The Mystery Helicopter
It doesn’t surprise me that the military has technology the general public—and mainstream military, for that matter—have never seen before. Consider the Manhattan Project, which produced the atomic bomb; and Lockheed’s super-secret Skunk Works design group, that brought us the U-2 and SR-71 Blackbird.
The existence of the teams that developed those systems weren’t even acknowledged back then, let alone the things they were working on, until after their designs had been put to use. You don’t win a high-stakes card game by showing your hand as it’s being dealt.
I studied as many of the photographs of the “secret Navy SEALs helicopter” as I could get my hands on. I looked closely at the seemingly five-bladed tail rotor system, the “beanie” that covered the hub they were attached to, a horizontal stabilizer, and what appeared to be a tail fin. And frankly, the words “modified Black Hawk,” which many learned members of the aviation community are calling it, didn’t come to mind. There wasn’t enough left to point me towards any specific helicopter known to me.
R&W’s Question of the Month:
What is your reaction to the helicopter raid that resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, and the wreckage photos that surfaced of the modified UH-60 from the mission?
Let us know, and look for your and others’ responses in a future issue. You’ll find contact information below.
The tail rotor design immediately reminded me of several Eurocopter products, such as the AS365 Dauphin and the new EC175, while the “beanie” that covers the tail rotor hub appears to make the highly reflective pitch linkages less observable to enemy radar. (And since it’s there anyway, it might even offer protection from small arms fire.)
A photo taken during what appears to be the Pakistani salvage operation shows a swept horizontal stabilizer with a symmetrical blade foil. It also shows a vertical stabilizer capped by very hard angles that resemble radar-reflective faceting. And since making just one part of an aircraft low-observable serves no tactical purpose, it’s safe to assume that the rest of the ship was also designed that way.
My conclusion is that the helicopter the SEALs used in the bin Laden raid in Abbottabad could easily have been a heavily modified version of nearly any medium-twin helicopter, if not a brand new design altogether. But even if we choose to believe that the mystery ship was of UH-60 lineage, making its landing gear, main rotor system, engine and everything else low-observable would require such heavy modifications, it wouldn’t have looked much like a Black Hawk anymore, even if in one piece.
Rotor & Wing
I worked on Black Hawks for 10 years and with a great deal of imagination I can visualize a ‘Hawk vertical fin and components under all that “stuff.” How much aerodynamic efficiency was sacrificed for all that stuff? Especially the “swept forward” stabilator? Peruse some photos of crashed/destroyed aircraft (especially helicopters) and you will see that the tail section is usually the part that survives best in a recognizable form. To the folks who pulled off the mission: “Good job and thanks a bunch!”
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I’m all for stealth and the latest technology. All that technology and it still could not hover at max gross and some density altitude. Seems like an engine and transmission upgrade would be useful too.
It’s nothing exotic, just armor protecting the linkage. Other pictures out there pretty much solidify it’s a Black Hawk with armor. The media has this way over-hyped.
Tactical deception perhaps?
Todd Vorenkamp’s column, “Unlearned Lessons,” in the May 2011 issue, page 46, was a reprinted version of an article that originally appeared in the Talon: The Journal of the H-65, an internal U.S. Coast Guard newsletter.