“JOLLY92, cleared for take off.” With those words, the aircrew of a lone helicopter sets off on another ‘routine’ mission where lives could be hanging in the balance. Mission planning, equipment, and training all become second nature and a tool to accomplish the mission: Saving Lives.
During the Vietnam war, the sweetest sound a downed airman could ever hear was the distinct WHOP WHOP WHOP WHOP of the HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant, with the call sign “JOLLY GREEN”. This meant that help was nearby and on it’s way. With it’s ability to penetrate a heavily fortified area, the “JOLLY GREEN’s” became the last resort to extract and rescue injured survivors.
Over 30 years later, the equipment and tactics have become more advanced, but the mission is still the same: saving lives. Fulfilling this crucial role now is the California Air National Guard’s 129th Rescue Wing based at Moffett Field.
The 129th utilizes the powerful HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter to accomplish the same tasks as the HH-53E. And as the helicopters changed, so did the callsign, which now is “JOLLY,” honoring those fine helicopters and their aircrews who flew those daring rescue missions.
The 129th RQW’s mission is very simple. Search and Rescue. In combat or civilian scenarios, the 129th RQW uses the MC-130P, HH-60G, and Paracrescue to rescue downed airman, distressed persons aboard ships, lost or injured hikers, and medical evacuations. And with them being located in the heart of the Bay Area, they are an incredible asset to have if and when disaster strikes.
Last week, I had the honor of being able to fly with the 129th Rescue Squadron on two flights. Having lived within 5 miles of Moffett Field my entire life, I have watched the 129th fly their helicopters for years; from the HH-53E’s in the 80’s to their current helo, the HH-60G’s, which they transitioned to in 1991.
With an 8am show time, the two air crews of JOLLY91 and JOLLY92 gathered in the briefing room and went over the day’s mission.
For the first part, I was to fly on board with the crew of JOLLY92 as they practiced simulated ILS approaches to 32R
After that it was time to do a simulated hoist of a rescue swimmer.
After our approaches we headed out to SHIPWRECK, located in the middle of the SF Bay, to do our practice hoists. This location gives the pilots a safe and controlled place to practice as well as a visual reference to hover near.
What impressed me the most was the guidance and precision that the aircrew had over the aircraft.
The 129th RQW has rescued victims aboard ships located over 500 miles off shore. Providing medical treatment and extraction to those who otherwise would not have any other options.
At the time of this post, the 129th Rescue Wing has saved 598 lives. That is 598 people who would not be alive today if it wasn’t for the expert training and services that the Wing provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year both here and overseas.