FUTENMA, Japan - Since before the Vietnam War, the CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter has served the Marine Corps, facilitating combat, training and humanitarian-assistance around the world. The 50-year-old aircraft is set to be retired from squadrons throughout the Marine Corps, after a long and storied career.
Marines with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 262 conducted a retirement flight, known as a sundown flight, for its CH-46Es Sept. 6 as part of the unit’s transition to the MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.
“The CH-46E is like an old, reliable car,” said Lt. Col. Joseph Lee, the executive officer of VMM-262, Marine Aircraft Group 36, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force. “You know everything about it and you know you can rely on it, and if anything breaks you know how to fix it with ease. In the past 14 years I have worked with this aircraft, and it’s been a great honor to be part of the CH-46Es’ history, as well as to have the opportunity to fly them.”
VMM-262 has been using the CH-46 since February 1963, according to Capt. Michael S. Linhares, a CH-46E pilot with VMM-262. The squadron has operated the twin-rotor helicopter, known as “the Phrog,” throughout the Asia-Pacific region. During this time, the unit participated in Operation Tomodachi, Operation Iraqi Freedom, as well as multiple exercises in the Kingdom of Thailand, the Republic of the Philippines, Australia and the Republic of Korea.
“This is the last multielement formation flight that will be held on Okinawa involving only CH-46Es,” said Linhares.
The retirement of the CH-46E is sentimental for some of the Marines who have been working with the helicopter for most of their careers.
“I never thought the day would come in my career where I would see the CH-46E retired,” said Lee. “Though it’s a bittersweet thought knowing that I get to participate in such a big part of Marine Corps’ history, it’s a sad feeling knowing that such a great aircraft won’t be used anymore.”
Along with phasing-out the helicopter, all military occupational specialties related to the CH-46E will be discontinued, such as CH-46E pilots, crew chiefs, mechanics and technicians, according to Staff Sgt. Jeremy R. Harris, a CH-46E crew chief with VMM-262. All affected Marines will be given an opportunity to go back to military occupational specialty school to learn a new job.
“I’ve flown in CH-46Es for 10 years,” said Harris. “I now get the opportunity to learn a new platform and be able to fly with the Osprey. Although the Marine Corps is phasing-out the CH-46E and replacing them with Ospreys, the legacy that the CH-46Es have created over the years will continue.”
The Osprey will follow in the path paved by the CH-46Es and continue to help Marines throughout the world on various training evolutions, exercises and operations, added Harris. The Osprey has been designed to the most stringent safety, readiness and performance requirements of any rotary wing aircraft ever built.
“The CH-46E is just like a Marine,” said Harris. “It’s been to every clime and place that is out there and was a key asset to the Marine Corps throughout the years. I’m going to miss hearing the sweet sound of a division of CH-46Es flying in together because nothing sounds as amazing as that to me.”
VMM-262 is slated to hold its final flight of CH-46Es Sept. 30, as they fly to Camp Kinser to be retired.