December 03, 2014 12:22:06 EST
Although the H-6 was initially fielded by the U.S. Army in the early '60s, it wasn't until the failed "Eagle Claw" mission in 1980 that the service started getting serious about supporting special operations with helicopters.
Since that time "Little Birds" have been used in crucial special operations missions across the globe from Panama to Somolia to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Little Birds are operated by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), the "Night Stalkers"
The Night Stalkers operate a variety of helicopter models including the Chinook and Blackhawk, all modified for special operations missions.
Little Birds come in two basic variants -- troop transport and attack. The attack version -- the AH-6 -- is armed with two M134 miniguns, two M260 7-shot Hydra 70 rocket pods. Alternately, the AH-6 can be armed with Hellfire anti-tank missiles, air-to-air Stingers, Mk-19 40 mm automatic grenade launchers, or .50 caliber machine guns.
In September 1987, Night Stalkers participated in Operation Prime Chance, engaging and neutralizing an Iranian ship that was being used for mine laying. Little Birds attacked the threat while using aviator night vision goggles and forward-looking infrared devices over water, the first successful night combat engagement under these conditions.
The Little Bird can carry up to six troops, three on each side, but usually they limit the number to two per side.
Little Bird pilots get specialized training in close quarters flying and night ops and those skills are heavily leveraged once they get to the Night Stalkers.
When not at war Little Bird pilots train as intensely as the special operators they carry.
After all, they set themselves to a very high standard: According to it's mission statement the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) is constantly ready to arrive time-on-target plus or minus 30 seconds.
And here's the last thing an insurgent might see . . .