Sikorsky H-34 Choctaw (also known as the
S-58) was a military helicopter originally
designed by American aircraft
manufacturer Sikorsky for the
United States Navy for service in
the anti-submarine warfare
Sikorsky H-34s have served on every continent with the armed forces
of twenty-five countries - from combat in Algeria, the Dominican
Republic, Nicaragua, and throughout southeast Asia, to saving flood
victims, recovering astronauts, fighting fires, and carrying
The Sikorsky S-58 was developed from the Sikorsky's UH-19 Chickasaw
. The aircraft first flew on 8
March 1954. It was initially designated HSS-1
(in its anti-submarine configuration) and
(in its utility transport
configuration) under the US Navy
system for US Navy, US Marine Corps
and US Coast Guard
the US Army
's aircraft designation system,
also used by the US Air Force
helicopter was designated H-34
. The US Army also
applied the name Choctaw
to the helicopter. In
1962, under the new unified DoD aircraft designation system, the
Seabat was redesignated SH-34
, the Seahorse as the
, and the Choctaw as the
Roles included utility transport, anti-submarine warfare, search
and rescue, and VIP transport. In it standard configuration
transport versions could carry 12 to 16 troops, or eight stretcher
cases if utilized in the MedEvac
role, while VIP transports carried
significantly fewer people in significantly greater comfort.
A total of 135 H-34s were built in the U.S. and assembled by
in France, 166 were
produced under licence in France by Sud-Aviation for the French Air
Force, Navy and Army Aviation (ALAT).
was also built and developed under license from 1958 in the
Kingdom by Westland
Aircraft as the turbine engined Wessex which was used by the
Royal Navy and Royal Air Force.
The RN Wessex was
fitted out with weapons and ASW equipment for use in an
antisubmarine role. The RAF used the Wessex, with turboshaft
engines, as an air/sea rescue helicopter and as troop transporter.
Wessexes were also exported to other countries and produced for
The U.S. Coast Guard
flew the H-34
helicopter from 1959 to 1962.
In 1955, the U. S. Marine Corps received its first HUS-1s as an
interim type until the HR2S (later H-37) entered squadron service.
However, the HUS lasted far longer in USMC service, and in much
greater numbers, than the HR2S ever did. Ultimately the Marine
Corps took delivery of 515 UH-34Ds. From the late 1950s until the
CH-46 entered service in 1965, the UH-34 operated as the mainstay
of Marine Corps helicopter units.
French evaluations on the reported ground fire vulnerabilities of
the CH-34 may have influenced the U.S. Army's decision to deploy
the CH-21 Shawnee
to Vietnam instead
of the CH-34, pending the introduction into widespread service of
the Bell UH-1
Iroquois. US Army H-34s did not
participate in Vietnam, and did not fly in the assault helicopter
role, however a quantity were supplied to the Army of the Republic
of Vietnam. These saw little use due lack of spare parts and
The U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) continued to use the H-34 pattern even
after the U.S. Army had phased it out. Even after the USMC adopted
their own version of the UH-1, the UH-1E, the CH-34s continued to
be used up to and for a period after the Tet Offensive in
Its higher availability and reliability due to its simplicity
compared to the newer helicopters led Marines to ask for it by
name. The phrases "give me a HUS", "get me a HUS" and "cut me a
HUS" entered the USMC vernacular, being used even after the type
was no longer in use to mean "help me out".
U.S. Marine Corps H-34s were also among the first gunship
helicopters trialled in theatre, being fitted with the
, comprising two M60C machine guns
and two 19 shot 2.75 inch rocket
The operations were met with mixed enthusiasm, and the armed H-34s,
known as "Stingers" were quickly phased out. The TK-1 kit would
form the basis of the TK-2
used on the UH-1E helicopters of the USMC.
In August 1969, the last Marine UH-34D in Vietnam was retired from
at Hue Phu Bai. During that period,
enemy action and accidents downed 134 helicopters. Most of the
twenty surviving CH-34 helicopters were turned over to the South
Vietnamese during the course of the war, though a few were
ultimately reclaimed by the Army prior to the final collapse of the
Pilots of H-34s in Vietnam discovered that some of the design's
innovative features carried penalties. The high cockpit made it an
obvious target, and the drive shaft created a partition that made
it difficult for crew chiefs to come to the aid of the cockpit crew
if they became injured. The H-34's magnesium skin resulted in very
intense fires, and contributed to significant corrosion problems.
The airframe was also too weak to support most of the weapon
systems that allowed the UH-1s to become an effective ad-hoc
gunship. Nonetheless, the H-34 demonstrated an ability to sustain a
substantial amount of combat damage and still return home.
In the late 1950s, Air America, a CIA-created airline, began flying
UH-34Ds in Laos, manned by crews on leave from the Marine Corps.
