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Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 4 “ Black Knights”

Squadron History

HELICOPTER ANTI-SUBMARINE SQUADRON FOUR was commissioned on 30 June 1952 at U.S. Naval Auxiliary Landing Field in Imperial Beach, California. The squadron flew the Sikorsky HO-3S. CDR W.G. Knapp was the first commanding officer of HS-4 and was also the first designated helicopter pilot in the Navy.

In 1953, HS-4 became the first U.S. Navy Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) helicopter squadron to deploy aboard an aircraft carrier; the escort carrier USS RENDOVA (CVE-14). In 1954, HS-4 deployed aboard the Essex-class aircraft carrier USS PRINCETON (CV-37). In 1956, the squadron converted to the Sikorsky HSS-1 SEABAT and deployed aboard the USS BOXER (CV-21). This deployment was followed by a cruise aboard the USS PRINCETON (CV-37) in 1958. On 9 September 1958, HS-4 made the 9,000th helicopter landing on the USS PRINCETON flying the HSS-1. On 23 June 1959, HS-4 achieved 10,000 accident-free flight hours. Between 1 May and 30 June 1959 HS-4 continued ASW innovation by testing and evaluating a new automatic tactical plotter named “Dolphin”. This new system, combined with the development of an ASW hand computer, eliminated the need for bulky handbooks and equipment for in-flight computations. In 1961, HS-4 became the first ASW squadron in Commander Naval Air Forces, Pacific (COMNAVAIRPAC) to achieve around-the-clock ASW capability, earning HS-4 the title "Black Knights." On 22 September 1961, in a historic first, HS-4 flew 136.2 hours in a 24 hour period, maintaining four helicopters on station around the clock. The newly christened “Black Knights” earned the Isbell ASW Trophy for ASW excellence in fiscal year 1961 as well as the AIRPAC “E”. 2 March 1962 marked the first deployment of a fully operational around-the-clock HS squadron. One month into cruise, HS-4 had flown more night hours than the total night hours of the entire previous deployment. For fiscal year 1962, HS-4 was awarded the CNO Safety Award.

From 1960 to 1968, HS-4 made six Western Pacific Deployments aboard the USS YORKTOWN (CV-10) as part of Carrier Anti-Submarine Air Group 55 (CVSG-55). In 1964, the squadron converted to the Sikorsky SH-3A SEA KING. HS-4 completed its first combat missions during their 1966 Southeast Asia cruise. On 14 March 1966, two HS-4 helicopters rescued five downed aircrew in the South China Sea while taking hostile fire in enemy waters. This was the first hostile fire rescue since the squadron was commissioned. The pilot was awarded a Silver Star, the co-pilot a Distinguished Flying Cross and the aircrewman received an Air Medal. From 1 February – 2 July 1966, while operating in the Gulf of Tonkin, HS-4 pilots and aircrew rescued 24 downed airmen under hostile fire setting the single deployment record for an ASW squadron. For actions during this period, HS-4 members received four Silver Stars, seven Distinguished Flying Crosses, 56 Air Medals, 16 CINCPACFLT Commendations, 17 COMSEVENTHFLT Commendations and 89 Navy Unit Commendation Ribbons. In 1968, HS-4 aboard USS YORKTOWN (CVS-10) was part of the Task Force sent to the Sea of Japan in response to the USS PUEBLO (AGER-2) incident; the illegal North Korean boarding and capture of the lightly armed intelligence gathering vessel.

From 1968 to 1970, HS-4 was assigned to Carrier Anti-Submarine Air Group 59 (CVSG-59) aboard the USS HORNET (CVS-12). From late 1968 through the spring of 1970, the Black Knights of HS-4 participated in and pioneered SAR techniques for the Apollo capsule recoveries. HS-4 was on-scene for Apollo missions 8, 10, 11, 12 and 13. The recovery was always made by one of the most recognized helicopters of all time, "Helicopter 66." The helicopter's flight number was changed from "66" to "740," as after the Apollo 11 recovery the U.S. Navy adopted a three number squadron designator - nonetheless the helicopter always bore the number "66" for public relations reasons. HS-4 earned a Meritorious Unit Commendation (MUC) for these recoveries. For the recovery of Apollo 13 in April 1970, HS-4 was assigned to the helicopter carrier USS IWO JIMA (LPH-2). After the recovery, three HS-4 aircraft flew the astronauts to Pago Pago in American Samoa. The astronauts flew as the co-pilots in the aircraft and were presented with certificates designating them as honorary “Black Knights.” On 22 December 1970, HS-4 achieved 30,000 mishap-free hours, which at the time was unequalled by any other fleet helicopter squadron. In 1971, HS-4 deployed for the last time on an anti-submarine carrier, the USS TICONDEROGA (CV-14). Another first was achieved between 18 April and 27 April 1973 when, with a detachment of only five aircraft, the squadron maintained on-station a fully mission capable aircraft for 72 un-interrupted hours. In 1973, the Black Knights aboard the USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63) and on WESTPAC deployment helped to validate the CV concept; the integration of the former Anti-Submarine Air Group and Attack Carrier Air Wing into what has become the Carrier Air Wing.

