Sunset for the Phrog

Originally designed for the Army, and first flown in 1962, over 500 would be built in the next 11 years. Think of that. The last Phrog rolled off the line 43 years ago. That’s some loyal service.

File:CH-46 Sea Knight Helicopter.jpg

It would serve with the US Marines, the US Navy, Canada, Sweden, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, in addition to several civil operators.

On a personal note, the only aircraft I actually remember seeing my dad fly was a Sea Knight.


We’ve mentioned operating helicopters from smaller ships. In the US Navy, this mostly means destroyers and frigates. Which, at anywhere from 3000 tons to 9000 tons, that’s a goodly sized ship.

Other navies, like the Royal Danish Navy, often operate helicopters from much smaller ships, such as this Offshore Patrol Vessel. And in heavy seas, it can get downright sporty.


Notice immediately after touchdown, a probe extends from the belly of the Lynx. It engages a grate on the landing deck, to keep the helicopter from sliding off the deck, in spite of the pitching and rolling.

The US Navy uses a somewhat different system, RAST, developed from the Canadian Beartrap device.

227th @ 50!

Outlaw 13, of Threedonia fame, gave us the heads up on this. The 227th Aviation Regiment will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on the 13th. Now, in an army that’s over 230 years old, that may not seem so old. But aviation units, of course, didn’t get started in earnest until the Vietnam War.  But in that war, and subsequent ones, some units, such as the 227th Aviation Regiment, have accumulated histories any unit would be proud of.

Outlaw13, Nick Searcy*, and film maker  Kenn Christenson have collaborated to produce this film celebrating half  a century of service. Enjoy!

*Yes, that Nick Searcy, my close personal friend, Peabody Award Winner, and International Film and Television Star, and host of Acting School with Nick Searcy.

Sikorsky will Probably Win the Combat Rescue Helicopter Contract

Mostly because it looks like they’re the only ones submitting a bid. It’s been about 25 years since the HH-60G Pavehawk entered Air Force service. A variant of the UH-60 Blackhawk, the Pavehawk is designed to penetrate enemy territory to retrieve downed aircrews. As such, it’s the successor the the Jolly Greens of Vietnam War fame. And while Special Operatons aren’t its prime role, it has been tasked to do that from time to time as well. In recent years, Pavehawks have supplemented Army MEDEVAC helicopters in Afghanistan and Iraq by providing CASEVAC support.

HH60PaveHawk.png HH-60G Pave Hawk

HH-60G Pavehawk

The Pavehawk has a record to be proud of. But it is also getting old. Further, it has always been hampered by a relatively short range and endurance, and limited cabin space and lifting capacity. All the extras above a normal Blackhawk come directly out of its total lifting capacity.

For over a decade now, the Air Force has been searching for a replacement for its fleet of Pavehawks. Under a program known as CSAR-X (Combat Search and Rescue-Next) Boeing, Lockheed/EADS, and Sikorsky submitted bids. Boeing’s entry was based on the CH-47, Lockheed/EADS submitted a version of the VH-71 chosen for the Marine One program*, and Sikorsky entered a variant of their S-92 helicopter.

After a competition, Boeing’s entry of a modified CH-47 was selected. It was in fact to be a tailored version of the already in production MH-47G used by the Army for Special Operations.

But protests to the GAO and in court over the contracting process led to the contract being cancelled.

Three years down the road, the Air Force is still faced with the need to replace it’s Pavehawks. And so the Combat Rescue Helicopter competition has opened. But Boeing and Lockheed/EADS, having been burned once, aren’t going to play this time. Yes, the program is potentially quite lucrative, with plans for 112 airframes, and an eventual total of $15 billion in contracts. But despite the emphasis by the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, insisting CRH is a top priority, there’s a very good chance that austere budgets will see the program scaled back or even cancelled. And both Boeing and Lockheed/EADS have other, cheaper ways of keeping their baseline production going. Boeing will be building CH-47Fs and MH-47Gs for the Army for some time, and looks well placed to pick up some foreign sales as well. LMT/EADS will continue to partner for EH101 sales and manufacturing for European and other foreign markets.

So the only competitor left is Sikorsky and its S-92. So what is the S-92? So much of the basic S-70/H-60 Blackhawk design was just right, Sikorsky decided to leverage the basics into a larger, heavier helicopter. Mating a new fuselage to the rotor system and dynamic components of the Blackhawk produced a much roomier helicopter. The S-92 is in production for various government and civil operators around the world. About 130 have been built so far. The military variant has a ramp at the rear of the fuselage for ease of loading and unloading.

S-92 Warhawk

Now, the S-92 isn’t a bad helicopter.** But the arcane world of US defense procurement has made it such that a virtual off-the-shelf purchase of a proven design in which virtually all the difficult integration work for features such as Terrain Following Radar has been done, isn’t suitable. Any person with common sense would simply buy MH-47Gs, either from Boeing, or even from Army stocks. But layer upon layer of laws and regulation to prevent graft and reduce wasteful spending means that a five minute decision has instead lead to untold millions and a decade spent just getting to the point where the least desirable of the three initial entrants will likely be selected.

*The VH-71 is based on the EADS EH101 medium lift helicopter. The VH-71 program was plagued by poor management, shifting requirements after contract signing, and the resulting spiraling cost increases. Eventually that program was cancelled and the few “vanilla” airframes bought were sold to the Canadians.

