the primary medium transport helicopter. It went with Marines nearly everywhere they operated. Before being replaced by the Osprey, reinforced Phrog squadrons provided Marine Expeditionary Units with all of their aviation support needs.
“I had the privilege to fly this aircraft for 28 years,” said retired Col. Eugene Conti, a former CH-46 pilot. “We were in Bosnia, we were in Liberia, we were in Somalia, we did some events in the southern Caribbean. It’s a Phrog pilot’s tour. Wherever the MEU goes, you get to go with it.”
Evidence of the Phrog’s eventual disappearance was evident in the hangar. Hundreds of people gathered around the single, solitary green and orange helicopter in the back as if to bid it farewell. In the front of the hangar, several new Ospreys lay in various stages of deconstruction as mechanics work to bring them into flying shape.
“It’s been a tremendous platform, but its replacement, the V-22, is just a phenomenal platform,” said Conti. “It will provide all of our Marines the tactical aviation support they’re going to need well into the 21st century. It’s tough to see this beautiful old aircraft retire, but we all retire. It’s just the nature of the beast. Technology develops to the point where you have to stay with it in order to remain effective as a fighting force.” As always, FRC East will continue repairing the aircraft the Corps uses to maintain its dominance on the battlefield.
“We take time today for a bittersweet celebration to end this era, and we look forward to providing equally superb support to the next generation of Marine Corps assault aircraft, the V-22,” said Bauman. “I would like to thank all of the FRC East employees who touched this aircraft, because of your blood, your sweat and tears, this aircraft has endured and served for four decades in the fleet.”