Posts tagged ‘MH-53’

MH-53s fly final combat missions

MH-53 Pave Low

MH-53 Pave Low

Find the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) MH-53 Pave Low special operations helicopter on posters, art prints, and a 12-month calendar at The PatriArt Gallery.

Aircrews flew the remaining six MH-53 Pave Low helicopters on their last combat missions in support of special operations forces Sept. 27 in Southwest Asia.

The last mission, a SOF logistical resupply and passenger movement throughout central and southern Iraq, marks their last combat mission before the airframe retires after nearly 40 years in the Air Force inventory.

“We really feel like we are standing on the shoulders of giants,” said Lt. Col. Gene Becker, the 20th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron commander and a MH-53 pilot of 13 years. “(We owe it to) the folks, who over the past 40 years, have built the capability of this aircraft and the mission. We were just the lucky ones to be here at the end.”

“We felt a great responsibility to close the MH-53’s remaining months in the Air Force in a professional, disciplined and safe manner,” he said. “At the end of the last mission, we felt like we achieved that goal. A goal, that we believe, was the best way to honor those (who contributed to) the last 40 years of this magnificent helicopter.”

HH-53s, with their unique special operations mission and capabilities, have played a vital role in several operations during a career spanning four decades. The MH-53 was the lead command and control helicopter during a raid of Son Tay prison camp in 1970, a mission linked to improving conditions for prisoners of war in North Vietnam.

Again, in 1990, MH-53s led the way for Army AH-64 Apaches during an airstrike, which opened the air war in Operation Desert Storm. And since March 2003, the MH-53 has played a crucial part in special operations missions supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The 20th ESOS MH-53 helicopters and their crews have provided much of the vertical lift, direct action and logistical resupply to the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force in Iraq.

According to Air Force Special Operations Command officials, the MH-53 costs too much to maintain, fly and keep in the fight because of its age. Although its flying safety record is good, it has reached the end of its service life.

“It is a bittersweet ending,” said Tech Sgt. Corey Fossbender, a 20th ESOS MH-53 aerial gunner and a crewmember on the lead helicopter during the final mission. “These birds have been around for so long. Our maintenance (teams) have basically been magicians keeping them in the air.”

Sergeant Fossbender, who has spent 13 of his 16-year career in the MH-53 community, said he will miss the camaraderie the helicopter crews shared the most.

“It wasn’t just a job, it was a brotherhood,” he said. “A legacy is going away. With all the history they have been apart of, it’s sad to see them go.”

The six-man MH-53 crew consists of two pilots, two flight engineers and two aerial gunners.

“Most of the MH-53 crewmembers will head to AFSOC’s new weapons systems like the CV-22 (Osprey), AC-130 (Gunship) … and (MQ-1) Predators,” Colonel Becker said. “Some will head over to Air Combat Command and fly the HH-60G (Pave Hawk), and a few will retire.”

Senior Master Sgt. Mark Pryor, the 20th ESOS superintendent, will retire after more than 28 years; half of which he served as a flight engineer on the PMH-53.

“I don’t think it has had an opportunity to sink in,” Sergeant Pryor said. “When I grabbed those throttles and pulled them off for the last time and realized this is the last time I will fly on the Pave Low and work with this group of guys, it was bittersweet. The MH-53s are retiring, and then I retire. It’s a perfect ending to a wonderful career.”

From Iraq, some of the MH-53s will become relics of the past when they become displays in Air Force museums. Others will go to the Aircraft Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz.

“As the Pave Low goes on to retire from combat today. She goes out, as she came in — the very best,” Colonel Becker said.

Andrea Thacker (AFNS)


October 9, 2008 at 2:33 am

PAVE LOW dedicated into AF Armament Museum

An MH-53 PAVE LOW helicopter took its final flight Sept. 5, landing outside the Air Force Armament Museum near Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

The helicopter, from the 20th Special Operations Squadron, 1st Special Operations Wing, will remain right where it landed as part of the museum’s collection, representing the fleet of MH-53s that will be retired from Air Force inventory Sept. 30.

“This is a wonderful aircraft that served its country proudly for over the past 35 years,” said George Jones, the museum director, who officiated the dedication ceremony. 

The largest, most powerful and technologically advanced helicopters in the Air Force, the PAVE LOWs have service records dating back to the Vietnam War. They opened the air war in Operation Desert Storm, flew reconnaissance missions over Ground Zero in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, and have since been continuously deployed in support of the Global War on Terrorism.

For MH-53 tail No. 73-1652, much of that history involves Lt. Col. Sean Hoyer, who piloted the aircraft en route to the museum. In fact, it carried him through his first combat mission in Bosnia almost exactly 11 years ago.

