The H-60 helicopter may have gotten its cinematic turn as the MH-60 Black Hawk in “Black Hawk Down.” But if you think that the H-60 is just about hauling troops, you’ve grossly under appreciated what’s arguably the most versatile rotary-wing airframe that has served in the U.S. military.
According to Flight Global, the H-60 serves operationally with the Army, Air Force, Navy, and United States Coast Guard. The Marine Corps is a holdout when it comes to operational use, but there are some H-60 airframes in service with HMX-1, which transports the president and other government officials.
Here’s a look at the many roles the H-60 fills.
1. Troop Transport
The first H-60 to enter service was the UH-60A, which first flew in 1974. The UH-60A was joined by the UH-60L (which had a more powerful engine) and UH-60M (with an even more powerful engine, and a host of other advances). The troop carrier versions typically holds 11 infantry in seats. The 13th Edition of the Combat Leader’s Field Guide notes in an illustration that removing the seats can increase the capacity to as many as 22 personnel.
UH-60s with the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) 2nd Brigade Air Assault into a city in the Centcom Area of Responsibility during an operation to occupy the city. (Army photo by: SGT Luis Lazzara)
2. Anti-Submarine Warfare
The Navy saw this versatile airframe and turned it into an anti-submarine platform. The SH-60B Seahawk was the first, while the SH-60F Oceanhawk was designed to fly off carriers (it got a star turn in the novel “Red Storm Rising” when an ace ASW pilot killed several Soviet subs). The Navy soon began hanging missiles off the SH-60B, notably the AGM-119 Penguin. Later the Navy replaced the SH-60B and SH-60F with the MH-60R Seahawk.
3. Special Operations
The Black Hawks in “Black Hawk Down” were actually MH-60K special operations versions. These modified A-model Blackhawks flew with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and eventually were replaced by MH-60Ls (variants of the UH-60L).
Today, the MH-60M is in service with special operators.
4. Search and Rescue
The Coast Guard used the HH-60J Jayhawk for search and rescue missions. The Jayhawks operate either from shore or Coast Guard cutters.
5. Drug Interdiction
The Coast Guard is also involved in drug interdiction missions, so the HH-60J received an “Airborne Use of Force” package, including a .50-caliber sniper rifle and a 7.62mm machine gun, and became the MH-60J. These are being replaced by MH-60Ts.
Oh, and these helos can still perform the SAR mission of the HH-60J.
6. Combat Search and Rescue
This has been one mission that has gotten some attention a while ago. The Air Force used the HH-60G Pave Hawk to replace the famous “Jolly Green” HH-3s. After the HH-47 was cancelled, the replacement for the HH-60G will be the HH-60W.
7. Vertical Replenishment
The MH-60S Knighthawk replaced the HH-46 for the vertical replenishment mission for the Navy. The MH-60S can also be used for transporting troops (as seen in “Act of Valor,” when it runs Roark Engel’s SEALs into Mexico for the climatic op).
The “dust-off” has long been a mission of helicopters, you even see some taking wounded troops to the 4077th in the opening credits of “MASH.” The UH-60Q was one version in Army service, and it is being replaced by the HH-60M.
9. VIP Transport
The VH-60N serves with HMX-1, and at times serves as Marine One when a VH-3 Sea King is not available.
10. Electronic Warfare
11. Command and Control
One of the Black Hawks that got a lot of air-time in “Black Hawk Down” was one with two colonels sitting in it. That was the EH-60C, a command and control version.
The H-60 airframe has even developed a gunship version, known as the MH-60 Direct Action Penetrator. This packs the same M230 cannon as the AH-64 Apache, and it can carry the same suite of rockets and missiles as the Apache. Pretty nifty adaptation, even though it can’t carry troops – but maybe that will be for the next generation.
Lockheed is pitching the HH-60U to replace the last of the UH-1 Hueys in Air Force service. While the Marines are still using the UH-1Y Venom, it may just be a matter of time before the Marines get a version of their own.
After all, the letters X, Y, and Z are still available.