We Are The Mighty

How a Pave Hawk helicopter gets to the War in Afghanistan

An HH-60G Pave Hawk, assigned to the 33rd Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, arrives on Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, via C-17 Globemaster III, Jan. 26, 2018.The HH-60, along with other U.S. Air Force assets, have been realigned to Kandahar Airfield for increased airpower requirements in support of Afghan and U.S. forces tasked to carry out Operation Freedom's Sentinel and NATO Resolute Support missions. The Airmen are stationed at Kadena Air Base, Japan. (U.S. Air Force photo)

While the Air Force is best known for dropping bombs on the enemy — and they’ve done a lot of that throughout the War on Terror — there is one critical mission that some elite airmen carry out: evacuating wounded troops in the middle of a firefight. Air Force Pararescue took that mission on in Afghanistan, even though it’s not exactly what they were trained for — the original mission was to recover downed aircrews.

As a result, the Sikorsky HH-60G Pave Hawk has had quite a workout. This is the Air Force’s standard combat search-and-rescue helicopter, which replaced the older HH-53s. According to an Air Force fact sheet, the HH-60 has a top speed of 184 miles per hour, a maximum unrefueled range of 504 nautical miles, and the ability to use 7.62mm miniguns or .50-caliber machine guns. It has a crew of four and has a hoist that can haul 600 pounds.

Members of the 26th and the 46th Expeditionary Rescue squadrons scramble for a personnel mission at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, Dec. 29. From notification, the units have 15 minutes to be airborne and must transfer the patient to Camp Bastion’s Role 3 in one hour. (USAF photo)

But there is one question: How do you get a Pave Hawk to Afghanistan? Or to other disaster areas, like Mozambique in 2000? Well, believe it or not, the helicopters fly in — but not by themselves. Despite the fact that they can be refueled in mid-air thanks to a probe, the helicopters often are flown in on the Air Force’s force of C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III cargo planes.

You may be surprised, but the HH-60 is actually an easy cargo for one of these planes to carry. It comes in at 22,000 pounds — or 11 tons. The C-17 can carry over 170,000 pounds of cargo, per an Air Force fact sheet. The C-5 carries over 281,000 pounds. With weight out of the way, the only remaining issue is volume — and the HH-60 addresses that with folding rotor blades.

Believe it or not, the Pave Hawk is easy for a C-17 to lift. However, it is a tight fit in terms of volume. (U.S. Air Force photo)

So, if a Pave Hawk needs to go to Afghanistan, they fold the rotor blades, roll the chopper onto the C-5 or C-17, and take off. The cargo planes reach Afghanistan with a bit of mid-air refueling. Once it lands, the HH-60 rolls off, the rotor blades are unfolded, and it’s ready to save lives.

Check out the video below to see an HH-60 arrive in Afghanistan: