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Special Seahawks – Vertical Magazine

Even should you love helicopters, you won’t know a lot about two U.S. Navy helicopter squadrons that go by the names of “Red Wolves” and “Firehawks.” Nevertheless, should you have been a Navy SEAL or different special operator during the last 30 years, either of them may need come to your help in a faraway place.

An HH-60H from HSC-85 performs a ultimate break with an MH-60S on the eve of the H mannequin’s retirement. Skip Robinson Photograph

The Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC-84) Pink Wolves and HSC-85 Firehawks are U.S. Navy Reserve helicopter squadrons tasked with supporting particular operations and combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) missions. Each are direct descendants of two legendary Vietnam-era helicopter squadrons: the Helicopter Assault Squadron (Mild) Three or HA(L)-Three “Seawolves,” and Helicopter Combat Help Squadron Seven (HC-7) “Sea Devils.”

Shaped in April 1967, HA(L)-Three was outfitted with a number of totally different Bell UH-1 Huey variants and flew hundreds of missions in Southeast Asia’s marshy lowlands and rivers, protecting the boat-equipped naval riverine forces. Many of those missions involved the interdiction and attack of enemy junks, and other boats carrying weapons and provides to the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army. HA(L)-3 also offered aerial help for SEAL teams and demolition models inside the Navy.

The drawdown of fight operations in Vietnam introduced an early end for the squadron. HA(L)-Three formally disestablished in March 1972 as probably the most adorned, combat-tested Navy aviation squadron in history. In the years that followed Vietnam, the Navy realized the need to protect sure mission capabilities inside the Navy Reserve. Consequently, the Navy established two specialized mild assault helicopter squadrons: the HAL-Four “Red Wolves” on the East Coast in 1976 and the HAL-5 “Bluehawks” on the West Coast in 1977. Both squadrons have been outfitted with weaponized and hoist-equipped Bell HH-1K Huey helicopters, and specialized in the insertion and extraction of Navy particular operation teams and assault help.

For 30 years, the U.S. Navy’s HH-60H (foreground) has supported American forces in theaters around the globe. Its alternative, the MH-60S (background) will proceed this tradition for years to return. Skip Robinson Photograph

The Sea Devils of HC-7 performed CSAR missions in Vietnam, using a myriad of helicopter varieties including the Sikorsky H-Three Sea King, Kaman H-2 Sea Sprite, Boeing H-46, and even one Sikorsky H-34. The Sea Devils executed 150 successful combat rescues, earning over 500 combat decorations including the Congressional Medal of Honor for pilot LTjg Clyde Lassen in a daring night time rescue flying a UH-2A. Just like the fate of HAL-Three, HC-7 was disestablished in June 1975, transferring combat-tested HH-3A “Big Mother” aircraft to newly shaped Navy reserve strike rescue squadron Helicopter Combat Help Squadron Nine (HC-9).

By the 1980s, the HH-1K and HH-3A have been both lengthy of tooth and never capable of do the longer vary, hot-and-high missions the Navy was requiring. In the meantime, the Navy had been flying the Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawk since 1983, and was very glad with its performance.

Within the mid-’80s, the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) began in search of a alternative for its ageing Sikorsky HH-3F SAR helicopter, and the Navy for a brand new long-range particular operations and CSAR helicopter to switch its HH-3As. In September 1986, Sikorsky was awarded a contract for an initial 5 helicopters based mostly on the SH-60F anti-submarine warfare (ASW) model then in improvement. Dubbed the “Rescue Hawk,” the HH-60H was then validated as an urgent requirement for personnel recovery, anti-surface warfare (ASUW) and CSAR in help of carrier-based strike operations.

The HH-60H spent a few years conducting combat operations in desert environments. Skip Robinson Photograph

The Navy and USCG determined to acquire this long-range SAR helicopter with comparable traits to maintain the overall costs down. The Navy would procure the HH-60H, while the USCG would procure a variant referred to as the HH-60J. The airframes have been nearly similar, featuring unique double sliding home windows on the left aspect, a sliding door on the fitting, and a large inner gasoline capacity. The USCG version would carry three external gasoline tanks, while the Navy model would carry two, with the left tank mount tailored as a weapons wing.

The HH-60H made its first flight on Aug. 17, 1988, and after a clean improvement process, deliveries of 42 aircraft started in 1989. In preparation for receipt of the sort, HAL-4 and -5 formally redesignated as Helicopter Combat Help Special squadrons Four and Five, assuming the twin position of particular operations and fight search-and-rescue. Not in need of a devoted CSAR squadron, Navy tasked HC-9 with training up newly minted “HCS” aircrews, before finally disestablishing the squadron in 1990.

Impressive capabilities

The HH-60H achieved preliminary working functionality (IOC) in April 1990 with a regular crew of two pilots, a crew chief, and a gunner. When it entered service, the HH-60H carried numerous defensive features including a hover infrared suppression system (HIRSS) to attenuate the warmth signature and decrease the menace from enemy heat-seeking missiles. During an main improve to the HH-60Hs in 1998, a mount was added to the nose to carry a laser designation succesful AAS-44 forward-looking infrared (FLIR) turret. On the similar time, the HH-60H was modified to carry AGM-114Okay/N Hellfire missiles on the left wing using a four station M299 launcher.

A traditional HH-60H crew consists of a pilot, co-pilot, crew chief and gunner, with a combat medic added during combat missions. Skip Robinson Photograph

The aircraft was initially configured with two window-mounted M-60D machine guns as well as one cabin-configured GAU-16 .50-cal machine gun. Later, the 7.62-mm M-240 changed the M-60D in the crew-served weapon position, augmented by the 7.62-mm M134 GAU-17/A Minigun.

Plane survivability gear included the ALQ-144 infrared jammer, AVR-2 laser detectors, APR-39 radar detectors, AAR-47 missile launch detectors, and ALE-47 chaff/flare dispensers (AVR-2 detectors have been later deleted as laser detection capability was built-in into the APR-39A(V)2 system). Kevlar armor ballistic plates have been added to the rear cabin flooring to offer small arms safety, whereas Kevlar armor was added within the cockpit to protect the pilots.

“One advantage of the HH-60H was its large internal cargo space for gunners and our payload — SEAL teams, etc.,” recalled Package Brown, a previous commanding officer of HSC-85 who has flown a number of variations of the Seahawk in operational, evaluation, combat, and testing conditions. “We might maintain it that method with the pliability of two external auxiliary gasoline tank stations. With these tanks, the vary could possibly be extended to five hours, or both could possibly be removed to save lots of weight.

“The self-defense capabilities were really cutting-edge at the time, and the Navy did fairly well to keep the airframe updated,” Brown continued. “The most effective weapon proved to be the GAU-17 .30-cal Miniguns. We found armed engagements with hostile troops to rarely last more than a dozen seconds, and given the limited amount of opportunity to engage, the rate of fire of those guns was paramount and very, very effective. The HH-60H had a robust suite of radios as well, allowing for critical communications with ground units, airborne units, and inter-flight communications.”

HH-60H crews educated constantly for day and night time operations in desert environments. Right here, an HH-60H performs a mud touchdown. Skip Robinson Photograph

With the addition of the H model, the U.S. Navy had achieved the power to protect the aircraft service towards the ever-expanding enemy small boat and patrol vessel menace when transiting tight waterways and getting into ports of call. Missions flown by the HH-60Hs with HS squadrons included not solely personnel restoration, CSAR, and ASUW, but in addition particular operations help, vertical replenishment, logistics, personnel transfer, airborne use of pressure, anti-piracy and more.

“Through the mid-1990s to 2015, the HH-60H was a mainstay with every carrier-based HS squadron,” recalled retired Upkeep Grasp Chief Jimmy Thompson, who served with Helicopter Coaching Squadron 10 (HS-10), which educated all Navy HH-60H pilots and aircrew from January 1990 till it was disestablished in July 2012.

“Each HS squadron was initially equipped with five SH-60F ASW Seahawks and two HH-60H Seahawks, but as further airframes were delivered to the fleet, in 1995 it was changed to three HH-60H aircraft,” Thompson continued. “Anti-surface warfare capabilities greatly increased with the addition of four AGM-114K/N Hellfire missiles attached to the helicopters’ left-hand extended wing pylon.”

Operating in difficult circumstances, Navy Seahawks require continuous upkeep. Skip Robinson Photograph

In response to Brown, “Unarguably, the HH-60H is a Naval workhorse and over time was modified based on real-world requirements after years of combat support operations. We operated the HH-60H at the extreme ends of the operating margins, routinely flying at max gross weights, but also flying at very high density altitudes, well in excess of 10,000 feet.”

Combat expertise

Not lengthy after obtaining IOC with HCS-4 and HCS-5, HH-60Hs deployed overseas to Saudi Arabia. By late December 1990, they have been in place at Tabuk to participate in Operation Desert Defend and, quickly after, Desert Storm beneath the decision sign “Spike.” As a result of each unit was nonetheless coaching on the HH-60Hs, they mixed forces to type two requested, two-plane detachments.

“Spike” worked intently with Saudi UH-1N SAR flights, with the UH-1Ns performing day visual flight guidelines (VFR) flights out to 125 miles, and the HH-60Hs ranging out to 210 miles at night time using night time imaginative and prescient goggles (NVGs). “Spike” Detachment flew 461 sorties and 750 flight hours, and was credited with some searches and a few rescues.

The cockpit of the HH-60H incorporates know-how from all three many years of its operations. Skip Robinson Photograph

As one of many two squadrons in the U.S. Navy devoted to Naval Special Warfare help and fight search-and-rescue, the HCS-5 Firehawks deployed to Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003. HCS-Four arrived in early April to reinforce the Firehawks. Both squadrons completed 900 combat air missions and over 1,700 combat flight hours in three years. Nearly all of their flights in the Iraqi theater supported special operations ground forces missions.

In accordance with the Navy’s Helicopter Grasp Plan, HCS-5 acquired orders to redeploy residence and put together for disestablishment. The squadron ceased operations in 2006, and disestablished in December of that very same yr. HCS-Four assumed general duty for the OIF Detachment, redesignating as HSC-84. The squadron would keep it up in Iraq for 5 extra years, engaging in over 6,500 combat flight hours in help of special operations.

Because of success enjoyed by the Pink Wolves, the U.S. Navy determined to reestablish a West Coast special operations squadron. The fleet utility squadron HSC-85 “High Rollers” redesignated as “Firehawks” in June 2011, and exchanged Block 1 MH-60S airframes for the HH-60H. Once more, lower than four years later, both squadrons have been directed to disestablish because of sequestration cost-saving efforts. Congressional intervention saved HSC-85, however HSC-84 did not share the identical fate. The Pink Wolves disestablished in March 2016 as the longest-deployed, most adorned Navy helicopter squadron since Vietnam.

The Navy’s aviation upkeep professionals worked diligently to keep HH-60Hs flying in a number of the most demanding and austere places around the globe.

The HH-60H additionally served others in fight, together with the 2515th Navy Air Ambulance Detachment (NAAD). Shaped in 2006 as a mix of HSC-25 and HS-15 plane and personnel, the unit operated a number of Navy HH-60Hs out of Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Outfitted with a litter administration system and purple cross markings, they carried out missions into southern Iraq to offer airborne medical response in help of floor operations.

HCS-5 Firehawks Corpsman Greg Sanderson was already a extremely educated Los Angeles Hearth Division firefighter flight paramedic when he reported to the squadron in 2003 and subsequently deployed with the HH-60H to Iraq. He advised Vertical 911, “The HH-60H was showing its age, but was still a very capable workhorse for the Navy and had plenty of endurance. Five-hour flights were normal as it could bag out to about 5,000 pounds of fuel, including the auxiliary tank mounted on the port sponson. I was always impressed with the incredible amount of firepower it could provide for close air support after we dropped off a special operations team. Typical configuration was left window M-240 and right door GAU-17. Using the short-travel pintle on the left, we could also carry Hellfire missiles mounted to the extended pylon. She was truly a gunship!”

Sanderson continued, “Because of the aircraft’s lengthy loiter time, we used the HH-60H to offer prime cover and close air help to our floor teams after insertions. We have been also there to offer medical help and casualty evacuation. There have been missions the place other aircraft we have been working with, such because the MH-53 Pave Low, would wish to air refuel off a tanker whereas Army UH-60s would wish to go away to get gasoline. We stayed behind to continue overlaying the action, and [this] made for some very lengthy flights lasting up to 5 hours within the HH-60H. This was arduous on each the thoughts and physique, however was additionally very satisfying understanding we have been there for our guys.

