Air Force helicopter pilot rescues Special Forces team

Air Force helicopter pilot rescues Special Forces team

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While returning to base from another mission, Air Force 1st Lt. Fleming and four other Bell UH-1F helicopter pilots get an urgent message from an Army Special Forces team pinned down by enemy fire.

Although several of the other helicopters had to leave the area because of low fuel, Lieutenant Fleming and another pilot pressed on with the rescue effort. The first attempt failed because of intense ground fire, but refusing to abandon the Army green berets, Fleming managed to land and pick up the team. When he safely arrived at his base near Duc Co, it was discovered that his aircraft was nearly out of fuel. Lieutenant Fleming was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions.

Born in March 12, 1943 in Sedalia, Missouri, Fleming entered military service at Pullman, Washington.

In 1968, Fleming was an aircraft commander of a UH-1F transport helicopter assigned to the 20th Special Operations Squadron at Ban Me Thuot East Airfield in the Republic of Vietnam. On November 26, a six-man reconnaissance team of Army Special Forces Green Berets had been lifted into Vietnam's western highlands, near the Cambodian border and about 30 miles (48 km) west of Pleiku. Hours later, they found themselves penned up next to a river, with enemy forces on the three remaining sides. The team leader's call for immediate evacuation was received by an Air Force forward air controller (FAC), Major Charles E. Anonsen, as well as Fleming's nearby flight of five UH-1s. All five helicopters, despite being low on fuel, headed toward the coordinates while the FAC briefed them on the situation. [1]

The Green Berets were taking heavy fire from six heavy machine guns and an undetermined number of enemy troops. As soon as the helicopters sighted the team's smoke, the gunships opened fire, knocking out two machine gun positions. One gunship was hit and crash-landed across the river, its crew picked up by another of the transports. A second transport, low on fuel, had to pull out of formation and return to base. There were only two helicopters left, Fleming's and one other that was almost out of ammunition. [1]

Hovering just above the jungle treetops, Fleming inspected the only clearing near enough for the troops to reach and found it impossible to land there. He instead flew over the river and hovered just above the water, with his landing skids against the bank, hoping that the special forces troops would be able to run the few yards to his helicopter safely. In addition to exposing his aircraft to ground fire, this maneuver was a balancing act that required great piloting skill. After waiting for several minutes, the reconnaissance team radioed that they couldn't survive a dash to the helicopter. Fleming lifted his UH-1 out of range of the hostile fire. [1]

The FAC directed the Green Berets to detonate their mines as Fleming made a last attempt to rescue them. As the mines exploded, he again lowered his helicopter to the river bank, balancing against it, giving the Green Berets an open cargo door through which to leap to safety. The enemy soldiers concentrated their fire on the UH-1. The Green Berets ran for the chopper, firing as they ran and killing three Viet Cong barely 10 feet (3.0 m) from the aircraft. As they leaped through the cargo door, Fleming once more backed the helicopter away from the bank and flew down the river to safety. [1]

In a ceremony at the White House on May 14, 1970, President Richard Nixon presented the Medal of Honor to Fleming for his actions during the rescue. Fleming's other decorations include the Silver Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and eight Air Medals. [1]

Fleming remained in the air force, becoming a colonel and a member of the Officer Training School staff at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, before his retirement in 1996. [1]

Blackhawk Helicopter – Special operations

The increased speed, range, and carrying capacity of the Black Hawk meant that it quickly found a number of uses in the special operations community. The MH-60G Pave Hawk was designed to deliver and extract Special Forces behind enemy lines, while the similar HH-60G was developed as a combat rescue helicopter for the Air Force. Both types are equipped with weather radar to allow operations in poor weather, while pilots are equipped with night vision goggles (NVGs) that enable missions to be carried out in low visibility. Pave Hawks are equipped with retractable in-flight refueling probes and internal auxiliary fuel tanks for increased range. Both types have seen extensive combat since the end of the 1980s, flying missions in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, as depicted here.


The Special Forces and rescue variants of the Black Hawk have now been in service for two decades. A number of current aircraft are finished in Gunship Gray (Federal Standard paint 36118) for low-visibility daylight operations against a ground threat, gray being much less obvious against the sky than standard green or camouflage colors. This aircraft is fitted with the External Stores Support System (ESSS). Developed in the 1980s to allow aircraft to be ferried over long distances, the ESSS consists of two downward-sloping stub wings with four hardpoints for external tanks. The extra fuel carried allows rescue helicopters to penetrate deep into enemy territory, where aerial refueling might be risky. In combat (and as shown here), only the outer tanks are fitted, allowing a clear field of fire for the door gunners.

Hawks Special Forces units have proliferated in most armies over the last 40 years, and helicopters are ideal platforms for delivering and supporting Special Forces teams. In the 1980s, the Army decided to convert 30 UH-60As to a special operations version, known as the MH-60A. This featured a number of modifications, some of which were later to be applied to other Black Hawk variants. The primary mission of the MH-60 is to conduct overt or covert infiltration, exfiltration, and resupply of Special Operations Forces across a wide range of environmental conditions.