When the last military UH-34 left Vietnam, Air America was still in
operation with the type, including upgraded S-58Ts.
The CH-34 Choctaw remained in service with US Army aviation units
well into the late 1960s, and was standard equipment in Army Reserve
and Army National Guard
until replaced by the UH-1 Iroquois
utility helicopter. Indeed, the last Choctaw was not officially
retired until the early 1970s. Sikorsky production ceased in 1970,
with 1,800 built.
The French Navy adopted the SH-34 Seabat in 1955, using the
helicopter during the Algerian War
1956-62. Beginning in 1956, the H-34 saw its introduction into
combat during intensive operations with the French in Algeria. The
had earlier modified the
H-19 and Piasecki H-21
and machine guns for use in a ground attack role; the French Navy
performed the same modification to the CH-34 which was developed
under the name Pirate
and was extensively used in
operations. The H-19 proved underpowered for the ground attack
role, and the H-21 lacked mobility. The H-34 was able to carry more
armament, including a MG151
cannon firing from the cabin door, two M2 .50 cal. machine guns
the cabin windows to port, and batteries of 37- or 68-mm rockets.
73 mm rockets and additional machine guns were also employed
on some versions. Official evaluations at the time had indicated
that the CH-21 was more likely to survive multiple hits by ground
fire than was the CH-34; this was assumed to be a consequence of
the location and construction of the CH-34's fuel tanks.
France bought 134 Choctaws in parts from the United States and
assembled by Sud-Aviation
. A further
166 were manufactured later locally for the French Army, Navy and
Air force, these again produced by Sud-Aviation.
The helicopter was also built and developed under license from 1958
in the United Kingdom by Westland Aircraft under the name "Wessex".
The Royal Navy was the primary user for the Anti-Submarine Warfare
role. The RAF
and Royal Marines used the Wessex, with Rolls-Royce Gnome
turboshaft engines, as
an air/sea rescue helicopter and as troop transporter.
The H-34 was the primary VNAF helicopter until replaced by the Bell
A joint air force/paratroops delegation studied helicopters used by
the French Army Aviation
and recommended the acquisition of the Sikorsky S-58 and on
February 13, 1958, the first pair arrived in Israel, followed by
another helicopter in March. The "Rolling Sword" squadron, which
operated all IAF
the time, operated only a few examples until 1962 when 24 S-58s
earmarked for the West German air force
were covertly routed to Israel.
At the outbreak of the Six Days War the "Rolling Sword" squadron
had 28 airworthy S-58s. The helicopters begun the war evacuating
downed pilots, but became more involved as the ground war
progressed. On the night of June 5-6, the S-58s airlifted
600 soldiers behind Egyptian lines in the center of the Sinai Peninsula after Israeli armor had met fierce
This ground force destroyed an Egyptian
artillery position, hastening the collapse of the Egyptian front.
On June 7,
S-58s were tasked with airlifting Israeli paratroops to capture the southernmost point in
the Sinai, Sharm
el-Sheikh, but arrived
at the site to find it abandoned.
final operation of the war, the conquest of the Golan Heights from the Syrians, the S-58s flew Israeli paratroops
in to take control of the southern Golan.
In three separate
airlifts on June 9-10, the paratroops were inserted behind Syrian
lines and attacked retreating Syrian forces.
The S-58 continued to fly combat missions after the end of the war,
mainly against Palestinians infiltrating Israel or against their
bases in Jordan. On March 21, 1968, they participated in the
Karameh, bringing Israeli troops in and out as well as
evacuating the wounded.
This was the last operation of the
S-58 as it was retired shortly later, replaced by the Bell 205
and Aérospatiale Super
- The H-34's lift capacity was just sufficient enough to lift a
Mercury capsule. In 1961, the hatch
of Mercury 4 was prematurely
detached and the capsule was filled with seawater. That extra
weight was too much for the H-34 and Liberty Bell 7 was
emergency released (in the deep sea).
- In the
1990s, an S-58ET called Miss Piggy from "New York
Helicopter" flew passengers from JFK
International Airport to East 34th Street Heliport, New
- H-34 have been used by forest firefighting contractors in
least one S-58 was purchased for civilian use by Oregon-based
Columbia Helicopters in the
1968, an S-58 was used to remove the wreckage of a Bell 47 G2
helicopter from the top of Uluru.
- The 1980s television series Riptide, featured a military-surplus
H-34 called "The Screaming Mimi".
- US Army version of the HSS-1 powered by a 1,525 hp R-1820-84,
re-designated CH-34A in 1962, 359 built and 21 transferred from the
- Designation for H-34A used for weapon tests.
- Staff transport conversions of H-34A.
