The Helicopters that Flew Lindbergh’s Route

Charles Lindbergh’s 33 1/2-hour nonstop transatlantic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis was at one point the most famous feat in aviation history, with only the Apollo 11 moon landing possibly exceeding its renown.

Forty years and 13 days after Lindbergh arrived in Paris, another first involving the Atlantic Ocean was established. Although they never achieved anything close to Lindbergh’s fame, two Sikorsky HH-3Es flown by five-man Air Force crews became the first helicopters to fly nonstop across the Atlantic on June 1, 1967.

The HH-3Es, known more commonly as Jolly Green Giants, took 30 hours and 46 minutes, just a few hours quicker than Lindbergh’s flight four decades earlier.

According to the Chicago Tribune, in addition to becoming the first helicopters to traverse the Atlantic without landing, another goal of the trip was proving the long-range rescue capabilities of the choppers.

Being able to traverse long ranges was important for the Jolly Green Giants, which were used during the Vietnam War to retrieve downed pilots from the field. The helicopters took off from Thailand and were refueled multiple times in flight as the route drastically exceeded the helicopters’ maximum range of 780 miles

Helicopter pioneer and company founder Igor Sikorsky, who was 78 years old when the helicopters arrived in Paris, was reportedly on hand to see the arrival.

While Lindbergh departed from Roosevelt Field on Long Island, the Jolly Green Giants departed from Floyd Bennett Field, also known as Naval Air Station New York, New York City’s first municipal airport, for their flight. They otherwise followed Lindbergh’s route closely, flying nonstop until landing at Le Bourget in Paris, just as he did.

Unfortunately, neither of the historic choppers survive today. Both were lost during action in the Vietnam War within three years of their historic Atlantic crossing while working to rescue downed pilots. Still, even today the memory of their impressive crossing of the Atlantic Ocean remains.

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