To give the helicopter additional range, an in-flight refueling probe was fitted, and an additional 117-gallon internal fuel tank was mounted in the rear of the cabin. This gave the MH-60 an infiltration radius without air refueling of just under 340 miles. HIRSS exhaust shields were fitted to give protection against heat-seeking missiles, and other defensive countermeasures, including a disco light heat-seeking missile jammer and two M130 chaff/flare dispensers, were added.

To enable the aircraft to operate by night, a night vision goggle (NVG)compatible cockpit was fitted, and a FLIR video camera was mounted in a turret in the nose. Defensive capabilities were increased by adding a pintle-mounted minigun on each side in place of the M60D machine guns normally carried at the time.

Since many of its features were tacked on in an improvised fashion, the MH-60A was nicknamed the Velcro Hawk. These machines were replaced in regular Army service by UH-60Ls brought up to a similar MH-60L Velcro Hawk configuration. The older MH-60As were handed down to Army National Guard units.

As with most variants of the UH-60A and UH-60L, the MH-60s could be fitted with either the ETS or ESSS stub wings, and they have carried a variety of stores and armaments, including a 30mm chain gun and unguided rocket pods. Developed for the US Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, armed MH-60Ls entered service in 1990. Designated as the MH-60L Direct Action Penetrator or Defensive Armed Penetrator (DAP), the armed MH-60 has the primary mission of armed escort and fire support.

MH-60G Pave Hawk

The Pave Hawk is a twin-engine medium-lift helicopter operated by the Air Force Special Operations Command, a component of the US Special Operations Command. The basic crew normally consists of five: pilot, copilot, flight engineer, and two pararescuemen. The aircraft can also carry eight to ten troops. Pave Hawks are equipped with a rescue hoist with a 200ft cable and 600lb lift capacity.

The 98 Credible Hawks acquired in the 1980s were to be brought up to MH-60G Pave Hawk configuration in a two-phase program. Only 16 of the total of 98 MH-60Gs received the Phase 3 gear. These Pave Hawks were assigned the special operations role, while the other 82, with the Phase Two equipment fit, were assigned the CSAR role in October 1991 and redesignated HH-60G.

The Phase Two update included a Bendix-King 1400C navigation radar in a radome on the left side of the nose, an ANIASN-137 Doppler radar, a GPSIINS set, a moving-map display, secure communications, and improved defensive countermeasures.

The Phase Three update included an AN/AAQ-16 FLIR imager a partial glass cockpit with twin flat-panel displays and a head-up display (HUD) a door mount on each side for a 12.7mm machine gun, along with the gun mount in each window infrared lights for night refueling and a ring laser gyro inertial navigation system.

General Characteristics
Primary Function: Personnel recovery in hostile conditions and military operations other than war in day, night or marginal weather
Contractor: United Technologies/Sikorsky Aircraft Company
Power Plant: Two General Electric T700-GE-700 or T700-GE-701C engines
Thrust: 1,560-1,940 shaft horsepower, each engine
Rotor Diameter: 53 feet, 7 inches (14.1 meters)
Length: 64 feet, 8 inches (17.1 meters)
Height: 16 feet, 8 inches (4.4 meters)
Weight: 22,000 pounds (9,900 kilograms)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 22,000 pounds (9,900 kilograms)
Fuel Capacity: 4,500 pounds (2,041 kilograms)
Payload: depends upon mission
Speed: 184 mph (159 knots)
Range: 504 nautical miles
Ceiling: 14,000 feet (4,267 meters)
Armament: Two 7.62mm or .50 caliber machineguns
Crew: Two pilots, one flight engineer and one gunner
Unit Cost: $26 million
Initial operating capability: 1982
Inventory: Active force, 70 ANG, 18 Reserve, 13

Inside the Rescue That Earned an Air Force Pilot the Medal of Honor in Vietnam

Just two days before Thanksgiving 1968, Air Force helicopter pilot James Fleming gave six desperate Green Berets fighting in the Vietnam War something for which to be eternally thankful.

On the morning of November 26, First Lieutenant Fleming was tasked with piloting a UH-1F “Huey” helicopter to insert a seven-man Special Forces recon team into a “h ot” area along Cambodian border so they could embark upon an intelligence-gathering mission.

Before missions like the one he flew on November 26th took off, Fleming said the men would often link arms and communicate, even though few words were exchanged.

“ It was a way of saying ‘I’m gonna take you and I’m going to put you out in the middle of hell. And if you have to come home, I’ll bring you home,’” he explained. “I’m telling him that. That’s my duty it’s my honor. That’s what I do.”

And, though things did not go as planned, that’s exactly what he did.

While conducting reconnaissance in the area, the Special Forces team was discovered and ambushed by a l arge enemy force of North Vietnamese soldiers. As the firefight raged, the outnumbered team of Americans retreated as best they could to a river on the border of Cambodia and Vietnam.

Outgunned and pinned down, the team set up a defensive position with the water at their backs and sent out an emergency call for an immediate extraction.

That frantic call was relayed to Fleming and four other aircraft—two of them helicopter gunships—and all five converged on the area despite being low on fuel reserves.

