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UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter

A Winged Workhorse

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UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter

During Operation Desert Storm in 1990, the U.S. Army relied on UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to transport wounded soldiers to medical facilities. The utility chopper can accommodate up to four stretchers at once.

Official Army Photo
Made a part of the American vocabulary by the best-selling book and movie “Black Hawk Down,” the Black Hawk is a utility transport helicopter that first entered Army service in 1979. It’s a versatile chopper, used for transporting troops and supplies, search and rescue missions and medical evacuations.

An entire infantry squad -- 11 fully equipped combat soldiers -- can be lifted in a single Black Hawk. It can also carry a 105 mm Howitzer, an additional six service members and up to 30 rounds of ammunition in one trip. And it can do all of it much faster than the helicopter it replaced, the UH-1 Huey.

Manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., the helicopter comes with a cargo hook that allows it to lift sling loads up to 9,000 pounds, such as a Humvee.

Black Hawks with medevac crews carry out medical supply runs and transport the wounded to combat hospitals. Described as the emergency room of the skies by the military, they also serve as airborne ambulances. They are equipped with oxygen, various monitors and a defibrillator, and one medic is attached to each four-person crew. The aircraft can be configured to carry four stretchers by removing eight troop seats.

The Black Hawk is built to run without oil for a short period of time. It is armored to withstand hits from 23 mm shells, and its airframe is designed to progressively crush on impact to protect the crew and passengers. Both the pilot and co-pilot are provided with armor-plated seats. The helicopter also accommodates door gunners, who provide security for the crew and aircraft using two M60D 7.62 mm machine guns.

The Black Hawk comes equipped with a Global Positioning System, a composite titanium and fiberglass four-blade main rotor and General Electric T700-GE-701C 1890 shp turboshaft engines. It is a symbol of American power, as journalist Mark Bowden captured in his book on the failed mission by U.S. Rangers and elite Delta Force troops to capture deputies of a Somali warlord in Mogadishu in 1993.

When their Black Hawk was shot down, Bowden wrote: “It was more then a helicopter crash. It cracked the task force’s sense of righteous invulnerability. The Black Hawks… were their trump card in this God-forsaken place. The choppers, more than their rifles or machine guns, were what kept the savage mobs at a distance. The Somalis couldn’t shoot them down.”

Additional specifications (UH-60L, most recent model):

Maximum Gross Weight: 23,500 pounds
Empty Weight: 11,516 pounds
Maximum Speed: 193 knots / 222 mph
Armament: Two 7.62 mm M60 machine guns or M134 miniguns
Rotor System:5 3 feet, 8 inches in diameter
Length: 64 feet, 10 inches
Height: Varies from 13 feet to 17 feet
Range:3 52 miles
Price Per Aircraft: $6.41 million (Fiscal Year 1999)

Gaiutra Bahadur is a freelance journalist who covered the war in Iraq while a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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