The Black Hawk at 40: Part 3

The Navy’s Helicopter Master Plan

In the 1990s, the Navy developed a Helicopter Master Plan that called for the replacement of seven different types with two helicopter configurations. The SH-60B and SH-60F were to be replaced in the ASW and anti-ship surveillance and targeting roles by the MH-60R “Romeo”; while the Sikorsky UH-3H Sea King, HH-60H, Boeing CH-46D Sea Knight, and Bell HH-1N would be replaced by the MH-60S “Sierra” in the vertical replenishment, CSAR, SAR, and transport roles.

The MH-60R is the most capable ASW and anti-surface warfare helicopter in the world today, equipped with dipping sonar and sonobuoy processing capability. Daniel Rude Photo
The MH-60R is the most capable ASW and anti-surface warfare helicopter in the world today, equipped with dipping sonar and sonobuoy processing capability. Daniel Rude Photo
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The MH-60R was originally conceived as a remanufacturing program for the SH-60Bs and SH-60F Seahawks, but in 2001, the Navy opted for an all-new production program. The first MH-60R test article made its first flight on July 19, 2001, with an initial requirement for 243 helicopters.

The MH-60R is the most capable ASW and anti-surface warfare helicopter in the world today, equipped with an integrated AQS-22 airborne low frequency sonar with expanded littoral and deep-water capability, including concurrent dipping sonar and sonobuoy processing capability. Other upgrades included a second-generation integrated AAS-44 forward-looking infrared system for expanded night vision, Hellfire targeting capability, and a new APS-147 multi-mode radar with long/short-range search inverse synthetic aperture radar imaging and periscope detection modes. The MH-60R also has an enlarged fuel system, a single door on the right hand side of the aircraft, and a folding rotor and tail pylon.

“One of the biggest advances [in] the MH-60R is the increase in underwater ASW detection ranges,” explained Jeff Hanke, Sikorsky vice president of quality and aviation safety, and a former Navy pilot. “The helicopter now has four weapons pylons to carry four torpedoes, whereas the SH-60B and SH-60F could only carry three.”

The MH-60S has a blend of UH-60M and MH-60R attributes. It has two doors on each side, a tail wheel, and an MH-60R rotor head and avionics to achieve as much cockpit commonality as possible.

The MH-60S has a blend of UH-60M and MH-60R attributes. It has two doors on each side, a tail wheel, and an MH-60R rotorhead and avionics to achieve as much cockpit commonality as possible. Skip Robinson Photo
The MH-60S has a blend of UH-60M and MH-60R attributes. It has two doors on each side, a tail wheel, and an MH-60R rotorhead and avionics to achieve as much cockpit commonality as possible. Skip Robinson Photo

The H-60 made its debut in a new service — the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) — in 1990, in the form of the HH-60J Jayhawk. The service ordered 42 of the type, which was based on the SH-60 Seahawk, to replace its fleet of HH-3F Pelicans for SAR operations. Over the years, that fleet grew to 45 with the addition of remanufactured former Navy SH-60Fs. In light of the USCG’s post 9/11 requirements, the service’s Deepwater Implementation Plan approved a major upgrade to Jayhawk capabilities. In January 2007, the USCG launched a nine-year program to upgrade the HH-60Js to MH-60Ts.

The MH-60T features a common avionics architecture system, including digital glass cockpit instruments similar to those installed on the USCG’s fixed-wing aircraft. It has a modern electro-optical/infrared sensor system that allows aircrews to locate, identify and track surface targets day or night — capabilities critical for SAR and law enforcement missions — and received use-of-force capability in the form of a 7.62 mm machine gun and a .50-caliber rifle, which can be used to disable engines on noncompliant go-fast vessels. The MH-60T is in service at eight Coast Guard units across the U.S.

The “Mike” is born

In the late 1990s, the Army contracted Sikorsky to develop an upgrade for the UH-60A and UH-60L to restore performance losses resulting from weight growth.

