Home Air US Air Force’s Jolly Green II wraps up “extreme testing” campaign

US Air Force’s Jolly Green II wraps up “extreme testing” campaign

HH-60W Jolly Green II
An HH-60W Jolly Green II sits in a frozen chamber in the McKinley Climatic Lab March 19 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Photo: US Air Force

One of the US Air Force’s new HH-60W Jolly Green II combat search and rescue helicopters has completed a month-long trial of extremes in a test of its sustainability in any operational environment.

The test inside the McKinley Climatic Lab at Eglin Air Force base in Florida was completed early April.

The Sikorsky test aircraft endured real temperatures ranging from 120 degrees (50 ºC) to minus 60 degrees (-50 ºC) Fahrenheit as well as 45 mph winds coupled with heavy rainfall. All of those scenarios were created within the lab’s 55,000 square foot test chamber.

The testing is being undertaken after the air force awarded Lockheed Martin a low-rate production contract for the first 10 aircraft in September 2019. The service revealed in February this year that the fleet of planned 108 units would be known as Jolly Green II, following the tradition of the Vietnam-era HH-3E Jolly Green and HH-53 Super Jolly Green crews who pioneered the combat search and rescue mission.

“Operating the HH-60W in the extreme conditions was a truly unique experience as a pilot and a tester,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Coates, an 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron pilot, who performed most of the testing. “Checking system performance under the stress of heat, cold, heavy wind and rain will give us real-world data regarding the helicopter’s capability to perform the rescue mission worldwide in various environments, which is exactly what the operator needs to make solid employment decisions.”

Once the lab technicians created the extreme environments, aircrew would enter the aircraft and perform various test procedures. The crew would execute their preflight checklists and perform tasks to see if the extreme conditions affected any of the avionics, electronics, engine and other systems.

The aircrew performing the procedures were also test subjects themselves. Their own reactions and movements were evaluated in the harsh environment. For example, the cold-weather gear worn by the aircrew is much bulkier than a standard flight suit. One of the evaluations was to ensure the pilots could easily reach all of the aircraft controls in the thicker cold-weather gear.

A significant amount of the test schedule was dedicated to preparing the chamber for the extreme conditions. McKinley’s lab professionals create, break-down, and recreate again for each new test environment. Technicians worked continuously to go from a superheated 100-degree desert condition to a below freezing icebox in only three days.

The Jolly Green II created some unique challenges for McKinley Lab personnel. The lab technicians created a system specifically for the HH-60W to remove the aircraft’s exhaust. Thorough exhaust removal is a critical part of maintaining the controlled temperature conditions needed for chamber testing, according to lab technicians working on the test.

The design of the ventilation system meant the aircraft’s blades were removed for the duration of the testing. The lab’s in-house fabrication shop also specially designed brackets for the aircraft’s weapons among other items.

After testing in the climatic lab, the HH-60W will return to Sikorsky’s test facility in West Palm Beach for further evaluation. The HH-60W developmental test program is a joint effort between Sikorsky, the 413th FLTS, the 88th TES and Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center. Test aircraft are primarily split between Duke Field here and Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach facility.

“Testing on the Combat Rescue Helicopter continued amidst the chaos of COVID-19,” Lt. Col. Wayne Dirkes, the 413th FLTS operations officer. “While the situation could change at any moment, we have not lost any test schedule thus far. That is a testament to the entire team’s attitude and willingness to work through challenges.”