Few helicopters have found their way into the popular consciousness as the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter. Even before the movie Black Hawk Down, they were a regular occurrence the in the skies of the continental United States and wherever our military served. The helicopter remains a solid, dependable air frame used in all theaters.
During the 1960s, the Army realized that it needed to change the way it fought. Vietnam taught us that set-piece battles and divisions of troops and armor were not the war of the future and had to adapt and overcome quickly if we were to remain victorious when we fought. Mobility became key and the Army needed the transport necessary to achieve that mobility.
The current workhorse for medium lift was the Bell UH-1 Iroquois (The Huey). This needed replacing, so the Army came up with UTTAS, the Utility Tactical Transport Aircraft System. The program used lessons learned with the UH-1 and brought them up to date. That included the need to use General Electric T700 turbine engines, lower costs, simpler maintenance and higher reliability and survivability.
Both Sikorsky and Boeing-Vertol were approached to submit a new helicopter. Sikorsky’s YUH-60A prototype was selected and four were constructed during 1974. Evaluations were performed during 1975 and the decision was made to use the Sikorsky UH-60 design in December 1976. The first active service UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was proudly delivered to the 101st Airborne Division in mid-1979 to replace the Iroquois.
The profile is very distinctive among helicopters. The flight deck is up front, with both crew having their own doors. There are windows front, above, to the side and below offering excellent visibility. The cabin allows for up to 11 personnel or cargo and the engines sit atop the fuselage.
The General Electric turboshaft engines power a four blade main rotor and a four blade tail rotor on the starboard side. The undercarriage is fixed wheel, complete with wire cutters and a single tail wheel at the rear edge of the fuselage. Cruising speed is 183 mph, with a top “emergency” speed of 222mph. It has a combat radius of between 368 and 1,380 miles depending on the configuration with an operating ceiling of 19,000 feet. It can haul 2,6430lbs internally and 8,000lbs externally.
The UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter was soon upgraded to the UH-60L in 1989. The UH-60L incorporated the new T700-GE-701 engines and a more robust transmission to cope with higher load capacities. The update also delivered AFCS (Automatic Flight Control System).
In 2001, the UH-60M Black Hawk helicopter was introduced, which offers a newer, more powerful T700-GE-701D engine and improved rotor blades. It also introduced multi-function displays, improved avionics, flight controls and navigation. This improvement led to a further order of 1,227 UH-60M Black Hawks.
UH-60M Black Hawks are manufactured at the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation factory in Stratford, Connecticut and licensed production is carried out in Japan and the Republic of Korea. The helicopter can carry out medical evacuation (medevac), command and control, search and rescue, armed escort, electronic warfare and transport missions, making it a very flexible platform indeed.
Other versions of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter include a medevac version in the UH-60Q, special forces versions MH-60K and MH-60L and a silent version allegedly used in the take down of Osama Bin Laden. This version is secret, but is said to benefit from sound deadening technology, infra-red dissipation and radar-reflective coating to lower its radar signature.
One of these was lost during the Bin Laden operation and it was blown up on the ground prior to being abandoned. Apparently the Pakistan government came and collected the remnants once the operation was complete.
There are also civilian variants in use as the VH-60D and the VH-60N, called the Nighthawk and Whitehawk.
Since its introduction in 1979, the UH-60 Black Hawk has served everywhere our Army has. The first known combat operation was Grenada in 1983 and the Invasion of Panama in 1989. It saw action in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield, as well as current active service in Afghanistan.
The infamous action in Somalia that prompted the movie Black Hawk Down is where the helicopter really came to the public consciousness. The UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter was used extensively by the army when conducting operations around the country’s capital Mogadishu where to were shot down by ground to air missiles. It resulted in the most heinous loss of American lives, 18 personnel were killed and 73 were wounded in the action. Most of it broadcast on TV.
Aside from military purposes, the UH-60 Black Hawk is used by the U.S. Border Patrol to monitor the southwest border. The Navy also uses a variant, the SH-60 Seahawk to perform various duties including search and rescue.
The UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter is still in active service and will remain so until the mid-2020’s. It also sees service in many allied countries including South Korea, Turkey, Australia, Brazil, Jordan, Egypt, Chile, Bahrain and Mexico among many others.