Upon arrival, one of the gunships was downed almost immediately by heavy fire and another of the choppers was then diverted to rescue that crew and return them to base. A third chopper quickly burned through its fuel and also had to retreat from the area, leaving only the remaining gunship and the UH-1F being piloted by Lt. James Fleming to attempt the rescue of the Green Berets.

And attempt it they did. “I hit that riverbank and my right door gunner starts shooting,” Fleming said. “ We’re starting to take damage and starting to take rounds. All of a sudden, the radio operator says ‘Get out, get out, they got us, get out!’ I hear that and we’re taking damage so I put the nose down and go down the river and leave the area.”

From this fresh vantage point, however, Fleming could see the enemy had locked in on the Americans, forcing the small team to blow the claymore mines they had scattered around their position as a last line of defense.

Despite the enemy closing in, Fleming saw an opportunity to try to swoop in once again using the dust in the air raised by the exploded mines to screen his movement. To aid the rescue, the remaining gunship on station made one more strafing pass with its guns to drive back the North Vietnamese.

“I hit the riverbank again and we’re doing the same operation,” Fleming said. “As we get further down, we’re starting to take some pretty good damage. My door gunner was shooting and yelling.”

In an exposed position and dangerously low on fuel, Lt. Fleming kept the chopper in place as hostile fire crashed through his windscreen and members of the patrol team boarded the chopper.

Thanks to Lt. Fleming’s bravery, six of the seven members of the Special Forces team made it safely onto the chopper before it departed, one of the Green Berets held on to the Huey’s landing skid as it lifted off to leave.

For his heroism under fire, Lt. Fleming was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Nixon at the White House on May 14, 1970. During the ceremony, Nixon told the honorees, “Today is not my day. It’s your day.”

Reflecting on his heroics and the award afterward, Lt. Fleming said: “How many helicopter pilots were in Vietnam, thousands? How many pilots did what I did and got shot down and died and no one saw it, hundreds? I know that. I was recognized. I owe a lot to those that weren’t.”

In addition to the Medal of Honor, Lieutenant Fleming was also awarded the Silver Star, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Meritorious Service Medal, Combat Readiness Medal and numerous other commendations for his service.

Fleming was also promoted to the rank of Captain.

A portion of his Medal of Honor citation reads as follows: “For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Capt. Fleming (then 1st Lt.) distinguished himself as the Aircraft Commander of a UH-1F transport Helicopter. Capt. Fleming’s profound concern for his fellow men, and at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Air Force and reflect great credit upon himself and the Armed Forces of his country.”

Fleming, the Medal of Honor winner, remained in the Air Force and rose to the rank of Colonel, eventually retiring from the service in 1996.

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The Marines are looking for a few good Tigers

Posted On February 04, 2020 17:24:14

The Marine Corps wants to buy some second-hand Tigers. No, they’re not trying to replace Sigfried and Roy they want to buy some F-5E/F Tiger fighters.

According to a report at Soldier of Fortune, the Marine Corps is looking to bolster its force of aggressors. The F-5E/F had long seen service as an attack airframe. In fact, F-5E/F aggressors portrayed the fictional MiG-28 in “Top Gun.”

A Swiss Air Force F-5E Tiger. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

So, why is the Marine Corps looking to expand the aggressors? One reason is the age of the fighters. The Marine F/A-18Cs are in some of the worst shape — it’s so bad that last year, the Marines had to pull Hornets out of the “boneyard” at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

Currently, the Marines have VMFAT-101 at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, in Arizona. The goal is to place detachments of F-5s at three other Marine Corps air bases. This will help meet the needs of the Marine Corps.

Northrop F-5E (Tail No. 11419). (U.S. Air Force photo)

One of the reasons ironically had to do with a new capability for the AV-8B Harrier force in the Marines: the ability to shoot the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile. The AMRAAM capability required training to help the pilots use it.

So, why not just ask the other services? Well, the Navy and Air Force are having similar problems in terms of airframe age.

SOF also notes that the Air Force has resorted to using T-38 Talon trainers to provide high-speed targets for the F-22, largely because the F-22 force is both very small and expensive to operate. The Marines face the same issue with operating costs if they were to use the F-35B as aggressors.

A Republic of Singapore Air Force F-5S armed with AGM-65S Mavericks. (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The Marines are also looking to add light attack capability, possibly using one of two propeller-driven counter-insurgency planes, the AT-6C Coyote and the AT-29 Super Tucano. If such a unit were to be created, it could very well be assigned to the Marine Corps Reserve’s 4th Marine Air Wing.


Michael's Dispatches

With the war increasing, Air Force Pararescue has been crisscrossing the skies picking up casualties.

That’s the Green Zone of Helmand Province, the opium capital of the world. Those fields are the great ATM of our enemies here. The fertilizer used to make those fields green is the same fertilizer used to make countless bombs.

We are flying in a special U.S. Air Force Pavehawk helicopter to fetch a seriously ill British soldier.

