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HH-65 Dolphin and the U.S. Navy's littoral ships

Learn more about building an HH-65 Dolphin in the February 2010 issue of FSM.
In the 1980s, the United States Coast Guard began replacing its Sikorsky HH-52 Seaguard helicopters with the Aérospatiale (now American Eurocopter) HH-65A Dolphin (which derives its nickname from the French design’s original moniker, Dauphin). Since the first of the short-range recovery helicopters was delivered in 1985, Dolphins have logged more than a million hours of Coast Guard service.

The HH-65 cannot land on water and is normally stationed ashore, but it also operates from medium- and high-endurance Coast Guard cutters on missions of search and rescue, law enforcement and drug interdiction, environmental protection, and homeland security, in addition to serving as scouts for the ships on which they are stationed. On icebreakers, they serve as the ship’s eyes to find thinner, more-navigable ice channels.

The HH-65 is a powerful tool in the hands of a talented Coast Guard crew. Its unique, powerful computerized flight management system provides totally automatic flight control in darkness and stormy weather, enabling the helicopter to hover in stable flight 50 feet above a selected object. Search patterns can be flown on autopilot, allowing the crew to spend less time flying and more time looking during search-and-rescue missions.

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U.S. Navy
In 2005, the U.S. Navy christened Sea Fighter (FSF 1), a “Littoral Surface Craft-Experimental,” commonly referred to as the “X-Craft.” The 262-foot, high-speed aluminum catamaran can make 50 knots and land helicopters and recover water craft at “Sea State 5” (waves of 2.5-4m, or 8-13'). The term littoral (meaning coastal) describes the ship’s ability to navigate close to land in waters as shallow as 12' – a boon to operations in undeveloped areas where a lack of harbors and shipping channels keep other warships farther off shore.

Manned by a 26-person crew comprising both Navy and Coast Guard sailors, Sea Fighter provides special capabilities in battle-force protection, mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare, amphibious assault support, and humanitarian aide. Initially, it will be used as a test bed for hydrodynamic experimentation with hull, mechanical, and electrical (HME) concepts for the Navy’s new line of littoral ships.

In 2005, I worked at L-3 Communications in San Diego, where the X-Craft was designed, and witnessed its christening at Nichols Shipyard on Whidbey Island, near Seattle. On my first cruise, I was amazed by how smoothly it moved at 60 miles an hour in heavy seas. The ship has computerized underwater control systems that keep it stable in rough water, and it can recover two Dolphins in truly nasty weather.

Our engineers also designed a smaller version of Sea Fighter that would carry just one HH-65 onboard. When L3 commissioned a 3' long model of the prototype (about 1/48 scale) to use as a sales tool for the new proposal, I was asked if I could build a Dolphin that would look good on the flight deck. As a matter of fact, I told my bosses, I just happened to have just the thing – Trumpeter’s 1/48 scale kit (No. 02801).

Cool! I was going to get paid to do my hobby! Then they gave me two weeks to do the build – and that made it a filling, sanding, and masking marathon. But I added the details it needed – a lot to cram into such a short time – and it looked great sitting on the deck of the ship model. However, I think it will be awhile before I build another helicopter.


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