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Restoration of a Jolly Green
TUCSON, Ariz. – A picture of the final reassembled MH-53 Jolly Green on March 4, ready to be put on display at the Pima Air and Space Museum. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Kevin Roth)
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Restoration of a Jolly Green

Posted 3/24/2011   Updated 3/25/2011 Email story   Print story


by Airman 1st Class Michael Washburn
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

3/24/2011 - TUCSON, Ariz. -- Condemned to spend its remaining days in the arid desert sun subject to cannibalization, an aircraft that once assisted in the rescue of so many finally gets rescued itself, thanks to an old friend.

Bound for the Pima Air and Space Museum, a MH-53M Pavelow III Jolly Green helicopter unexpectedly was diverted to the "Boneyard," where its parts and pieces began being stripped and used to repair other rotary aircraft. When it was discovered that the aircraft was supposed to actually go to the museum a handful of Airmen jumped into action to help restore the Jolly Green.

Several maintainers and crew chiefs from the 55th Rescue Squadron traveled to Pima Air and Space Museum to help reassemble a MH-53M Pavelow III by restoring the aircraft by affixing six main rotor blades, four tail rotor blades, rescue hoist and overhead ramp door. One of those Airmen had the opportunity to reconnect with his old friend.

"When I arrived at Mildenhall in 1997, I was assigned to the aircraft and a senior airman at the time," said Master Sgt. Jon Nehl, 923rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 55th Helicopter Maintenance Unit production superintendent. "As I put on staff sergeant and worked my way up, I eventually became the dedicated crew chief of the aircraft."

The DCC is in charge of the maintenance part of the aircraft and with his name on the door, he was the one who was responsible for it.

"DCC's are also the guys they blame when things go wrong," Sergeant Nehl joked. "I worked on that aircraft until I left Mildenhall in 2004 as a technical sergeant. We went lots of places with the MH-53, lots of countries. That's the aircraft I flew on the second time I went to Iraq. Any time the bird went on a temporary duty assignment, I went with it."

From Mildenhall, the MH-53 was then sent to Hurlburt Field Air Force Base, Fla., where it was later retired. The Jolly Green was then sent to Davis-Monthan to be displayed at the Pima Air and Space Museum; it just took a little longer to get there.

"There was some kind of mistake and the aircraft ended up going to the Boneyard," Sergeant Nehl said. "When the museum finally acquired the aircraft, it was already partially disassembled. So that's where we came in, putting the aircraft back together so it could be put on display."

When on display at Pima, the Jolly Green will have Sergeant Nehl's name painted on the side as well as the nose art that he originally chose, Marvin the Martian.

Tech. Sgt. Daniel Rhodes, a crew chief from the 923rd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, 55th Helicopter Maintenance Unit, helped reassemble the MH-53M back to its original condition for Pima to use and commented on what made the Jolly Green so special.

"The thing that made the MH-53M special was the people, the mission and the weapon system itself," Sergeant Rhodes said. "No matter how hard you worked, or how long you worked, once you saw it fly and actually do its job, it was very satisfying."

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