In Iraq, many of the casevacs were done by ground forces. In other words, if we hit a bomb or got shot, soldiers would load up the dead and wounded and rush them to the CSH (Combat Support Hospital or “cash”). But in Afghanistan most of the fighting occurs outside the cities and far away from the base hospitals. Rescue helicopters stationed at places like Bagram, Kandahar Airfield and Camp Bastion have been flying thousands of missions.

There are numerous helicopter rescue “services” in Afghanistan. For instance, the British have MERTs (Medical Emergency Response Teams) that fly in a CH-47, and the U.S. Army uses Pavehawks as does the U.S. Air Force. Special operations teams normally cover their own evacuations.

This U.S. Army rescue helicopter parked at Camp Bastion (Helmand) flies with the red cross symbol allowing the enemy to get a better aim at the helicopter. Unfortunately, by displaying the red cross symbol, the helicopters are not allowed to carry miniguns or other large weapons. This seems a rather questionable decision given that the Taliban and other enemies could not give a hoot about law. It is unclear why the Army decided that a red cross provides more protection than miniguns.

These Air Force “Pedro” rescue helicopters have two miniguns each (total of four miniguns), and the PJs all carry M-4 rifles. They do fire those weapons in combat. In July, a helicopter swooped down during a rescue and picked up some wounded soldiers and then was shot down. The second Air Force helicopter had to get the U.S. Army patients off the bird that had been shot down. But there was not enough room in the second bird for the Pedro crew. (No injuries.) So the tiny Army OH-58 Kiowa helicopters flew out—Kiowas only seat two people and both seats were full—and some of the Pedro folks had to clip onto the skids and fly out like James Bond.

The damaged helicopter was left behind. Bullets had hit a fuel line and caused the fuel to leak out, and so the pilot had no trouble landing, but the helicopter was now stuck in the middle of nowhere. So after the Pedros rescued U.S. soldiers who then rescued Pedros, other soldiers flew out to rescue the Pedro helicopter. The plan was to cut off the rotors and have a bigger helicopter use a cable to lift out the Pavehawk and fly it back to base. But when the soldiers started using a saw on the rotors, sparks hit the fuel that had leaked and the Pavehawk burned to the ground. The Army killed the Air Force’s helicopter.

The helicopters take hits. On another mission in Helmand, an RPG shot through the tail but luckily it missed the transmission if the RPG had hit the transmission, the entire crew likely would have been killed. And so . . . those miniguns come in handy. The gunners are great shots and can return accurate fire within seconds.

Some readers have gotten upset that I call them “Pedro,” thinking the name is secret. The concern is welcome but not warranted in this case. The Pedros don’t care and they even have a Pedro patch.

The US kamikaze plan to end the Nazi nuclear program

Posted On April 29, 2020 15:54:50

In August 1942, Joseph Kennedy, Jr. died aboard a B-24 Liberator loaded with explosives – and almost nothing else. He was part of Operation Aphrodite, an all-out effort to destroy reinforced Nazi weapons bunkers. But there was one bunker in particular that appeared to resist every Army Air Forces bombing attempt. This one was critical because it developed off the merciless V-2 and maybe even V-3 rocket programs that terrorized London – and the United States thought it would be the delivery agent for a Nazi nuke.

It had to go – but to do that required a developing technology and a lot of bravado. More airmen than Nazis would die trying.

These things were built to last.

For months, the Allies worked to destroy the bunker, called the Fortress of Mimoyecques, that might be developing the V-3 rocket, one that was possibly capable of guiding a nuclear weapon over London. Time and again, the United States would conduct a massive bombing operation over the site, but like clockwork, the resupply trains would be back the very next week. It seemed like nothing could be done using conventional explosives. So the USAAF turned to the unconventional. It turned to Operation Aphrodite.

The plan was for a remotely operated, obsolete bomber to be packed with the bare minimum of machinery and equipment necessary to get the craft over the target. The rest of the plane was filled with high explosives. While nowadays drone technology is pretty par for the course, back then it was something entirely different – not quite as reliable and it required a crew to get a plane up in the air, two at the bare minimum. So two men would be aboard a ticking time bomb as it took off for enemy territory and would have to bail out shortly after.

The men were supposed to get the plane off the ground then bail out over the English Channel to be picked up. Then the plane would be guided using cameras on the instrument panel and the view ahead of the plane via remote control. Once at the target the plane would be flown into whatever was too protected for a conventional bombing run. The volunteer who wanted to fly the plane that was destined for the Fortress of Mimoyecques was none other than Lt. Joseph Kennedy Jr., brother to future President of the United States John F. Kennedy and son to prominent businessman Joseph P. Kennedy.

Unfortunately for the Kennedy family, the B-24 Liberator bomber Kennedy and his wingman Lt. Wilford J. Willy flew took off from RAF Fersfield in England, bound for the bunker complex in Northern France. The 20,000 pounds of Torpex explosive the B-24 was carrying ignited from an electrical fault in the plane shortly after takeoff. The resulting explosion was the largest conventional explosion in history at the time. Kennedy and Willy were likely vaporized instantly.

