By acquiring a Sikorsky Sea King helicopter for Aviation Heritage Park, there is an obvious connection with the story of American astronauts and the NASA T-38, “01” currently on display in the park.
On July 24, 1969,Columbia, the returning command module of the Apollo 11 lunar space mission, which had placed the first human on the moon, splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. This was the return to earth by astronauts Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin from their lunar expedition.
A successful mission was still in the balance, dependent upon recovery of the astronauts. The primary recovery ship was the carrier USS Hornet, then 13 miles from the splashdown. The Hornetwas loaded with both civilian and military personnel, including President Richard M. Nixon.
Closer still to splashdown was a Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King helicopter, marked as number 66. Having been retrofitted for the recovery, “Old 66”, as she became known to the world, moved still closer and dropped a locator marker near the command module, “Columbia”, which was floating upside down.“Old 66” had previously provided recovery services for Apollo missions 8 and 10. On this recovery, she hovered over Columbia and hoisted the three astronauts aboard, delivering them on the Hornet 37 minutes later.
Perhaps she is the most famous U. S. Navy helicopter; Sea King “OLD 66” was viewed world-wide on television and film on at least five occasions. She had stenciled on her hull Apollo markings for her service in Apollo missions 8, 10, 11, 12 and 13.
OLD 66 returned to her original duty related to anti-submarine warfare, when, on June 4,1975, she was lost off the coast of southern California.
In honor of OLD 66 there are some Sea Kings on static display so marked, including one in the USS Hornet Museum, but the original lies about 800 fathoms down in the Pacific Ocean.
The restoration of our Sea King will be for the purpose of telling another story – that of the Sea King service as Marine Corps 1, transporting our Presidents, and Marine Colonel “Mac” Reynolds, the Bowling Green pilot, who flew 4 different Presidents.
It is still with pride that we have in the park a Sea King that we can use as a representative artifact with the telling of the stories of our T-38 and American astronauts.