Following the tour of the HH-60G Pave Hawk, we now have the chance to see its successor, the HH-60W, up close and learn some more details about it.
About two weeks ago we commented the walkaround tour of the HH-60G Pave Hawk filmed by our friend Erik Johnston and featuring Captain Phil “Caso” White, a rescue pilot of the 41st Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. Now, they take us through a tour of the HH-60G’s successor, the HH-60W Jolly Green II, which was first delivered to the U.S. Air Force in November 2020.
Depicted in this video is the HH-60W 17-14486, one of the first Jolly Green II helicopters and also one of the choppers involved in the developmental testing with the 413th Flight Test Squadron at Duke Field, Florida, last year. As we already reported, the Combat Rescue Helicopter program will procure 108 HH-60Ws to replace the ageing fleet of Pave Hawk helicopters, which are already well past their expected flying life and with a declining availability rate due to the age of the airframes and the high operations tempo of the fleet.
The first stop of this tour is the HH-60’s peculiar air-to-air refueling probe. The 8-foot-long probe itself is the same of the older Pave Hawk, however the airframe design around the probe’s root has been changed. The mounting point of the probe has been strengthened, reducing the airframe fatigue caused by the probe’s oscillations and reducing the risk of cracks, which were found on some of the HH-60Gs because of the fatigue.
An important addition on the Jolly Green II is the possibility to install armor plates on the cockpit’s doors and floor. While no weapons were installed on this particular aircraft, the HH-60W uses mounts similar to the ones found on the HH-60G. Weapon testing is still underway, but it has already been confirmed that the GAU-18 .50 cal machine gun and a GAU-2 7.62×51 minigun, already used on the HH-60G, will be joined by the GAU-21, a newer variant of the GAU-18 which features an open bolt design with an higher rate of fire and accuracy. The open bolt design allows to have a more reliable weapon, which stays cooler in operation and, most importantly, safer as it greatly reduces the risk of the “ammo cook-off”.
Another new feature are the anhedral main rotor blades which, compared to the blades used on a standard Black Hawk, have a wider chord and allow to “bite the air” better, giving the helicopter increased hover and climb performance. This way, the HH-60W obtained much better performance than the already high performance of a standard UH-60.
The cabin underwent a heavy restyling with many improvements. The first improvements can be found on the cabin doors, which now feature jettisonable windows and the Advanced Helicopter Emergency Egress Lightning System, a battery-operated green rope lightning system which is around all the exits and automatically illuminates if exposed to water, if the helicopter rolls beyond a certain angle of bank or hits a certain amount of Gs. The system is especially useful at night as, in case of an incident, allows the crew to easily locate the exits to evacuate the aircraft.
Three displays have been added to the cabin, one for each Special Mission Aviator (SMA) and one for the Pararescuemen (or PJ) team. This allows for a better Situational Awareness as everyone on the helicopter can access maps and video feed from the sensors, as well as sharing the workload from the management of the seven radios installed in the HH-60W. The SMAs also have a new slap switch at their disposal that allows to dispense countermeasures should they spot a threat, reducing the reaction time which is especially important when countering MANPADS (Man-portable air-defense systems).
A big change, compared to the Pave Hawk, is the new fuel system, which features two large internal 322-gallon fuel tanks instead of the two internal and two auxiliary fuel tanks of the HH-60G. This allowed to save about 500 lbs of weight compared to the old fuel system, however the cabin bulkhead had to be moved forward reducing the space in the cabin. Because of this, the HH-60W got a crashworthy Isolated Personnel Stacking Litter System which allows to better manage the cabin space, as well as facilitating the work of the PJs on the patients.
On the HH-60W, the Upturned Exhaust System 2 (UES2) replaced the Hover InfraRed Suppression System (HIRSS). While HIRSS mixed ambient air with the exhaust to diffuse it, the UES2 pushes the exhaust up in the rotor wash reducing the IR signature. As for the other countermeasures, the Jolly Green II retains the same chaff and flares dispensers used by the Pave Hawk, integrated by the AAR-57 Missile and Hostile Fire Warning System, AVR-2B Laser Warning System and – APR-52 Digital Radar Warning Receiver.
A capability that was retained from the HH-60G is the possibility to fold up the helicopter for transport. More specifically, the rotor blades can be folded towards the rear, instead of being disassembled, and secured by brackets that can be installed at the mounting points on the tail. Also, the stabilator can be folded up on both sides and the final section of the tail can be swung to the right side of the helicopter (after folding the tail rotor’s blades), significantly shortening it for an easier transport on cargo aircraft.
A “controversial” feature of the HH-60W which caused mixed reactions is the nose extension. The extension houses the Honeywell Primus 701A Color Weather Radar and the Wescam MX-10 EO/IR (Electro-Optical/InfraRed) low-weight imaging system. The Weather Radar has a range of 290 nautical miles and allows the crew to plan ahead if they need to avoid some bad weather that might be on the route. The radar also has air-to-surface modes, allowing for example to locate a ship or some terrain feature, however it is not a proper terrain following or terrain avoidance radar.
The MX-10 is a significant upgrade over the Pave Hawk’s AAQ-29A FLIR, providing InfraRed, daytime color HD TV and low-light TV modes that can be used individually or overlaid with the other modes. A laser pointer is also present, allowing to mark object with an IR beam while operating with other assets. The nose extension allows to mount the sensor higher off the ground, reducing the risk of hitting the ground with the sensor while landing in the field off airports. The extension has also another purpose, with two air intakes on top and on the bottom that allow to cool down the sensors and the avionics.
The analogue cockpit obviously has been replaced by a full glass cockpit, which resulted in a narrower panel that allows a better visibility out of the chin bubble windows during hover operations. The panel is centered around four Multi-Function Displays (MFDs) which show everything the pilot could need, from the flight parameters to the sensor feeds. An interesting detail is that the HH-60W uses a two TeraBytes hard drive to store worldwide maps down to five-meter resolution imagery. In the near future, these maps will have the ability to overlay info received via Link 16, while at the moment only the Situation Awareness Data Link (SADL) is available.
The HH-60W introduced an important system that reduces the pilot workload during critical phases of flight, the flight director, similar to the one employed on the UH-60M. An interesting feature of the flight director is called “mark on top” which allows the helicopter, after overflying a survivor or a point of interest, to automatically set up a downwind circuit and position itself into the wind at 100 meters to the left and 100 meters behind the marked point.
As we just saw, the HH-60W Jolly Green II introduced many new capabilities that allow the helicopter and its crew to perform more effectively and safely their mission of saving lives around the world, wherever US forces are present. As mentioned by Capt. White, the HH-60W will allow all the Air Rescuemen to live up to their creed: “It is my duty as an Air Rescueman to save life and to aid the injured. I will be prepared at all times to perform my assigned duties quickly and efficiently, placing these duties before personal desires and comforts. These things I do, That Others May Live”.