Luckily for the Allies, the Aphrodite plan for Mimoyecques would be unnecessary. Canadian D-Day invaders reached the complex site on Sept. 4, 1944. What they found was not the vast underground death factory planners assumed was below the surface. It turned out the heavy bombing campaign – especially the use of Tallboy earthquake bombs – was enough to disrupt work at the complex. Hitler just kept sending fake resupply trains to the site in order to keep the Allies bombing a disused factory instead of massing German troops elsewhere in Europe.

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History [ edit | edit source ]

On 8 January 1966, the 37th ARRS was activated at Danang Air Base operating 5 HU-16s on loan from the 31st ARRS and the 33rd ARRS Ώ] and with a Detachment at Udorn Royal Thai Air Force Base. ΐ] The squadron was responsible for aircrew recovery over North Vietnam, Laos and the Gulf of Tonkin.

A 37th ARRS CH-3C over Vietnam.

On 30 March 1966, 2 HC-130s were delivered to Detachment 1 at Udorn RTAFB. Α] A further 3 HC-130s were delivered to Udorn in June 1966. Β]

On 16 January 1967, the squadron's HC-130s at Udorn RTAFB were transferred to the newly formed 39th ARRS. Β] Also on 16 January Detachment 2, 37th ARRS was re-designated from Det. 5, 38th ARRS at Udorn RTAFB operating HH-3s. Γ]

On 2 February 1967, all 5 HU-16s assigned to the 37th ARRS were transferred to the 33rd ARRS at Naha, Okinawa. Δ]

September 1967, Detachment 2 at Udorn RTAFB received its first 2 HH-53Bs. Ε]

May 1967, Detachment 1 38th ARRS operating HH-3s at Danang Air Base was reassigned to the 37th ARRS. Ζ]

March 1968, Detachment 2 at Udorn RTAFB was transferred to the 40th ARRS. Γ]

The 37th ARRS remained at Danang until it was inactivated on 30 November 1972. 5 of its HH-53s were transferred to the 40th ARRS at Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base, while its two HH-43s remained at Danang as Detachment 7 of the 40th ARRS to provide base rescue during Operation Linebacker II. Η]

After 32 Years and 11,000 Flight Hours, A MH-60G Helicopter Finds Peace

The MH-60G Pave Hawk with tail number 009 flew for the last time in early May.

A special MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter and one of the oldest and most famous helicopters in the Air Force’s inventory has officially retired.

A 32-years-old helicopter with more than 11,000 flight hours and dozens of combat deployments, the MH-60G Pave Hawk with tail number 009 flew for the last time in early May.

Its final flight was broken down into two phases. During the first phase, Captain Tanner Bennett, from the 66 th Rescue Squadron, flew the chopper from Nellis Air Force Base, in Nevada, to Pensacola Naval Air Station, in Florida. Then, for the second phase, Major General Chad P. Franks, the commander of the 15 th Air Force, flew the 009 from Pensacola Naval Air Station to nearby Hurlburt Field.

As a captain, Franks had flown the 009 in Bosnia during Operation Allied Force and had participated in the mission to rescue a downed F-117 Nighthawk pilot in 1999.

“This Pave Hawk represents the hard work and accomplishments of the men and women of the 55th Special Operations Squadron who took great care of 009 when I flew it in 99’. It is an honor for me to fly this retirement flight,” Major General Franks said in a press release.

The venerable MH-60G chopper has participated in a plethora of combat and humanitarian operations, including Operation Just Cause (invasion of Panama), Operation Desert Shield (Saudi Arabia), Operation Desert Storm (Kuwait, Iraq), Operation Provide Comfort (Haiti), Operation Northern Watch (Iraq), Operation Allied Force (Serbia, Bosnia, Kosovo), Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan), and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq). In addition to conventional search-and-rescue operations, the chopper supported special operations units.

“The maintenance team was jobbing it. With as many hours 009 has, they made sure that it was safe for everyone,” Captain Tanner Bennett, an MH-60G aircraft commander who flew the 009’s last flight, said. “It’s pretty awesome in terms of rescue history. For us to take her home, with Maj. Gen. Franks flying the last part, and knowing it will be on display for future pilots, is an honor to be a part of. I’m just honored. It’s lucky that this MH-60 gets to ride out into the sunset.”

The Air Force plans to display the aircraft at the Hurlburt Field Memorial Air Park.

USAF Helicopters

he road to become a USAF helicopter pilot begins at Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT). Here, newly commissioned US Air Force officers complete Phase I (ground school academics and preflight training) and Phase II (flight training in the T-6 Texan II). Then for Phase III, student pilots go on to train in the TH-67 helicopter at Fort Rucker.

Following successful completion of the Fort Rucker helicopter syllabus, US Air Force student pilots earn their silver pilot wings.

With the retirement of the MH-53 Pavelow rescue helicopter, the USAF is slowly weeding out the rotary wing aircraft from its fleet – even while not yet addressing the void in rescue aircraft capabilities. Although a lot of time, money, and blood was invested in developing and fielding the CV-22 tilt-rotor Osprey, it hardly replaces the lift capability of the MH-53. Congress continues to flirt with the development of the CSAR-X next generation combat search and rescue helicopter – but in the meantime, there is a definite gap in capability.

