U.S. Air Force Receives First HH-60W Helicopters

 - November 12, 2019, 1:40 PM
The Air Force’s first HH-60W lands at Duke Field to continue its developmental test activities. The “Whiskey” features an advanced Lockheed Martin mission planning system. (photo: U.S. Air Force)

On November 6, the first Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky HH-60W was delivered to a U.S. Air Force base. A second arrived on the following day, the first two of an eventual six that will be assigned for trials at Duke Field, a satellite of Eglin AFB in the Florida panhandle.

The helicopters were delivered from the Sikorsky Developmental Flight Test Center at West Palm Beach, Florida, by crews from the 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron’s Det 2. The delivery flights were undertaken under visual flight rules as the HH-60W’s experimental certification does not permit instrument flight or the use of transponders. Careful planning was needed to conduct the flight through busy traffic and around inclement weather.

At Duke Field, the aircraft are flown by the 413th Flight Test Squadron, part of the 96th Test Wing. The squadron performs trials with special operations and rescue aircraft, and currently has various C-130 Hercules variants, CV-22 Ospreys, and older H-60 variants on strength.

“Getting an HH-60W is very exciting, not only for the 413th Flight Test Squadron, but also for the 96th Test Wing,” said the squadron’s operations officer, Lieutenant Colonel Wayne Dirkes. “Our entire test strategy has been adapted to include Sikorsky as a fully integrated partner—we have all put a lot of energy into trying to create a seamless execution model for testing here and now it’s time to make it happen.”

The 413th has embedded personnel in the Sikorsky development team from an early stage to provide early warfighter involvement and operationally relevant developmental test. A 413th FLTS pilot, Major Andrew Fama, became the first Air Force pilot to fly the “Whiskey” at West Palm Beach on July 11.

Developmental testing will now continue at Duke Field, making extensive use of the Eglin ranges. Initial operational testing and evaluation is scheduled for 2021 and will take place at what is expected to be the HH-60W’s first operational assignment, at Moody AFB, Georgia, where the 347th Rescue Group flies the HH-60G and HC-130J Combat King II combination.

The U.S. Air Force selected the HH-60W for its Combat Rescue Helicopter requirement in 2014, and is slated to buy 113 to replace the older HH-60G that has been in service since 1982. The first HH-60W flew on May 17, and passed Milestone C (approval for low-rate production) on September 24. Ten have already been purchased in the FY18 budget, with another batch slated for FY19.

Although the two models are superficially similar, the HH-60W is based on the next-generation UH-60M Black Hawk version, whereas the HH-60G was a derivative of the original UH-60A. As well as advanced digital systems, better communications, and "glass" cockpit, the “Whiskey” has nearly double the amount of fuel for a 195-nm combat radius, and a larger cabin.