Lest We Forget HC-1

Reprinted from Proceedings with permission
Copyright © (1999) U.S. Naval Institute

A pioneer helicopter squadron, Helicopter Combat Support Squadron One (HC-1), the Fleet Angels, pushed the threshold of naval helicopter operations during it’s long history. It’s 21 detachments performed search and rescue and a wide range of utility services throughout the Pacific and Indian Oceans.
The Pacific Fleet’s first helicopter squadron was established as Helicopter Utility Squadron One (HU-1) as NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey on 1 April 1948, moving to NAAS Ream Field, Imperial Beach, California, where it was based until 1976.

Deploying detachments of HO3S-1 helicopters on carriers operating off Korea, HU-1 steadily grew, along with the utility of the helicopter, after Korea. In January 1963, the squadron acquired it’s first turbine powered helicopter, the UH2A/B Seasprite, which replaced the UH-25 aboard carriers. Until the mid 1960’s, the squadron operated the RH-3A, CH-19E, UH-34D, UH-46, and SH34G as well.

On 1 July 1965, HU-1 was redesignated HC-1. In July 1966, the first of four gunship detachments was formed in Vietnam, flying ex-Army UH-1B’s to support patrols in the Mekong River Delta. By 1967, HC-1 had grown so large that the Navy formed four other squadrons from it’s detachments.

The streamlined HC-1 continued deployments to the Vietnam war zone through 1975. HC-1’s UH-2A/B’s were steadily replaced by UH-2C’s, in turn succeeded by SH-3A/G Sea Kings.

HC-1 moved to NAS North Island, California, in 1976. During the 70’s, a reduced HC-1 provided extensive recovery services for the US space program. In 1980, HC-1 assumed control of the West Coast Swimmer School, and in 1984 acquired the CH53E heavy lift helicopter to augment it’s SH-3G fleet. In 1989, HC-1 took over duties as the utility H-3 fleet readiness squadron. During the Gulf War, HC-1 deployed one CH-53E and two SH-3G detachments to naval forces in the Persian Gulf. HC-1 became the first Navy unit to land an aircraft in newly liberated Kuwait.

After transferring it’s missions and it’s SH-3H and UH-3H aircraft to other squadrons, HC-1 was disestablished on 29 April 1994. In 46 years of service, the Fleet Angels performed more than 1,680 rescues.