USS BONHOMME RICHARD, At Sea - Ten CH-46E Sea Knight medium-lift tandem rotor transport helicopters, assigned to Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 262, departed the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) for the final time March 20.
Known colloquially as the "Phrog," the Sea Knight has been used in all U.S. Marine combat and peacetime environments since its introduction in 1964, and will be replaced with the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.
The Sea Knights have been conducting missions from Bonhomme Richard since the ship's commissioning 15 years ago.
Lt. Col. Aaron Wells, HMM-262's commanding officer, has been flying the "Phrog" since 1994.
"The CH-46 has been my bread and butter for 20 years now, and will be my sun-down as it moves to the end of its time," said Wells. "It's been in pretty much every mission that we have done as Marines since it came online during the Vietnam War."
According to Wells, some of the same Sea Knights in HMM-262 were used in the Vietnam War. Production stopped in the '70s, so it's not a newly-built version of the aircraft.
The Marine Corps has been maintaining and upgrading parts of the Sea Knight such as the avionics, navigation system and communications to keep them up to pace, but the basic parts of the aircraft are the same ones that have been flying for 50 years.
"Its truly an honor to be part of that history and legacy," said Wells.
Its longevity as a reliable airframe has led to such mantra as "phrogs phorever" and "never trust a helicopter under 30."
"I've been watching the Sea Knight from a number of different flight decks for a long time," said Cmdr. Hans Sholley, Bonhomme Richard's air boss. "It's a sad day to see the last phrog leave because this ship was built around a 12-phrog squadron. It's like a part of this ship will be leaving. But they've had a remarkable longevity, and it's time for the MV-22 to come on."
In March 2006, HMM-263 was deactivated and designated VMM-263 to serve as the first MV-22 squadron. The replacement process is expected to continue through the other medium helicopter squadrons into 2014.
According to Wells, HMM-262 will designate in late summer or fall 2013 through the process of slowly ramping down the CH-46s as the MV-22s come on line.
"It's been a wonderful aircraft and done amazing things for the Marine Corps," said Wells. "I think it is a highly reliable, very forgiving and very capable platform that will remain a Marine Corps history legend."