Category Archives: helicopters

Air Force Special Operations Helicopters in Vietnam

Most of us, when we think of Air Force Special Operations helicopters immediately picture the mighty MH-53J/M, the giant Pave Low III/IV used through the 80s and 90s to insert special operation forces at long range and in limited visibility into denied territory. The Pave Low is retired now, replaced in Air Force service by the CV-22B.

Here’s the thing- the Air Force didn’t get the MH-53 until well after the Desert One disaster during the Iran hostage crisis. It had operated H-53s for many years prior to that, all the way back to the Vietnam war, but used it in the Combat Search and Rescue role, picking up downed pilots in enemy territory. But the Desert One fiasco convinced both the Army and the Air Force they needed dedicated aircraft and crews to support special operations forces.

Of course, the H-53 wouldn’t be the first Air Force helicopter focused on support to special operations. During the Vietnam War, it quickly became apparent that the North Vietnamese were supplying their forces and the Vietcong in the south via what became known as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, a complex of roads and trails moving from North Vietnam through Laos and Cambodia into South Vietnam. This web of trails was dispersed so that finding individual units and convoys on it was extremely challenging. A great deal of effort went into developing technologies that could find traffic on the trail. But for most of the war, the most effective means of finding traffic was to insert small reconnaissance teams of 3-6 men in the area. These small teams, Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols, or LLRPs (pronounced “Lurps”) would be inserted into an operational area via helicopter, walk to an objective area, and quietly observe. Intelligence gathered would be used to generated targeting for airstrikes, as early warning for ground commanders, and generally help generate an order of battle of enemy forces. Similar patrols inside South Vietnam would detect, locate and target NVA forces operating against the US and our South Vietnamese allies.

Tasked with supporting this mission, the Air Force actually bought their own variant of the ubiquitous UH-1 Huey, the UH-1F. Given that they were primarily inserting very small teams, the Air Force chose the original short cabin configuration. And observing the trouble the Army had with gunship versions of the short cabin UH-1B due to lack of power, the Air Force Hueys were powered by the General Electric 1500hp T-58 turbine engine, unlike virtually every other Huey that used variants of the Lycoming T-53 turbine.*

The Air Force also developed a bolt on kit to convert a “slick” Huey into a gunship variant, with two 7-round 2.75” rocket launchers, and two M134 miniguns mounted in the cabin. Where the army external forward firing mounts for M60s and later M134s, the cabin mounted miniguns of the Air Force could be used either in a forward firing mode, or as flexible guns aimed by the crew chief and gunner.

On November 26, 1968, then 1st LT James P. Fleming, USAF of the 20th Special Operations Squadron was flying a UH-1F when a call for an emergency extraction of a six man MACV-SOG recon team came over the air.

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 went to the aid of a 6-man special forces long range reconnaissance patrol that was in danger of being overrun by a large, heavily armed hostile force. Despite the knowledge that 1 helicopter had been downed by intense hostile fire, Capt. Fleming descended, and balanced his helicopter on a river bank with the tail boom hanging over open water. The patrol could not penetrate to the landing site and he was forced to withdraw. Dangerously low on fuel, Capt. Fleming repeated his original landing maneuver. Disregarding his own safety, he remained in this exposed position. Hostile fire crashed through his windscreen as the patrol boarded his helicopter. Capt. Fleming made a successful takeoff through a barrage of hostile fire and recovered safely at a forward base. Capt. Fleming’s profound concern for his fellowmen, 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.

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As the Air Force learned lessons in Vietnam about the tactics, techniques and procedures best suited for this mission, they produced a film to share with new pilots and crews to keep this institutional knowledge alive.

Also, there’s some pretty good shooty/splodey in there.

 

*The T-53 also was adapted to become the 1500 hp turbine that powers todays M1 tank series.

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Happy Birthday, George Orwell

orwell

Somewhat belatedly.  Born Eric Arthur Blair, in India, on June 25th, 1903.

It is hardly the man’s fault that his seminal work, written as a chilling dystopian warning regarding the destruction of liberty, has become an instruction manual for the far-Left “Liberal” Secular-Progressive Statists who now hold the levers of power in our once-great Republic.