An MH-60S drops Navy SEALs in the kind of mission it should keep on doing into the longer term. Skip Robinson Photograph

“During night missions we used the FLIR with outstanding success. It worked great for finding the house or facility we were targeting and additionally for catching enemy ‘squirters’ as they tried to escape our team who were paying them a visit.”

Sanderson concluded, “I’ve worked with Bell 412s, Hueys, and AW139s in the fire department; all great helos. But the HH-60H is a true combat aircraft and extremely robust, and as far as I’m concerned it’s the greatest helicopter ever made.”

Finish of an era

Regardless of the H mannequin’s spectacular capabilities, as is the case for all aircraft, the time ultimately got here for its alternative. At that point, the Navy additionally needed to streamline logistics, so the choice was made to exchange the HH-60H with the MH-60S, the standard fleet logistics airframe.

With the retirement of the HH-60H, the MH-60S will proceed to offer advanced capabilities and be a real pressure multiplier for particular forces. Skip Robinson Photograph

Though the aircraft are very comparable in look, the MH-60S is predicated on the UH-60L Black Hawk. It supplies various enhancements over the H model to incorporate enhanced survivability, strong avionics and communication techniques, and the larger cabin quantity and double doors perfect for cargo and passenger transport, enabling troops to embark and disembark shortly for insertion/extraction.

The MH-60S also has the power to extend vary with the installation of inner Robertson gasoline tanks, making the aircraft flexible in a number of mission areas. Meanwhile, a standard glass cockpit with the MH-60R reduces prices and offers the power for the fashions to work together exchanging tactical info in a hunter/killer littoral surroundings.

“The MH-60S has been serving the Navy well since 2002 and is now a proven and understood airframe. With a common glass cockpit design between the new MH-60S and MH-60R, both homeland and overseas support and upgrades would be much easier,” Brown defined.

One benefit of the HH-60H was its giant inner cargo area for gunners and payload, and the MH-60S additionally has a big cabin quantity. Skip Robinson Photograph

“Having the tail wheel further aft, having the two large sliding doors, and the cavernous cabin like Army UH-60 airframes made the MH-60S a useful transport for the special operations and combat SAR missions. The drawback is if we need to go further some of the cabin space is sacrificed for removable internal fuel tanks. The MH-60 can carry AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, M240 machine guns and will be upgraded to the GAU-17 7.62-mm Miniguns soon.”

Brown admitted, “Change is often difficult to embrace, particularly for those of us set in our ways. The transition from the HH-60H to the MH-60S is no different. There will be plenty to miss not flying the HH-60H, but there is plenty to be excited about with the MH-60S and its long future in the Navy special operations world.”

Regardless of the sort model change from the HH-60H to the newer MH-60S, a minimum of one thing remains unchanged: the Navy has a really succesful CSAR aircraft that may proceed to offer advanced capabilities and be a true pressure multiplier to particular forces.

HH-60 crews used the plane’s FLIR capabilities with outstanding success. Skip Robinson Photograph

“I have worked helicopters for nearly 30 years and specifically on the HH-60H for nearly 17 of those,” stated Thompson. “To watch a piece of history retire brings a tear to my eye, but [I know] the legacy of the HH-60H is not forgotten as the MH-60S continues on carrying out the full spectrum of multiple warfare mission areas.”

HSC-85 officially ceased HH-60H operations in March 2019 and the “Hotel” will fly its last days with coaching squadron HSC-3 until its official “sundown” ceremony throughout Might 2019. To say it has served its crews and country properly is an understatement. After almost 30 years of continuous fight service, nobody can talk about every little thing that the HH-60H has accomplished for america, however relaxation assured there are literally thousands of tales.

And its legacy of service isn’t yet over. While one or two could also be saved for display in museums, the bulk will switch to the USCG. There, they are going to be transformed into MH-60T “Tangos” and proceed performing the demanding mission of long-range overwater search-and-rescue for the American individuals.

Although the HH-60H might be missed, with the transition to the MH-60S, the Navy continues to have a very succesful CSAR plane that may help particular forces for years to return. Skip Robinson Photograph