The Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Airborne, (SOAR-A), has earned the nickname “The Night Stalkers.”
Operating under the cover of night or the shadows of dawn, these elite pilots are responsible for getting special operators into and out of some of their most secret and dangerous operations.
Night Stalker pilots go through rigorous training to become mission-ready to fly in the most challenging conditions, including bad weather and enemy fire, all while relying on infrared and night-vision equipment to navigate through the darkness.
While many of the 160th SOAR’s operations are secret, it’s widely understood that they were involved in the 2011 raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Read on to learn more about the elite aviators that “would rather die than quit.”
A US Army MH-60M Blackhawk from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), June 19, 2019.
(US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Pena)
The Night Stalkers fly a few different helicopters, including the MH-60 Black Hawk.
The 160th has over 3,200 personnel and 192 aircraft.
The Night Stalkers operate different versions of the Black Hawk, outfitted for dangerous and covert operations. In fact, all the aircraft the 160th uses are “highly modified and designed to meet the unit’s unique mission requirements,” according to the Army.
All the MH-60s the Night Stalkers use have in-air refueling capability, extending the aircraft’s ability to operate over long distances.
The Night Stalkers’s MH-60 Direct Action Penetrator (DAP) is a Black Hawk specially outfitted with an M230 30 mm automatic cannon. When the aircraft is modified to the DAP, it can move only small numbers of troops, according to US Special Operations Command (SOCOM).
All of the Black Hawks the 160th flies have a cruising speed of 140 mph and a top speed of 200 mph, The Washington Post reported in 2014, when the aircraft were used in a failed attempt to rescue American civilians in Syria.
A Navy aviation boatswain’s mate guides an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment during deck landing qualifications aboard amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu, April 28, 2014.
(US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dustin Knight)
The Night Stalkers also fly the MH-47 Chinook.
The 160th operates two variants of the MH-47 Chinook, a special-operations variant of the Army’s CH-47 Chinook.
The MH-47E is a heavy assault helicopter with aerial refueling capability, as well as advanced integrated avionics, an external rescue hoist, and two L714 turbine engines with Full Authority Digital Electronic Control that enables the MH-47E to operate in high-altitude or very hot environments, according to SOCOM.
The Night Stalkers fly the MH-47G Chinook as well, which has a multi-mode radar to help pilots navigate challenging conditions, as well as two M-134 “minigun” machine guns and one M-60D machine gun for defensive fire.
The MH-47 is used for a variety of operations, including infiltration and exfiltration of troops, assault operations, resupply, parachuting, and combat search and rescue.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dave Currier, left, an MH-60M Black Hawk pilot, and Spc. Joseph Turnage, a UH-60 Black Hawk crew chief, with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) in Yuma, Arizona, Sept. 23, 2017.
(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Brennon A. Taylor)
The 160th was born out of tragedy.
The Night Stalkers were formed after the botched attempt to rescue hostages from the US embassy in Tehran in 1979, known as Operation Eagle Claw.
During that operation, eight US service members were killed, and the need for a specialized group of aviators became apparent.
The 160th was formed in 1981, composed of soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, and was officially designated the 160th Special Operations Aviation Group (Airborne) in 1986.
What we know as the modern 160th was officially activated in 1990.
The Night Stalkers have been active in every military operation since Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada in 1983. The unit lost pilot Michael Durant during the Battle of Mogadishu in Somalia in 1993.
Two MH-47G Chinooks from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment prepare for aerial refueling over California, Jan. 19, 2019.
(US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Daniel Snider)
The tempo of operations increased significantly after the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.
“At the height of Iraq, those guys were doing two to three missions a night,” a 10-year veteran of the unit with multiple tours to Afghanistan and Iraq told Insider.
“Once the mission has been accomplished, the only reward is another mission,” he said.
Once Night Stalkers are finished with a mission, “they’re not going to Disney World. They’re going back to wherever they came from. They’re going to train again.”
Night Stalker training simulates the challenging environments they’re going into, as well.
US soldiers, assigned to 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), practice loading and unloading on a 160th SOAR MH-47 Chinook during sniper training at Ft. Carson, Colorado, June 22, 2017.
(US Army photo by Sgt. Connor Mendez)
Women in the 160th see combat too.
“It’s just not all guys. At least the 160th has female pilots. They’re rowing the boat. They’re in the battle,” the Night Stalker veteran told Insider.
A 10th Special Forces Group soldier and his military working dog jump off a CH-47 Chinook helicopter from the 160th SOAR during water training over the Gulf of Mexico, March 1, 2011.
(US Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez)
The 160th’s motto — “Night Stalker’s Don’t Quit!” is attributed to Capt. Keith Lucas, the first Night Stalker killed in action.
“The purpose of that organization is to serve the most elite special forces in the United States,” a veteran of the unit told Insider.
“That unit’s gonna be on time, and it’s gonna fly like hell to serve the ground forces,” he said.
The Night Stalkers have a reputation of being on time within 30 seconds of every operation and say they’d rather die than quit.
The Night Stalkers’ motto — often shortened to “NSDQ!” — is vitally important to the team.
“It binds people that have been serving in that organization till now,” the veteran said. Lucas was killed in 1983, during Operation Urgent Fury in Grenada.
The MH-6 Little Bird is a helicopter unique to special operations that was developed in close collaboration with special operators and combat developers.
MH-6 and AH-6 Little Birds are also part of the 160th’s fleet.
These aircraft are small and maneuverable — perfect for use in urban combat zones where pilots must fly low to the ground among buildings and city streets.
The MH-6M and AH-6M are both variants of the McDonnell Douglas 530 commercial helicopter.
The MH-6M is the utility version that can also be used for reconnaissance missions. The AH-6M is the attack version and is equipped with Foward Looking Infrared, or FLIR, which shows crewmembers an infrared video of the terrain and airspace.
Here’s an AH-6M training for a combat missionGo160thSOAR USASOAC Night Stalkers AH-6
And an MH-6M extracting a soldier from the water.Go160thSOAR USASOAC Night Stalkers MH-6 Series
This article originally appeared on Business Insider. Follow @BusinessInsider on Twitter.