**Well, there are apparently issues with the main gearbox. One requirement for FAA certification is that a gearbox has to be able to run for 30 minutes after a loss of oil pressure. But the S-92 got around this requirement by “proving” that loss of oil pressure in the gearbox was extremely unlikely. Since then, two S-92s have been lost to main gearbox oil pressure loss. Also, I’ve heard that the Canadian CH-148 Cyclone program has been something of a disaster.

Via War News Updates

Whirlybirds at Fort Rucker

Roamy here.  I visited the Army Aviation Museum at Fort Rucker on Monday.  Helicopter pics today, fixed wing pics tomorrow.  Nice little museum – for those who aren’t military, you have to stop at the gate and show your driver’s license, car registration, and proof of insurance.  If you have a rental car, the rental agreement counts as registration and insurance.

I took notes while I was going through the museum, so if I’ve messed up an ID, please forgive this nOOb.

Hiller H-23 "Raven". To the right, OH-13 Sioux and OH-58 Kiowa

Continue reading “Whirlybirds at Fort Rucker”

Air Assault

Air Assault is Army shorthand for the movement of troops and equipment to battle by means of helicopters. Now, loading and unloading infantry from helicopters is not a great intellectual challenge. I’ve done, so there’s your proof.

Having said that, there are techniques that do require a greater level of training. Preparing and sling-loading vehicles and supplies is an art and a science. Rapelling from helicopters is also a specialized technique that most soldiers don’t train on.

To pass on this tribal knowledge, the Army has Air Assault School. Selected soldiers attend this school, qualifying to facilitate the technical aspects of arial movement, and take this knowledge back to their parent units.

Now, rapelling from helicopters is somewhat simple. Gravity does most of the work. But it does have its risks. In order to mitigate them, there is  a further level of training, the Rapell Master Course. Every time a helicopter has troops rappelling from it, a qualified Rapell Master has to supervise. And so it was that my platoon sergeant in Hawaii, SFC Lopez was attending the Rapell Master Course. The final excercise was to supervise a soldier rapelling 12 times from a Huey, and 12 times from a Blackhawk. I quickly volunteered to be his “dope on a rope.”

After a very pleasant day spent flinging myself from a helicopter to slide somewhat gracefully to the ground, SFC Lopez and I returned to our unit. As we were driving back, SFC Lopez looked closely at my uniform. “PFC Bear? Where’s your Air Assault badge? You are out of uniform!”

“Uh, Sergeant Lopez, um, I’m not Air Assault qualified.” Hey, I just wanted to have a fun day.

Warrant Officers

Frequent commenter Vmaximus noticed in the comments of this post that I was talking with/about warrant officers, and wanted to know where they fit into the scheme of things. My initial, snarky answer was that they tend to stand around and drink coffee. And while that is somewhat true, it isn’t the whole story.

Warrant Officers fill a niche between non-commissioned officers and regular, commissioned officers. They are technical specialists, imbued with the authority of an officer, but more keenly focused on a particular technical area than a regular officer. For instance, most of the Army’s watercraft have a Warrant Officer as the ships Master. Warrant officers hold a warrant from the Secretary of their service, rather than a commission from the President.

All branches of service are authorized Warrant Officers, in grades W-1 through W-5. Currently, the Air Force doesn’t have any warrant officers, and the Coast Guard has no W-5s.

Warrant officers are higher in rank than all enlisted personnel, as well as cadets and officer candidates, but below regular commisioned officers, such as a Second Lieutenant.

Now, here’s where it gets weird. In actuality, on warrant officers in the first grade, W-1, have warrants. When they are selected for promotion to Chief Warrant Officer (CWO-2) they receive a commission from the President and take the same oath of office as any other officer. This came about in the early 90’s as a means of allowing warrant officers to fulfill some duties that they previously couldn’t. For instance, without the commission, they could not assume command of a unit. In spite of holding a commission, they are still called warrant officers.

So what do warrant officers do and where to they come from? As I mentioned, they are technical specialists. For instance, each mechanized infantry battalion has a warrant officer assigned to its motor pool. He is the subject matter expert on the Army’s maintenance system. He knows which repairs should be performed at the battalion level, and which should be sent to a higher echelon for repair. He understands how the parts supply system is supposed to work (and how it really works!) and advises and assists the officers in making the battalion maintenance system work. He also leads, trains and advises the NCOs that work in the motor pool. While the NCOs know pretty much everything there is to know about how to perform the repairs done at their level, he can guide them on how to prioritze work, ensure they have the parts they need, and make arrangements to send vehicles and parts to other units for repair.

What makes this guy and expert? Well, he started out as an NCO. After years of service, he applied for and was accepted into the Warrant Officer program. He attended a school much like Officer Candidate School, was granted his warrant, went to the Warrant Officer Basic Course for his specialty, and put to work.

When you talk about warrant officers to the general public, however, the program that usually springs to  mind is Warrant Officer Flight Training. The Army has a heck of a lot of aircraft. The other services use commissioned officers to fly their aircraft. But the Army has a limit on how many regular officers it can have at one time. If all the aviators were regular officers, there wouldn’t be enough officers for the rest of the Army. Instead, the Army trains warrant officers to be aviators. And while many Warrant Officer Flight Training Candidates come from the ranks of the Army, it is in fact possible to enlist specifically for this program. It is sometimes called “High School to Flight School.”