Hoyer later flew the same aircraft in Iraq. He said bringing it to its final resting place at the museum is “bittersweet.”

“All of us know it’s the end of an era,” he said. “I had a really good time. I was privileged to work with some of the best people I could ever know.”

The flight was also the finis flight, the last flight in the airframe, for Hoyer and Master Sgt. Jason Rushing, a flight engineer.

“It’s a fitting end,” Rushing said, “putting it in a place where other people can appreciate its history.”

The crew said 1652’s final flight was uneventful, but their squadron didn’t let it go without ceremony. Upon exiting the aircraft, Hoyer, Rushing and their crew were attacked from above – with a bucketful of water.

“I saw the bucket from afar, so I kind of figured it would happen,” Hoyer said.
The ceremonial dousing is tradition for finis flights.

The MH-53 is the first aircraft to be dedicated to the museum in almost 10 years. It’s also the only aircraft ever to be flown to its resting place.

“I think it will be a great thing to show friends and family when the time comes,” Hoyer said. 

A handful of PAVE LOWs are still in use in the Middle East, and will fly their last missions in combat before being transported back to the U.S. The final local flight will take place Sept. 16.

Lauren Johnson

MH-53 Pave Low

MH-53 Pave Low

Find a poster, framed print, or 12-month calendar of the Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) MH-53 Pave Low helicopter at The PatriArt Gallery.

September 13, 2008 at 1:12 am 1 comment

Helicopter retires after service in Vietnam, Iraq

MH-53 Pave Low helicopter tail number 68-10357 flew its final mission and last flight supporting special operations forces March 28 in Iraq after 38 years of service.

The helicopter was the lead command and control helicopter for a mission to rescue approximately 50 American prisoners of war from the Son Tay prison camp in North Vietnam in 1970, which became a significant event for Air Force special operations.

From Iraq, the MH-53 known as 357 will be transported to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, where it will sit on display in the Cold War Gallery.

“It’s fitting that this aircraft’s last mission was flown in combat before it is placed on permanent display at the museum,” said Lt. Gen. Donald C. Wurster, commander of Air Force Special Operations Command and an MH-53 pilot. “Aircraft 357 led a formation of HH-53 and HH-3 helicopters on a daring raid into North Vietnam to rescue American POWs. Of those five 53s that participated, only tail number 357 is left.”

Historical records indicate 66 prisoners were being held at the Son Tay camp, located 23 miles west of Hanoi.

Although the mission was considered a tactical failure because no prisoners were found at the camp, it was also considered a success because conditions for POWs held in North Vietnam improved after the raid.

Training for the Son Tay raid began in the summer of 1970 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., under the command of Brig. Gen. LeRoy J. Manor, who retired as a lieutenant general. There, an all-volunteer team of Army and Air Force conventional and special operations members planned and practiced flight and ground operations for a rescue mission deep into North Vietnam. The mission was repeatedly rehearsed using a full-sized compound mock-up near Duke Field, known as Auxiliary Airfield No. 3.

For Operation Kingpin, HH-53 357, mission call sign “Apple 1,” was flown by Lt. Col. Warner Britton and carried the operation commander, Army Col. Arthur Simons and his team of Soldiers to the target. 

The crew of “Apple 1” was decorated with an Air Force Cross and four Silver Stars for their role in the raid.

Within 1.5 years of the Son Tay mission, three of the five HH-53s were lost, two in combat operations and one destroyed on the ground in Danang during a rocket attack by the Vietcong. The fourth HH-53 was converted to an MH-53J and flew in a special operations role for many years. It was lost in combat in Afghanistan in 2002.

Although “Apple 1” changed call signs many times since 1970, it continued to fly in operations supporting U.S. national objectives around the globe.

“It is awe inspiring to know people sat in this very seat and created history,” said Col. Brad Webb, 1st Special Operation Wing commander and MH-53 pilot. “I’ve flown this tail number periodically since 1988,” Colonel Webb said. “The closest I came to combat while flying 357 was a combat search and rescue mission for a British aircraft shot down near Gorazde, Bosnia-Herzegovenia in 1994. I also flew it in Kuwait several times under combat support missions for Operation Southern Watch in 2001.”

Inevitably, aircraft age and technology advances.

As a result, the MH-53 Pave Low’s long and distinguished career will soon complete its service to the Air Force. The remaining MH-53s in the Air Force inventory will be retired as they return from combat duty.

Kristina Newton(AFPN)

July 23, 2008 at 3:45 am 1 comment