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US Air Force’s newest helicopter starts developmental testing

HH-60W combat rescue helicopter
A US Air Force HH-60W combat rescue helicopter sits at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla, Nov. 6. Photo: US Air Force

The US Air Force’s new HH-60W Combat Rescue helicopter landed at Eglin Air Force Base on November 6 to begin developmental testing.

In total, two helicopters touched down at Duke Field, their new home with the 413th Flight Test Squadron, on November 6 and 7.

The five-hour flight from the Sikorsky Developmental Flight Center went great, but was anything but typical, according to pilot, Maj. Evan McNeal, 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron Detachment 2.

The HH-60W’s current experimental flight clearance does not allow instrument flight or the use of its transponder. The aircrew flew the entire trip visually or VFR.

“We had to pick our way carefully through densely trafficked airspace while avoiding typical Florida fog and precipitation without the tools that many of the most basic modern aircraft have available,” said McNeal. “We mitigated those risks through careful mission planning and using available equipment.”

The aircraft, based on the Army’s UH-60M helicopter, is modified to perform missions locating and rescuing downed pilots in hostile territory. The Air Force is contracted to purchase 113 HH-60W aircraft to replace its aging fleet of HH-60G helicopters.

“Getting an HH-60W is very exciting not only for the 413th Flight Test Squadron, but also for the 96th Test Wing,” said Lt. Col. Wayne Dirkes, the squadron’s operations officer. “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.”

Photo: US Air Force