40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron

40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron


September 1967 - January 1976


United States


United States Air Force




Rescue & Recovery

Part of

3d Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group




Vietnam War

40th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron (40th ARRS) was a helicopter rescue squadron of the USAF active during the Vietnam War.


40th ARRS was activated at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base in September 1967 with HH-3s which were known as the “Jolly Green Giants” or “Jollys” (after the H-53's arrived they were nicknamed "Nitnoy.", Thai for 'small') When HH-53s arrived they were called the “Super Jollys” or "BUFF."(Big Ugly Fat F—kers”.

March 1968, Detachment 2 of the 37th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Udorn RTAFB operating HH-3s and HH-53Bs was transferred to the 40th ARRS.

The 40th moved to Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base on 21 July 1971.

HH-53 at NKP

20 August 1972, the local base rescue detachments of the 3d Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Group each operating 2 HH-43s were transferred to the 40th ARRS, comprising:

30 November 1972, with the deactivation of the 37th ARRS at Danang Air Base, 5 of its HH-53s were transferred to the 40th ARRS, while its two HH-43s remained at Danang as Detachment 7 of the 40th ARRS to provide base rescue during Operation Linebacker II.

Following the Paris Peace Accords all remaining US Forces were withdrawn from South Vietnam by 27 March 1973. Detachment 7 at Danang Air Base and Detachment 14 at Tan Son Nhut Air Base were inactivated during this period. Following the withdrawal from South Vietnam the 40th's force level was 11 HH-53s and 14 HH-43s.

The USAF continued combat operations over Cambodia until 15 August 1973 and the 40th provided CSAR support during this period. Following the end of combat operations the 40th kept 2 HH-53s at Nakhon Phanom on 15 minute alert during daylight and 45 minute alert at night.

In July 1974, Detachment 10 at Takhli was disbanded, followed in August by Detachment 3 at Ubon. On 20 February 1975, Detachment 1 at Nakhon Phanom was disbanded. At this time the 40th's force level had dropped to 8 HH-53Cs and 4 HH-43Fs.

The 40th moved to Korat Royal Thai Air Force Base on 1 October 1975. On 15 October 1975 with the deactivation of the 56th ARRS its 4 HC-130Ps joined the 40th.

On 31 January 1976 the 40th ARRS was deactivated at Korat RTAFB.

Following the Vietnam War, the 40th ARRS moved to Hill Air Force Base, Utah, where their primary mission for the next 10 years was to provide transportation and support for Hill's bombing ranges. The unit was inactivated in 1987. It was later re-designated the 40th Rescue Flight and re-activated May 1, 1993, equipped with the UH-1N, at Malmstrom AFB, Montana. 

Operations and losses – Vietnam.


Bases stationed

Aircraft operated

An HH-53B of the 40th ARRS refueling from an HC-130P over North Vietnam, 1969-70.

MH-53M Pave Low IV BuNo 68-10357, converted from HH-53B of the 40th ARRS which, with call sign Apple 1, participated in the Son Tay Raid on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force

40th ARRS HH-53 as seen from a 21st SOS CH-53 in 1972

SS Mayaguez


13 May 1975

The SS Mayaguez, a US merchant vessel, was fired on by Cambodian gunboats of the Khymer Rouge government of Pol Pot. The Mayaguez, a containerized cargo vessel, was seized and its crew of forty taken into custody and kept on Koh Tang Island in the Gulf of Thailand.

14 May 1975

US military aircraft were in continued orbit over and around Koh Tang. Cambodian forces fired on these aircraft ineffectively but hindered reconnaissance efforts. Three gunboats were sunk by American fighter aircraft to facilitate efforts to locate the Mayaguez crew.

The 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron and the 21st Special Operations Squadron deployed to Utapao, Thailand with 16 H-53 (Super Jolly Green Giant) helicopters to prepare for possible rescue attempts. The deployment was marred by the crash of one of the 21st SOS with 23 persons on board. No survivors. Two 40th ARRS aircraft were launched to rescue the crews of the Cambodian gunboats. The search for enemy survivors in the water was unsuccessful and hindered by ground fire from Koh Tang Island.

15 May 1975

Helicopter crews were briefed at 2:30AM for take offs at 4:00 AM. The 21st SOS contingent with four 40th ARRS were to land on Koh Tang and drop off Marines to secure the island and rescue any Mayaguez crewmen on shore. The 40th sent four aircraft to the USS Holt with Marines to offload onto the destroyer for boarding onto the Mayaguez - pirate style.

The Mission

The first two aircraft from the 21st SOS arrived at Koh Tang and land at 0600. After landing they were immediately subjected to a tremendous amount of fire from the surrounding jungle. Both aircraft were destroyed. The second contingent of helicopters came in and were also heavily damaged. One, Knife 22 was totally destroyed when it exploded 40 feet above the beach while attempting landing. During these first few minutes of the mission, four aircraft were lost and eighteen men killed. Throughout the day not another aircraft or life would be lost.

All but one of the 21st SOS aircraft were out of action. The rest of the mission belonged almost entirely to the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. Approximately 200 men were in danger on the island. More troops were necessary to secure it and wounded on the island had to be evacuated. Six Jolly Green's of the 40th made a total of eight landings on the island inserting more troops and carrying wounded away. Four of these six aircraft were badly damaged while shooting their way in and out of extremely dangerous landing zones. Three of these aircraft limped back to Thailand - out of action. One other, Jolly Green 43, had fuel lines shot out and lost an engine. It had landed on the USS Coral Sea under emergency conditions. The fuel line was repaired using a rubber hose and tape to return the aircraft to action.

Meanwhile, crew of the Mayaguez and the ship were returned to United States hands. The Marines on Koh Tang were still under fire and the order was given to withdraw. Four Jolly Greens from the 40th and one from the 21st SOS were all that remained to accomplish the task. Led by Jolly Green 11 the aircraft made several landings and egresses from two beaches on Koh Tang. Jolly 43 picked up 54 men on one trip, still with rubber hose and tape to keep one engine turning. These landings were made in the dark under increasingly confidant hostile fire. Help for the helicopters came from AC-130 (Spectre) gunships and a 15,000 pound bomb dropped on the center of the island by a C-130 transport. The withdrawal was accomplished without further loss of American life. Jolly Green 11 made the last pick-up from the east beach and later Jolly 44 and Knife 51 finished the job by recovering the last Americans from the island.

The SS. Mayaguez recovery remains one of the most heralded operations in Air Rescue and Recovery Service History. The men of the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron received numerous decorations for bravery and mission accomplishment in combat conditions. Awarded were 2 Air Force Crosses, 12 Silver Stars, 28 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 9 Air Medals. The resolve exhibited by these men had direct effect on the speedy release of the SS Mayaguez and crew.