The MH-60T features a common avionics architecture system, including digital glass cockpit instruments similar to those installed on the USCG's fixed-wing aircraft. Skip Robinson Photo
The MH-60T features a common avionics architecture system, including digital glass cockpit instruments similar to those installed on the USCG’s fixed-wing aircraft. Skip Robinson Photo

“The weight issue for the ‘L’ came about as a result of the growth of the useful load carried during the primary assault mission, rather than the growth in the empty weight, which was the case with the ‘A’ model,” said former Sikorsky engineer and historian Ray Leoni. “The growth was caused by an increase in the number . . . and unit weights of the crew and troops as equipped for the air and land warrior roles and capabilities.”

First, the Army added a second dedicated gunner to the Black Hawk crew complement for better self-protection. Then, the average weight for a member of an 11-man infantry squad increased from 240 to 290 lb. (110 to 130 kg), primarily due to the increased weight of body armor, communications, NVG, GPS and other individual equipment.

“The RAH-66 Comanche design team was the first fully integrated product development team at Sikorsky that included industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering and the factory,” said George Mitchell, Sikorsky vice president of operations. “The UH-60 engaged the same people and engineers . . . and we took the same spirit and approach and applied it to the Black Hawk to produce a more robust product.”

The first new-build UH-60M was delivered to the Army on July 31, 2006, and featured uprated 2,000-hp GE T700-701D engines, new rotor blades, digital avionics, digital flight control components, modular open architecture systems, and integrated diagnostics.

In January 2007, the USCG launched a nine-year program to upgrade its HH-60Js to MH-60Ts, which feature a digital glass cockpit, a modern electro-optical/infrared sensor system, and light weapons. Skip Robinson Photo
In January 2007, the USCG launched a nine-year program to upgrade its HH-60Js to MH-60Ts, which feature a digital glass cockpit, a modern electro-optical/infrared sensor system, and light weapons. Skip Robinson Photo

“The main rotor blade has 89 percent commonality with the S-92 blade, but the UH-60A/L Black Hawk has a common cuff mount, unlike the S-92’s composite cuff,” explained Mitchell.

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The Mike also features the rotor brake from the Seahawk. “That makes it easier to get in and out of the aircraft safely,” said Hanke. “On the UH-60L, as soon as you hit the starter button on, the rotor started to turn.”

Additionally, the UH-60M has a smoother ride, thanks to the installation of an active vibration control system, eliminating the need for passive spring-mass units and saving weight. Other upgrades include a Rockwell Collins Common Avionics Architecture System (CAAS) integrated glass cockpit with new avionics, including a flight director, an autopilot to decrease pilot workload and provide digital management, a fully coupled flight director system, and a health and usage monitoring system.

The 1/159th Combat Aviation Brigade was first Army unit equipped with the UH-60M, receiving all 30 of its aircraft by mid-2008. These aircraft saw active service in 2009.

The Army's 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment used highly modified Black Hawks on the raid to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. Duane Hewitt Photo
The Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment used highly modified Black Hawks on the raid to capture or kill Osama Bin Laden. Duane Hewitt Photo

In addition to UH-60Ms for regular Army units, the service ordered 70 MH-60Ms for use in special operations. The aircraft are equipped with CAAS and special mission equipment, air-refueling booms, and more powerful 2,600-hp General Electric YT706 turboshaft engines. Further refinements of the MH-60M are known to exist, but details of these highly-modified aircraft remain classified. The most high-profile use of these was on the May 1, 2011, raid that killed terrorist Osama Bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The MH-60Ms have been flown at gross weights up to 25,000 lb./11,400 kg (versus 22,000 lb./9,525 kg for a UH-60L with an internal load), but the high weights impact performance, accelerate component retirement, and result in higher operational and support costs.

Ten years after Sikorsky delivered the first Mike, the 1,000th UH-60M was scheduled for delivery as Vertical went to press in October 2018.

Editor’s note: This is part 3 of a 5-part series. Click to read part 1 or part 2.

Read part 4 of the series on verticalmag.com tomorrow. 

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