In an interview, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz said that “a successor model” of the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter will be the CSAR platform for the foreseeable future. He added, it’s “a pretty good airplane it’s not a perfect rescue airplane but it can operate at altitude it’s a resilient airframe it’s proven.” Schwartz said that recapitalizing the HH-60 with “a modern generation descendant” will meet about 󈭀 percent of the CSAR-X requirement. The HH-60 cannot and will not replace the now-retired MH-53.

HH-60 Rescue Helicopter

From the more common Black Hawk to the lesser known Pave Hawk to the fantastically designed Osprey when it comes to the variety of helicopters to the U.S. has to offer, the sky is the limit. The best part is all of them come with their own unique qualities which make them effective in the field. From serving as a transport for troops to providing ground support for soldiers in combat, there is a wide variety of functions a helicopter can serve.


The MH-60G Pave Hawk is one of the military’s finest helicopters. This particular model is a twin turboshaft engine helicopter and is utilized by the U.S. Air Force. The MH-60G is essentially a souped up version of the UH-60 Black Hawk. It utilizes the U.S. Air Force’s PAVE electronic systems and is a member of the Sikorsky S-70 family.

The MH-60G has a vast number of capabilities. Among them are an automatic flight control system, an onward looking infrared system which can make it easier to see at night during operations being conducted close to the ground, and of course, nigh vision goggles. The MH-60G comes with a probe for refueling which is retractable, fuel tanks, some sort of minigun or .50-caliber gun and a cargo hook which weighs about 8,000 pounds. Combat upgrades for the MH-60G include everything from jamming devices for infrared, radar warning receivers and more.

The primary mission of the MH-60G is the drop-off and pick-up of special operations soldiers. The helicopters core mission however is to be a rescue vehicle for military personnel involved in demanding situations.


Perhaps one of the most well known of the military’s helicopters, the MH-60M, or Black Hawk, is the newest variant of the original Black Hawk model.

The MH-60M Black Hawk is a special operations variant which was created to support aviation missions by the U.S. Air Force. It features the infamous Rockwell Collins Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS) glass cockpit. Its engine is the YT706-GE-700 model. The Black Hawk has four blades and is a medium sized utility helicopter.

The role of the MH-60 variant is simple. It is primarily used as to both insert and extract military personnel from hostile environments who are members of special forces teams. They do this no matter what the weather conditions are like. Additionally, these helicopters also resupply other units in the field, assist with evacuations for medical reasons and also serve as a combat unit for search and rescue purposes.

The MH-60 has many capabilities which make it effective. It comes equipped with an AN-ARS-6 system which is used for locating personnel. It comes armed with M1347.62 mm, electronically operated, air cooled guns. It also has a number of rigs which allow military personnel to attach ropes at the cabin allowing for personnel to get out of the helicopter more efficiently.

The MH-60 also has a number of other capabilities which make it effective. It utilizes an advanced GPS navigation system. It’s aerial refueling capabilities are second to none as a refueling probe allows for in flight refueling from tankers. Also, it comes with infrared jammers, launchers for chaff and flares and warning receivers for radars.

Training for all USAF helicopter pilots is accomplished at the formal schoolhouse at Fort Rucker, AL.

USAF Special Operations Pararescueman

Heart of the Storm – Helicopter Rescue Pilot

During his 30 years in the Air Force and Air National Guard, Fleming made a career of descending from the sky to pluck disaster victims from the jaws of floods, storms, sharks and polar white-outs. His gripping memoir vividly illustrates how tenuous the life of a deus ex machina can be. Fleming recalls the tragic and sometimes gruesome deaths of unlucky colleagues who succumbed to the elements and recounts hair-raising missions that often took place at night, flown through hazardous weather (including the vicious nor’easter Sebastian Junger made famous in The Perfect Storm) in fragile helicopters prone to mechanical breakdown. Avoiding gung-ho special-ops bluster, he probes the human flaws and lapses—incompetent, panicky pilots, abusive officers, penny-pinching bureaucrats who refuse to pay for much-needed equipment—that bedevil even elite outposts of the military. Fleming’s sober, straightforward, well-paced style lucidly conveys the lore of helicopter flight and the practical difficulties of rescue missions while letting the heroics speak for themselves. Photos.

Jane’s Aircraft Recognition Guide

Jane’s has always been a trustworthy name that I have looked to for information on aircraft, especially military aircraft. This book covers it all, from light aircraft to Bombers. Each page has a full color photo of the aircraft, along with a small description, 3 view diagram, variants, features, and the aircraft’s specifications. I used this book for the “NIFA” Competition of Aircraft Identification, and it greatly helped me. Definitely good for anyone who wants to know quickly what kind of aircraft they are looking at without much hassle.

Operation Eagle Claw, Disaster At Desert One Brings Changes to Special Operations

The images were stark and startling after the debacle at Desert One in Iran on April 24, 1980, 37 years ago today. An incinerated C-130 aircraft and six RH-53 helicopters left with bodies burned and strewn about spoke of the failure of the United States to rescue the 52 diplomats and Embassy personnel held in Tehran, Iran.

