CAMP KINSER — CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262 made their final flight from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma Sept. 30 to await final disposition at Camp Kinser.
The CH-46Es, affectionately nicknamed “Phrogs,” were retired to make way for the MV-22B Osprey as part of a one-for-one replacement. The Phrog has been a part of the Marine Corps’ aviation arsenal since the Vietnam War.
“What you’re seeing here today is the last (U.S. Marine Corps) CH-46E flight in Okinawa and in the Pacific,” said Brig. Gen. Steven R. Rudder, commanding general of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “The historic flight marks the finalization of the transition to the MV-22B for VMM-262.”
The VMM-262 “Flying Tigers” have employed the CH-46E throughout much of the world, including in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Unified Assistance and Operation Tomodachi in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami of March 2011.
“The CH-46E has been all over our area of operations,” said Capt. Luke A. Williamson, a CH-46E pilot with VMM-262, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st MAW. “It is a very capable aircraft, very maneuverable. It can get into small landing zones and tight spaces, and it has the ability to do a quick side-flare to stop on a dime – it was a great machine.”
This end of an era for Marine Corps aviation was a nostalgic event for the Marines who operated and maintained the CH-46Es.
“As we come to the close, Marines from all over Okinawa are coming to say their last goodbyes,” said Lance Cpl. Ranieri A. Rotelli, a CH-46E aircrew chief with VMM-262. “The former CH-46E guys have been coming out to get one last touch on it before it’s laid to rest.”
From the pilots to the aircrew, the Marines were feeling sentimental.
“It is a privilege to fly the last of the Phrogs and a great honor,” said Williamson. “The CH-46E has a long, proud history, and I’m grateful to be a part of that history and that legacy, especially here on Okinawa. I love the Phrog, and I hate to leave it behind. She’s had a good run, but her time is up. We’re on to a newer, faster and higher-flying aircraft.”
The Osprey can fly twice as fast, carry three times the weight, and travel four times the distance of the CH-46E.
These capabilities strengthen the Marine Corps’ ability to support various missions in the Asia-Pacific region to include supporting partner nations during training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, and contingencies.
While the squadron replaces its aircraft, the most valuable asset will remain, according to Williamson.
“I’ve been flying (the CH-46E) for a few years now and loving it, but it is a piece of machinery and it’s really about the people and the Marines, not the machines they work on,” said Williamson. “You have to keep that in perspective; even though the Phrog is going away, the Marines don’t change.”
The Marines of VMM-262 stand ready for the Osprey to assume the responsibilities that the CH-46E will leave behind.
“It’s a significant point in aviation history for those who have flown this faithful aircraft, (the CH-46E), in Vietnam, Iraq and all over the world,” said Rudder. “The CH-46E has saved a lot of lives, and it has made a big difference for Marine Corps aviation. Like all of our squadrons, VMM-262 has done a great job of capturing its heritage, ensuring that the memories of the CH-46E remain for years to come.”