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HMM-166 pilot flies father's 'Sea Knight' 41 years later

By Cpl. Christopher O'Quin | | April 21, 2010

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A young CH-46E “Sea Knight” pilot by the name of 1st Lt. Joseph P. Donovan, serving with the HMM-364 “Purple Foxes” in the Quang Nam Province of Vietnam, risked his life to medically evacuate seriously wounded Marines from an open rice paddy while taking heavy machine gun fire.

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- After taking the first batch of casualties to a hospital in Da Nang with his heavily damaged helicopter, he took control of a second Sea Knight and returned to evacuate the seriously wounded, again braving intense machine gun fire.

A pilot who recently returned from deployment with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 166 visited HMM-364 April 21, to step into the same cockpit of the second Sea Knight Donovan flew exactly 41 years ago. This pilot was none other than his daughter, Capt. Eileen C. Donovan.

She got the idea for the flight after her father visited when she returned from a deployment with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.

“Recently her father came by and visited the squadron and noticed that the same Sea Knight he flew in was here,” said Capt. Buckshot N. Mattson, a pilot with the squadron. “He and his daughter talked to the [commanding officer] and [executive officer] about her flying in the phrog, and it got approved through the chain of command.”

Her father couldn’t join her for the flight but is never the less happy his daughter flew in the long-lived aircraft.

“The fact is she is an accomplished, skilled, dedicated and resourceful Marine and pilot and the fact that she flew the same aircraft I once did is truly remarkable,” said her father. “I couldn’t be more proud of her.”

Eileen flew it throughout Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton performing landings and take-offs at various sites during an hour-long flight.

“The whole time I’ve been a phrog pilot I’ve thought, ‘wouldn’t it be awesome if I could fly the same bird my dad’s flown,’” she said. “It’s a career maker, and I can retire happy now because I’ve flown the helicopter.”

“The aircraft’s longevity of service is a great testament to the maintainers and crew chiefs,” she continued. “We could not do our jobs without all the ground crews and they are the heart and soul of an aviation squadron.”

For Donovan, this flight’s timing couldn’t be any better.

 “Our squadron is going to begin the transition to an Osprey squadron next month when we have our change of command,” reflected the “Sea Elk.” “This is absolutely the last chance I’ll have to fly this Sea Knight and probably one of the last couple flights in the phrog, as sad as it is.”

Even though her chapter as a CH-46E pilot is coming to an end, the next chapter for this Sea Knight is unwritten, as future pilots will once again pilot it to rescue the wounded in some distant battlefield.


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