The story began more than 170 days prior when on November 4, 1979, when Iranian militant students stormed the US Embassy in Tehran and took the diplomats hostage. Then President Jimmy Carter put into motion the plan that would use the US’ new hostage rescue force “Delta Force” into action.

The ultimate mission failure would generate much-needed lessons learned to pave the way for dedicated special operations air assets and a new Special Operations command structure that we know today.

So how exactly did this dark day in US Special Operations history change things for the better for the troops that followed?

The Plan:
Since no joint Special Operations Command existed at the time, the National Security Adviser, the Joint Chiefs, and the Secretary of Defense put together an ad-hoc task force to plan, and conduct the mission.

The staff planning began in November of 1979 and by early March they had what they considered a workable plan. It brought together members of four of the branches of service with personnel and units spread across the globe which would prove to be ominous.

Army Major General James B. Vaught was appointed Joint Task Force commander. The remainder of the officers assigned to lead the various components, including Colonel Charles A. Beckwith (Delta Force commander) to be the ground assault commander Colonel James H. Kyle (USAF MC-130 special operator) to command the fixed wing contingent and Marine Lieutenant Colonel Edward Seiffert to lead the helicopter force.

Read Next: On This Date, November 4, 1979 The US Embassy in Tehran is Stormed

It was a very intricate and detailed operation and consisted of the following details:

On the night of D-1, six Air Force C-130s carrying 132 Delta Force operators, Army Rangers, and support personnel and additional helicopter fuel would fly from the island of Masirah, off the coast of Oman, more than 1,000 miles to Desert One.

The Hercules transports were to be refueled in flight from Air Force KC-135 tankers. Eight Navy RH-53Ds (Code named Bluebeards) would lift off from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz, about 50 miles south of the Iranian coast, and fly more than 600 miles to Desert One.

After refueling on the ground from the C-130s, the helicopters would carry the rescue force to a hideout in the hills about 50 miles southeast of Tehran., then fly to a separate hiding spot nearby and wait.

The C- 130s (code named Republics) would return to Masirah, being refueled in flight again. The next night, Delta Force would be driven to the United States Embassy in vehicles obtained by agents that were previously placed in-country led by CIA operatives including former Son Tay raider Dick Meadows.

A Ranger element would go to rescue the three American hostages held in the foreign ministry building. As the ground units were freeing the hostages, the helicopters would fly from their hiding spot to the embassy and the foreign ministry building.

Three Air Force AC-130 gunships were tasked to protect the rescue force from any Iranian counterattack and to destroy the three Iranian Air Force fighters located at the Tehran airport. The helicopters with the Rangers, Delta operators, and the hostages would fly the rescue force and the freed hostages to an abandoned air base at Manzariyeh, about 50 miles southwest of Tehran, which was to be seized and protected by a Ranger company flown in on C-130s.

The helicopters would then be destroyed and C-141s, flown in from Saudi Arabia, would then fly the entire group to a base in Egypt.

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It was an extremely detailed plan and everything was based on timing and coordination between different units that had never worked together before.

OPSEC for this endeavor was so strict that the individual units assigned to the mission never worked together until the implementation order was given and the mission began. The training for the operation was highly decentralized and although each part of the rescue operation had rehearsed their portion of the mission, the fact that the different elements never worked together was a major factor in mission failure.

There was never a “dress rehearsal” of the mission and many of the issues found by individual components in training resurfaced on the actual mission.

One particular area of concern was the close proximity of the C-130s and the RH-53 choppers in the refueling portion of the operation. And in many instances, the two didn’t work hand-in-hand during training. This would later prove disastrous.

The number of helicopters needed as an absolute minimum was four but it was decided that the raid would not continue without six. Eight aircraft were tasked to the mission.

The Mission, ‘Murphy’s Law Sets In:
The mission began on the night of 24 April after President Carter gave the go-ahead on April 16.

The C-130s took off as planned from Masirah and headed into Iranian airspace for their refueling rendezvous with the helicopter force at Desert One.

At the same time, the helicopter force of eight RH-53Ds lifted off from the deck of the U.S.S. Nimitz heading for the Iranian coast about 50 miles away. This was when a series of events began to go wrong that ultimately doom the mission.

Two hours into the mission, helicopter (Bluebeard) 6 received a warning on its Blade Inspection Method, or BIM system, which indicated a possible impending rotor blade failure. The pilots landed immediately and were picked up by another helicopter. But they abandoned the chopper without the means of destroying it.

The C-130s flew into a sandstorm (haboob) a phenomenon common to the desert in the region. They were able to push on thru with little difficulty. They later hit another denser sandstorm but were unable to contact the helicopter pilots to give them a fair warning because communications were never established between the C-130s and the helicopters.

Bluebeard 5 began experiencing issues with their electrical systems while flying into the dust storm. Many of their navigational and flight instruments began to fail. With no way to ascertain their exact location, Helicopter 5 decided to abort the mission and return to the Nimitz. Later it was deemed that in 20-25 minutes it would have cleared the sandstorm and been able to proceed with the mission. The raiding task force was now down to the bare minimum six helicopters needed to conduct the mission.