He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

“It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

“We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.”

“They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening.”

If you refuse to agree that 2 + 2 = 5, you are racist, sexist, misogynistic, homophobic, Islamophobic, anti-child, and probably watch Fox News.

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Filed under Around the web, Cold War, Defense, girls, helicopters, history, islam, leadership, obama, Personal, Politics, recruiting, terrorism, training, veterans, war, weapons

Marine Helos- Why so big?

TimActual had a comment on the Marine air assault on Hawaii:

I have never understood why the Marines like to use BIG targets to carry troops.
And that air assault looked pretty casual to me. We were always taught to get everything off the LZ ASAP, birds and men.

As to why the Marines tend to choose somewhat larger helicopters than the Army, I alluded to that years ago in a post on the Chinook.

The Army, as it evolved its air assault doctrine, saw infantry troops (as part of a combined arms team with artillery and aerial fire support) delivered directly upon the objective. One key doctrinal issue that wanted to address was unit integrity. They wanted to ensure that the basic unit, the rifle squad, was delivered intact. That meant the optimal assault helicopter would carry an 11 man rifle squad, which, from the UH-1D on through to today’s UH-60M, is just what seating is provided, if not always the actual lifting capacity. Between three rifle squads, a weapons squad, and the platoon headquarters, four helicopters could lift a single assault platoon.

The Marines, while they might have liked to embrace the same philosophy, faced two challenges the Army did not. First, they were far more constrained in terms of manpower. Unlike the Army, with the majority of its aviators being warrant officers, the Marines aviators are all commissioned officers. Given that the total number of commissioned officers available to the Marines was set by Congress, they couldn’t afford as many helicopter pilots as the Army, especially considering the numbers needed to fly the Marines fixed wing aircraft.

The other, bigger issue was simply one of space. The Marines are a seagoing force. That means they have to be embarked on ships, and even the largest of ships for amphibious operations have severe constraints on the total numbers of aircraft they can operate.

http://www.msc.navy.mil/sealift/2013/July/images/Kearsarge.jpg

The carrying capacity, both in weight and in volume, increase faster than the actual size of an aircraft. That is, an aircraft twice as large as another can reasonably be expected to carry not twice as much, but three times as much.  It didn’t take long for the Marines to realize that two CH-46s, carrying 25 troops each –that is, a Marine rifle platoon- took up a lot less deck space than the 4 or 5 UH-1s it would take to lift a platoon. As an added bonus, it would take only half as many pilots, not to mention the numbers of enlisted aircrew, and maintenance personnel.

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The Marines did understand the risk involved, namely that losing one aircraft had a much greater impact, particularly in terms of lives potentially lost, and also in terms of unit integrity. If a platoon loses a squad, it might theoretically still be able to function. But losing half a platoon most certainly renders it combat ineffective. 

That same size issue, known as the spot factor, also influenced the size of the MV-22B, which accomodates 24 troops, in a spot factor little bigger than a CH-46. In that case, you’re trading an increase in size for an increase in performance, rather than capacity. It’s a tradeoff.

As to TimActual’s comment on using the CH-53E itself, that’s also somewhat influenced by the confines of amphibious shipping.  The MV-22 is fine for landing the initial waves. But there are only so many available aboard a ship. And the embarked Marines simply must have a certain number of the larger CH-53s aboard to move things like artillery. But they aren’t always doing that, so they are occasionally available for the lift of troops.

As to expeditiously moving off the Landing Zone, it should be remembered that Marine doctrine (and really, Army as well) is to conduct the landings away from known enemy positions. The aerial movement is simply the first stage of maneuver, leading to the dismounted movement to either a defensive position, or the line of departure for the assault. One should not dally on the ground, or disembarking the helos, but neither is tripping off the back ramp a good idea because one was unduly rushing.

