27 September 2008

Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV, 68-8284, prepares for its last combat mission, Iraq, 27 September 2008. (A1C Jason Epley, U.S. Air Force)

27 September 2008: A United States Air Force Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV special operations helicopter, serial number 68-8284, assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron, flew its final combat mission before being withdrawn from service and retired after 40 years and 12,066.6 flight hours.

The MH-53M Pave Low IV is a variant of Sikorsky’s S-65 heavy-lift military transport helicopter series. Built by Sikorsky in 1968 as one of 40 HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giants for Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR), 68-8284 has been constantly modernized and upgraded. In the Pave Low IV configuration, it is also used for special operations as well as search and rescue.

The MH-53M is a single main rotor, single tail rotor, twin-engine helicopter. It has a crew of six: 2 pilots, 2 flight engineers and 2 gunners. The Pave Low IV is equipped with terrain-following radar and Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) for low-level operations in darkness and low visibility.

A Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant hovers to conduct a hoist rescue of two downed aviators, during the Vietnam War. (U.S. Air Force)
A Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant hovers to hoist a pararescueman with one downed pilot, while a second waits on the ground, 16 June 1967. The blade tip vortices are visible because of the high humidity. (U.S. Air Force)

The MH-53M fuselage is 67 feet, 2.4 inches (20.483 meters) long, and the helicopter has a maximum length of 91 feet, 11.34 inches (28.025 meters) with rotors turning and the refueling boom extended. The height to the top of the main rotor pylon is 17 feet, 1.68 inches (5.224 meters). The maximum height (rotors turning) is 24 feet, 10.88 inches (7.592 meters).

The articulated 6-blade main rotor has a diameter of 72 feet, 2.7 inches (22.014 meters). The main rotor turns counter-clockwise at 185 r.p.m. (100% Nr), as seen from above. (The advancing blade is on the helicopter’s right.) The main rotor blades are built with titanium spars and have -16° of twist. The semi-articulated four-blade tail rotor has a diameter of 16 feet, 0 inches (4.877 meters) and is positioned on the left side of the tail pylon. It turns clockwise at 792 r.p.m., as seen from the helicopter’s left side. (The advancing blade is below the axis of rotation.) The gap between rotor arcs is just 4.437 inches (11.270 centimeters).

Empty, the MH-53M weighs 32,000 pounds (14,515 kilograms). Its maximum takeoff weight is 46,000 pounds (20,865 kilograms).

Its two General Electric T64-GE-100 axial-flow turboshaft engines have a Normal Continuous Power rating of 3,810 shaft horsepower at 85 °F. (30 °C.), Military Power rating of 4,090 shaft horsepower, and a Maximum Power rating of 4,330 shaft horsepower. The T64-GE-100 is 79 inches (2.007 meters) long, 20 inches (0.508 meters) in diameter and weighs 720 pounds (327 kilograms). Output (100% N2) is 13,600 r.p.m.

Two Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giants of the 39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing fly in formation over Goose Bay, Canada, 11 June 1978. 68-8284 is the ship closest to the camera, painted gray. (TSgt. Robert C. Leach/U.S. Air Force)
Two Sikorsky HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giants of the 39th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Wing fly in formation over Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada, 11 June 1978. 68-8284 is the ship closest to the camera, painted gray. (TSgt. Robert C. Leach/U.S. Air Force)

The MH-53M has a maximum speed of 196 miles per hour (315 kilometers per hour) and a service ceiling of 16,000 feet (4877 meters). It carries two 450-gallon (1,703 liter) jettisonable fuel tanks under each sponson.

The MH-53M is armed with two M134 7.62mm miniguns and a GAU-18/A .50 caliber machine gun.

At the time they were retired, the MH-53M was the fastest, heaviest, most powerful helicopter in the United States Air Force inventory.

After leaving Iraq, 68-8284 was transported by C-17 Globemaster III to England. It was loaned to the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford, where it is on display.

Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV 68-8284 leads another Pave Low IV on a night mission in Iraq, 27 September 2008. This would be its last mission after 40 years of service. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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