Between 1973 and 1979, HS-4 made three cruises aboard the USS RANGER (CV-61) and USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63) as a part of CVW-11, Carrier Air Wing TWO (CVW-2) and back to CVW-11. In 1973, HS-4’s Helicopter “66” made history again by flying His Imperial Majesty, Shahanshah Aryamehr, The Shah of Iran onto the USS KITTY HAWK for a state visit. On 15 October 1976, HS-4’s official homeport changed from NAS Imperial Beach to NAS North Island.  On 22 March 1978, HS-4 experienced the tragic loss of LT Reynolds, LT Labarre, AW2 Hart, AWAN Jacobs, and AOAN Staggers during a combat search and rescue exercise near Fallon, NV. HS-4 was then assigned to Carrier Air Wing FIFTEEN (CVW-15) and made one deployment aboard the USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63), followed by seven cruises aboard the USS CARL VINSON (CVN-70) between 1983 and 1990. During the Cold War of the 1980’s, HS-4 completed countless ASW training events and continued to develop and improve tactics. Additionally, HS-4 completed 34 rescues and tracked 9 foreign submarines during actual operations.

In 1991, HS-4 transitioned from the SH-3H Sea King to the Sikorsky SH-60F and HH-60H helicopters and returned to the USS KITTY HAWK (CV-63) as part of CVW-15 for three deployments between 1991 and 1994. They supported Operations RESTORE HOPE and SOUTHERN WATCH in 1994, and supported the carrier battle group during Korean contingency operations with detachments to Korea and Japan.

When CVW-15 was deactivated, HS-4 was reassigned to Carrier Air Wing FOURTEEN (CVW-14) in January 1995. In 1996, HS-4 made a single deployment aboard the USS CARL VINSON (CVN-70) before CVW-14 and the Black Knights were assigned to the USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN-72) from 1998 to 2003. Their duties included military operations in Pakistan, detachments in Kuwait, and combat search and rescue training in Australia in support of Operation SOUTHERN WATCH and Operation ENDURING FREEDOM. During Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, HS-4 supported U.S. Navy SEALs, British Commando and Polish GROM forces in Kuwait and Iraq.

In 2004, HS-4 and CVW-14 were reassigned to the USS JOHN C. STENNIS (CVN-74) and completed a cruise to the Western Pacific, which took the squadron from San Diego to Alaska, British Columbia, Japan, Malaysia and Australia. Their nine-and-a-half month deployment in 2004 was the longest Navy deployment of its kind since the Second World War; the squadron flew 1283 sorties resulting in 3228 flight hours flown.

In 2006, HS-4 and CVW-14 transferred to the USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN-76) for her maiden deployment. On this deployment, HS-4 detached its HH-60Hs into Basra, Iraq to support coalition troops in the region. Since then, HS-4 has deployed in 2007 and again in 2008 when they supported the typhoon Fengshen survivors in the Philippines before heading to the North Arabian Sea to support U.S. and Coalition forces on the ground in Afghanistan. In 2009, HS-4 completed a Surge deployment, supporting operations in Afghanistan. From 12 March to 4 May 2011, the Legendary Black Knights participated in Operation TOMADOCHI in Japan to help the stricken country by airlifting medical supplies and food to our Japanese friends. The 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan had the helicopters assigned to the USS Ronald Reagan working around the clock. This humanitarian relief effort and subsequent movement to the 5th fleet AOR for Operations NEW DAWN and ENDURING FREEDOM, completed the final SH-60F/HH-60H deployment for HS-4.