The C-130s arrived at Desert One and began to ready refueling operations for the helicopters which were to arrive 20 minutes later. But due to the storm, they were late. Immediately problems arose because Desert One was on either side of a road.

A Ranger team and Delta operators set up security around the site and were immediately compromised. A bus full of Iranian civilians had to be stopped and detained as it was passing through, and a fuel truck was shot and destroyed with a LAW rocket when it refused to stop.

Arriving in ones and twos, all six helicopters were not on the ground at Desert One for an hour and a half. Right after shutting down its engines, Bluebeard 2 suffered a catastrophic failure of its hydraulic system, rendering it useless.

With no means of fixing it at Desert One, this left the team with just five operation helicopters. Could they have gone on with the barebones five? After consulting with Kyle and Seifert, Beckwith correctly decided that the mission would have to be scrubbed.

One thing the task force hadn’t rehearsed was an evacuation at Desert One. This is when the entire operation collapsed.

Disaster at Desert One:
When the decision was made to abandon the mission, one helicopter (Bluebeard 3) had to be moved to allow the C-130s to take off. Once aloft and hovering, the sand from the storm was blinding the Airman directing him and he began stepping backward. The pilot whose only frame of reference was the direction from the man on the ground thought he was drifting backward.

As he inched forward the rotor blades cut into Republic 4 on the ground. The blades ignited fuel and ammunition and created a fireball that incinerated the two aircraft and killed eight of crewmen on both aircraft.

CPT Harold L. Lewis Jr. USAF EC-130E A/C Commander
CPT Lyn D. McIntosh USAF EC-130E Pilot
CPT Richard L. Bakke USAF EC-130E Navigator
CPT Charles McMillian USAF EC-130E Navigator
TSGT Joel C. Mayo USAF EC-130E Flight Engineer
SSG Dewey Johnson USMC RH-53D Crewmember
SGT John D. Harvey USMC RH-53D Crewmember
CPL George N. Holmes USMC RH-53D Crewmember

Now the remaining operators, Rangers and aircraft crewmen packed into the remaining C-130s for the flight home. They released the Iranian civilians unharmed but in their haste, the helicopters weren’t scrubbed for sensitive data.

The next day on April 25, 1980, President Carter went on television to announce the failure of the raid and to take responsibility for it and not to place blame on anyone.

Aftermath, Lessons Learned:
The Pentagon and the government immediately after the botched attempt began to formulate plans, and procedures to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. The debacle at Desert One helped usher in a far stronger, better trained, and infinitely better coordinated Special Operations Force that we see today.

During hearings with the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Sam Nunn who was the chairman asked Colonel Beckwith first what he learned from the mission failure and what his recommendations were to prevent this from happening again.

Beckwith shot straight from the hip, “If coach Bear Bryant at the University of Alabama put his quarterback in Virginia, his backfield in North Carolina, his offensive line in Georgia and his defense in Texas and then got Delta Airlines to pick them up and fly them to Birmingham on game day, he wouldn’t have his winning teams.”

To prevent future mishaps, he stated, “My recommendation is to put together an organization that would include Delta, the Rangers, the Navy SEALs, Air Force pilots, its own staff, its own support people, its own aircraft and helicopters. Make this organization a permanent military unit. Allocate sufficient funds. And give it sufficient time to recruit, assess, and train its people,”

The issue of Joint Warfighting Doctrine and cooperation was fixed with Goldwater Nichols Act and also the Cohen – Dunn amendment that ushered in the Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in 1987. The first unified command for Special Operations. And the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, ensuring that Special Operations units have the bureaucracy behind them. And SOF units finally got Title 10 authority which gave them the ability to procure weapons and equipment independent of the services budgets.

The Army took the lead in the new doctrine and created the United States Army Special Operations Command which placed an umbrella of troops including Delta, Special Forces, Rangers, Psyops and Civil Affairs units under one organization.

Perhaps the most significant change was the creation of their own aviation element Special Operations Aviation, including the 160 th Aviation Regiment (Nightstalkers).

Some of the tactics that were used in 1980 that were new such as flying blacked-out, landings using night-vision goggles, remotely illuminated landing strips and methods for seizing airfields, as well as satellite communications are all second nature now to special operators.

The Air Force created their own Air Force Special Operations Command, (AFSOC) and created search and rescue units CSAR, combat controllers, Special Operations Air Wings which included AC-130 gunships.

The Navy’s US Naval Special Warfare Command (NAVSPECWARCOM) consists of Special Boat Units and SEAL Teams including SEAL Team 6 (DEVGRU) who conducted the mission to kill Osama bin Laden.

The Marine Corps finally joined SOCOM in October 2005 and created the Marine Special Operations Command (MARSOC). The Marine special ops troops have renamed themselves the Raiders after their units of WWII.

While the Iran hostage rescue mission may have ended in failure, it opened the door a much better era for Special Operations Forces today. If the same mission was tasked to them today, there is no doubt, that the chances of success would be much higher.

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  1. Galm

    you topic were reading?

  2. Kelleher

    Thanks for your support.

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