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CAIC WZ-10 in Pakistan

Recently China has provided the WZ-10 attack helicopter to Pakistan to help defend and police it’s Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA).bThe WZ-10 is replacing the AH-1 Cobra attack helicopter operated by the Pakistani Army. Replacement has given us a first time opportunity to see the WZ-10 up close (photos courtesy of the China Defense Blog):

   

     

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Lyin’ Brian Williams and Hillary’s Hokum

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NBC News anchor Brian Williams is being beaten about the cranium and shoulders quite a bit in the last few days.  He deserves every last lump and then some.   He is apparently taking a few days away.  Perhaps he hopes that, when he returns, people will have forgotten all about the fact that he is a despicable liar who cannot be trusted to tell the straight story about anything.  Juan Williams, formerly of NPR and hardly a solid Republican, believes this will be the end of either Williams, if he is fired, or NBC News if he is not.  He had a point.   NBC knew that Brian Williams’ account of his experience in Iraq was a fabrication, and had even warned him to knock off perpetuating the lie.  But, of course, he persisted.  And now he is due all the scorn that comes his way.  Reporting on Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Williams’ accounts of the horrors in his area of the French Quarter are also likely hogwash.  His dramatic description of a body floating by face down, and other lurid stories (contracting dysentery) never happened.  How do we know?  The area around his hotel never flooded, and nobody responsible for mass medical care can recall ANYONE having a reported case of dysentery (a sentinel disease) throughout Katrina.  NBC knew these facts, as well, and issued no retraction.

Williams and Jeffrey Lord (American Spectator), guests on Hannity (which I don’t normally listen to, but was waiting at a highway exit and had little else to do) on Friday, also thought that the increased focus on those who are found to be lying about their “combat experiences” will turn back toward presumptive Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.  At issue again is Hillary’s tall tale about landing “under sniper fire” in Bosnia, and the ceremony that was supposedly canceled because of the extreme danger.

Below is an image of Hillary covering the fire-swept ground on her way to the protection of a bunker.

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Here is a still image from the dramatic combat footage of the same incident.

Hillary Bosnia

For all the contempt for the US Military  expressed by the far-left, they sure seem to want to paint themselves into the tales of combat against our enemies.   The RNC should play a continuous loop of Sheryl Attkisson’s CBS report about Hillary’s fabrications between now and 2016.   (Yes, that Sheryl Attkisson.  The one who wanted the truth about Benghazi which cost her job forthwith.)  Hillary claims she was sleep-deprived, incidentally, and that was the reason she lied through her teeth.   Let’s hope when the next “three in the morning” call comes she is not as sleep-deprived then, and whoever is on the other end of the line will have better luck than Ambassador Stevens.   And that the results of that call will be reported a tad more honestly than was Benghazi, by people more honest than Brian Williams and Hillary Clinton.

But don’t bet on it.

Oh, and in my haste, I forgot the most important thing.  H/T to Delta Bravo.

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HH-60W as the Combat Rescue Helicopter

I’m not sure why this older post about the Combat Rescue Helicopter Program has suddenly attracted a lot of traffic today, but it has.

There was a post elsewhere from back in December talking about the HH-60W at DefenseTech.

And here’s a post, undated, from SOFMag. This particular post hits on the same chord I was harping on years ago.

That being said, the HH-47 offered significant improvements in performance over the HH-60 – and beat the competitors by wide margins in some areas as well. It had a range of over 2000 kilometers without aerial refueling, which is significantly higher than the S-92 (just under 1500 kilometers) and the US101 (about 1400 kilometers). The maximum unrefuelled range of an HH-60 is just under 820 kilometers. This means that the HH-47 would be able to search longer than both the present CSAR helicopter and its competitors for a downed pilot, or search further away than the other options without having to refuel. This means that there will be much less risk to the HC-130 tankers (which were first deployed in 1964). The HH-47 would also have had a higher ceiling (18,500 feet) than the HH-60 (14,000 feet), or its competitors (the H-92’s ceiling is 13,780 feet, while the US101’s is 14,000 feet).

The OBVIOUS choice for a CSAR platform was a variant of the MH-47. Common sense, however, is not the metrics by which weapons procurement programs are run.

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I Want One of These

Not sure why.  I just do.

H/T to Brian P (again)

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