The Gunships

The Bell UH-1 armed helicopters operated by HA(L)-3 were, in most respects, straight line Army machines. Temporarily surplused from the Army inventory, these helicopters had usually already seen a lot of long and hard use. Those received directly from the Army units in Vietnam most often required a good deal of repair and rejuvenation before being sent out into Naval service. Others received from the Army's overhaul depot in Corpus Christi, Texas, were generally in much better condition. "Navalizing" these helicopters was relatively simple involving addition of the specialized door gun mounts and a radar altimeter. The radar altimeter was a crucial piece of equipment, for operating over the flat delta terrain in bad weather, at night, in the absence of a good horizon reference, required precision altitude indications. This was especially true when recovering aboard the support ships at night as landing aids were very rudimentary. A shortage of radar altimeters plagued the squadron for many months so that they were rationed to those dets which operated off the boats, and even then it was not unusual to find only one helicopter in a det with this specialized instrument.

The UH-1B, which formed the backbone of the squadron's aircraft assets, was powered by a Lycoming T53-L-11 engine and incorporated a standard Bell UH-1 rotor head. In 1970 a few UH-1C's found their way into HA(L)-3. The UH-1C, although equipped with the same engine as the B, used a new flex beam main rotor which provided easier maintenance and some improvement in maneuverability. But more importantly, the "Charlie" model incorporated an increase in both gross weight (+1,000 pounds) and fuel capacity (+77 gallons) which combined to expand operational capability.

Still another improvement was the UH-1M, the first examples of which were introduced into the unit on 15 June 1971. Essentially a UH-1C equipped with the Lycoming T53-L-13 powerplant, the "Mike" model's additional 300 horsepower offered some slight improvement in the squadron's performance ability. As the Seawolf gunships were rarely flown at anywhere less than over the maximum gross weight, any increase in engine performance was a much needed commodity. It was planned for HA(L)-3 to equip entirely with the Mike model, but the heavy demand for this engine (also used on the UH-1H and AH-1G) kept the Navy on the low side of the priority list. By December 1971, only 11 of the Seawolve's gunships were UH-1M's.