- H-34As converted with detail changes, became CH-34B in
- H-34B design with detail changes converted from H-34As, became
CH-34C in 1962.
- Designation for CH-34C used for weapon tests.
- Staff transport conversions of CH-34C.
- Designation applied to aircraft given USAF serials to be
transferred under MAP
- HUS-1L re-designated in 1962
- HUS-1 re-designated in 1962 and 54 new build.
- HUS-1Z re-designated in 1962
- HUS-1A re-designated in 1962
- HUS-1G re-designated in 1962
- YHSS-1 re-designated in 1962
- HSS-1 re-designated in 1962
- HSS-1F re-designated in 1962
SH-34Js on the USS
- YHSS-1N re-designated in 1962
- HSS-1N re-designated in 1962
- SH-34J without ASW
equipment for cargo and training purposes.
- Ex-USN UH-34Js operated by the US Air Force
- Staff transport conversions of SH-34J.
- XHSS-1 Seabat
- Three Sikorsky S-58s for evaluation by the US Navy,
re-designated YHSS-1 then YSH-34G in 1962.
- HSS-1 Seabat
- Production Anti-Submarine model for the US Navy, re-designated
SH-34G in 1962, 215 built
- HSS-1F Seabat
- One HSS-1 re-engined with two YT-58-GE as a flying test bed,
re-designated SH-34H in 1962.
- YHSS-1N Seabat
- One HSS-1 converted as the HSS-1N prototype, re-designated
YSH-34J in 1962.
- HSS-1N Seabat
- Night/Bad weather version of the HSS-1 with improved avionics
and autopilot, re-designated SH-34J in 1962, 167 built (an addition
75 HSS-1 airframes were built to CH-34C standard for West
- HUS-1 Seahorse
- Utility transport version of the HSS-1 for the US Marine Corps,
re-designated UH-34D in 1962, 462 built
- HUS-1A Seahorse
- Forty HUS-1s fitted with amphibious pontoons, re-designated
UH-34E in 1962.
- HUS-1G Seahorse
- United States Coast Guard version of the HUS-1, re-designated
HH-34F in 1962, six built.
- HUS-1L Seahorse
- Four HUS-1s converted for antarctic operations with VXE-6,
re-designated LH-34D in 1962.
- HUS-1Z Seahorse
- Seven HUS-1s fitted with VIP interior for the Executive Flight
Detachment, re-designated VH-34D in 1962.
- Commercial designation for basic cargo variant
- Commercial designation for improved cargo variant
- Commercial passenger transport/airliner version
- Commercial airliner/freighter version
- Commercial conversions to turboshaft power by Sikorsky,
Orlando Helicopter, and California Helicopter.
- S-58 Heli-Camper
- Commercial conversion, fitted with a Wright Cyclone R-1820-24
- Orlando Airliner
- Commercial conversion. 18-seat passenger transport
Accidents and incidents
July 1960 Chicago Helicopter Airways Flight 698 a S-58C registered
N879 crashed into Forest Home Cemetery, Forest Park, Illinois, United
States with the loss of 11 passengers and two crew.
The investigation concluded that the helicopter became
uncontrollable as a result of structural disintegration in flight
caused by a fatigue failure of the main rotor
Specifications (H-34 Choctaw)
Aircraft on Display
an UH-34D Seahorse on display on the flight deck of the at the
Point Naval and Maritime Museum in Charleston,
- Mesko, 1984, pages 4-6
- Fails 1995, p. 9.
- Mercury MR-4
- S-58ET from New York Helicopter
- Columbia Helicopters Website
- "Riptide - Helicopter TV show."
rotaryaction.com, Pigaus Press, 2005. Retrieved: 5 March
- United Kingdom CAA Document CAA 429 World Airline Accident
Summary with reference to Civil Aeronautics Board Aircraft Accident
- Duke, R.A., Helicopter Operations in Algeria [Trans.
French], Dept. of the Army, 1959.
- Fails, William R. Marines & Helicopters,
1962-1973. Darby, PA: Diane Publishing, 1995. ISBN
- Leuliette, Pierre. St. Michael and the Dragon: Memoirs of a
Paratrooper, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1964.
- Mesko, Jim: Airmobile - The Helicopter War in Vietnam.
Squadron/Signal Publications, 1984. ISBN 0-89747-159-8
- Riley, David. "French Helicopter Operations in Algeria."
Marine Corps Gazette, February 1958, pp. 21–26.
- Shrader, Charles R. The First Helicopter War: Logistics and
Mobility in Algeria, 1954-1962. Westport, CT: Praeger
Publishers, 1999. ISBN 0-275-96388- 8.
- Spenser, Jay P. Whirlybirds: A History of the U.S.
Helicopter Pioneers. Seattle, WA: University of Washington
Press, 1998. ISBN 0-29597-699-3.