Book review: Cheating Death

Cheating Death – Combat Air Rescues in Vietnam and Laos by George J. Marrett

CSAR helicopters for any military are integral during operations and regardless of where they are operating they need to be able to undertake covert missions in hot or cold conditions.

The S-61R/HH-3E, coined the ‘Jolly Green Giant’, was utilised by the US Air Force (USAF) during the US war in Vietnam to conduct rescue operations of downed military crews in the Southeast Asian tropics.

George J. Marrett outlines in a candid and adrenaline-powered account, the dangers and duty of being a pilot of the Douglas A-1 Skyraider alongside the Jolly Green helicopters during the Vietnam conflict.


He recounts vividly many of the 188 operations he undertook from the intense scouring of the tree canopies to locate a fallen comrade while rapidly running out of fuel to avoiding ground fire with the Jolly Greens.

One thing we can take away from this compelling account is the paramount importance of aircraft avionics suites during CSAR operations.

In some instances, Marrett recalled the crews and himself utilising handheld maps and plain sight to locate enemy or in the search for fallen air force and navy troops.

Lessons learnt here show that since the end of the US quagmire in Vietnam, technology has come so far in assisting with the successes in rescue missions.

Today, the USAF predominantly operates the HH-60G Pave Hawk. The aircraft is a variant of the UH-60L Black Hawk and is tasked with mainly CSAR and special operations.

Last summer, USAF introduced the first of 21 Pave Hawks operational loss replacement aircraft. The programme is restoring the fleet to its authorised size replacing those lost during combat in the last 15 years.

This is a stop gap replacement until the Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) and UH-1N replacement programme take over in earnest with the replacement fleet to be filled by 112 helicopters as required by the US military.

The development programme by Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin is expected to see the fleet replaced by 2029.

At the end of last year, Sikorsky inaugurated a new Systems Integration Lab in Stratford, Connecticut, to initiate testing key systems for the CRH programme. Testing will include focus on the avionics, electronic flight controls, electric power and integrated vehicle diagnostics.

This process will allow simulations to take place and enable any issues to be brought to the fore before test flights.

Cheating Death conveys that with heroics, guts and a robust aircraft, most missions were ultimately successful. The gift of hindsight teaches us that once luck is put aside, advancing technologies are the way forward for safer operations in challenging environments.

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