On 29 March 2012, HELICOPTER ANTI-SUBMARINE SQUADRON FOUR (HS-4) became HELICOPTER SEA COMBAT SQUADRON FOUR (HSC-4) to reflect the transition to the new MH-60S Knighthawk. Soon after transitioning from the legacy Hawk aircraft, the squadron was reassigned to Carrier Air Wing TWO (CVW-2) along with a new MH-60R squadron (HSM-78) to coincide with the goals of the Helicopter Master Plan. One of the goals of the Helicopter Master Plan is to place greater emphasis on rotary wing aviation in the Carrier Air Wing structure. The MH-60S and MH-60R combination brings more capability to the Air Wing than ever before.
From 2012 to 2014, HSC-4 was kept busy engaging in numerous squadron detachments to military bases around the country to maintain combat readiness.  Two such detachments were the 2012 and 2014 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. Working with units from twenty-three foreign countries, HSC-4 actively participated and gained valuable training.  In September 2015, after undergoing an abbreviated work-up cycle, HSC-4 and CVW-2 embarked on the USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN-73) for a fast-paced, four-month SOUTHERN SEAS 2015 deployment, and participated in the 56th annual UNITAS naval exercise.  UNITAS, which is Latin for “Unity”, brings South American countries together annually to train in a multi-national, cooperative environment.

HSC-4 has been awarded numerous awards since its inception: seven-time winner of the Chief of Naval Operations Aviation Safety Award, one Arleigh Burke Fleet trophy in 1978, ten-time winner of the Battle 'E' (Battle Efficiency) award, six-time winner of the Captain Arnold J. Isbell trophy for ASW excellence and five Sikorsky 'Excellence in Maintenance' Awards in 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983 and 2004. In 2004, HS-4 was also awarded the Golden Anchor for excellence in retention and personnel programs.

Helicopters Flown:

HO-3S 1952-1954
HS-4 was commissioned flying the HO-3S. HS-4’s primary mission was Anti-Submarine warfare with secondary missions of Search and Rescue and logistics. HS-4 was the first ASW squadron to deploy aboard an aircraft carrier and did so in this helicopter.
HSS-1 1954-1959
HS-4’s mission continued to be Anti-Submarine warfare. While in the HSS-1 and HSS-1N, HS-4 developed new tactics for ASW within the Navy. The HSS-1N brought an Automatic Doppler Radar Approach System and Hover Coupler. This allowed HS-4 to begin developing the capability to operate tactically at night and in instrument conditions.
HSS-1N 1959-1963
In 1960, HS-4 was the first Anti-Submarine squadron to deploy with a full complement of All Weather HSS-1N helicopters. HS-4 was the first squadron to achieve true operational all weather sustained around the clock operations in 1961.
SH-3A 1963-1968
With the advent of the SH-3A, HS-4 continued excellence in their primary mission of ASW. On March 14, 1966, HS-4 rescued five aircrew while under hostile fire in the South China Sea. This was the first rescue under hostile fire for the squadron. From February 1st to the 2nd of July, HS-4 personnel rescued twenty-four downed aircrewmen in the Gulf of Tonkin, a record that still stands today for an ASW squadron. Many of these rescues were completed under hostile fire resulting in the members of HS-4 being awarded: 4 Silver Stars, 7 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 56 Air Medals, 16 CINCPACFLT Commendations, 17 COMSEVENTHFLT Commendations and 89 Navy Unit Commendation Ribbons. This period also solidified Combat Search and Rescue as a mission of HS squadrons.
SH-3D 1968-1977
The most famous helicopter of all time was HS-4’s Helicopter “66” which was used to pick up astronauts from Apollo 8, 10, 11, 12 and 13.
SH-3H 1977-1991
The SH-3H continued the Legendary Black Knight’s on their path of ASW excellence. New sonar equipment was installed and upgraded over the next 14 years and HS-4 was on the forefront of developing new tactics for ASW around the carrier.
SH-60F/HH-60H 1991-2012
The SH-60F became the ASW work horse for HS-4. The HH-60H would be the primary aircraft for Combat Search and Rescue as well as logistical missions. The F and H model 60’s would serve valiantly for the next 21 years until HS-4’s transition to the MH-60S Knighthawk.
MH-60S 2012-Present Day
The transition to the MH-60S is a unique time in the history of HS-4. The primary mission of the squadron had always been Anti-Submarine Warfare.  In 2012, Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron FOUR became Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron FOUR (HSC-4) and has the new primary mission of Anti-Surface Warfare with secondary missions of Search and Rescue, Combat Search and Rescue, Special Operations Support, and Logistics.

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