By Text, photos and video by Connie Leinbach
John Manning was wistful as two Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters fired up their jet engines at the Ocracoke airport for their final flight to the Marine air base in Cherry Point, Havelock.
“That’s the last time these two will be making that noise,” he said as the helicopters, built 53 years ago for the Vietnam War, arose carrying 17 military personnel. “I was in Vietnam when they were in use. I’m really gonna miss these things.”
Manning, maintenance supervisor at Howard’s Pub, along with several islanders, visitors and children watched the departure.
“How cool was that!” said Laurie Garrish, who brought along grandson Graydon, 1, as the choppers disappeared down the coast. “I’m addicted to these things. I come out every time I see them.”
Major J.C. Spencer, the flight leader and one of the pilots, call sign “Pookie,” said the group flew the CH 46 choppers, also known as “Phrogs,” from their Norfolk base and stopped on Ocracoke for lunch at Howard’s Pub.
They then flew them to the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point to be decommissioned.
“They are being phased out and will be replaced by Ospreys, (or V22)” Spencer said.
Willy M. Orosmane, Maintenance Chief Master Gunnery Sgt., said today’s group was the last Marine Corps squadron assigned to these helicopters.
There are four other CH46 helicopters in Cherry Point, he said. They’re part of Search and Rescue—to help rescue people in the ocean.
Those will be replaced on Sep. 25, and the Coast Guard will continue with search and rescue, Orosmane said.
Maj. Orlando Corchado, said one of these Phrogs is on view in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Udvar Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va.
As transports, the helicopters have been used for decades to deliver troops and cargo, Corchado said.
Maximum flying time on one tank of gas is about three hours, said Gunny Sgt. C. T. Roney.
The 16-member Marine crew was from the Marine Aircraft Group 49 detachment Delta, said Sgt. Salvatore Cialino, an aerial gunner.
“We’re all ‘Wild Geese,’” he said about the name of their detachment.
Additionally, Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Lindsey E. Skelton of the Navy Public Affairs Support Element East, accompanied the group and took photos.
“It was less scary than I thought,” she said about the ride to Ocracoke.
As for stopping in Ocracoke, Maj. Gary Ewers said they needed a restaurant close by the airport.
“I looked all over the coast and Howard’s Pub was close by and could pick us up,” he said.
“None is as good as this,” Cialino added.
Ann Warner, Pub owner, said military flight crews are frequent patrons.
Most of the Marines thought that these Phrogs were still the best and didn’t like that they were being decommissioned.
“The air frame has 50 years of service, but it still goes strong,” Roney said.
He explained that the Phrog fuselage is about the same size as an Osprey’s, but Osprey wings fold on top of the fuselage and can be stored in a smaller space.
Part of the Phrog cockpit is open as is the fuselage rear end.
“It gets natural air conditioning,” said Roney.
A few crew members sat on the edges with their legs dangling over as the choppers took off to the cheers and waves of the spectators.
“That was amazing!” said Leslie Cole.
Anmargaret Warner contributed additional reporting.