Black Hawk – versatility unlimited!
With three decades of service, more than 2,600 examples built and at least two dozen military customers, Sikorsky's S-70 Black Hawk is a rugged, dependable support helicopter, right-sized for today's tactical requirements and versatile enough to encompass a variety of roles.
Already in service with eight Middle Eastern and North African air forces, the Black Hawk (which also uses the US DoD designation H-60) looks set to enjoy further success in the region. A number of operators have already placed orders for the up-engined and improved UH-60M.
Developed to meet a 1972 US Army requirement of a replacement for the famous Bell UH-1 Huey, the new UH-60 was designed to be able to carry 16-17 passengers, a squad of fully-armed 11 combat troops and their equipment, four litters (stretcher patients) with a medical officer for medical evacuation missions, 2,600-lb of cargo internally, or underslung loads of up to 9,000-lb – including, for example, a 155-mm howitzer.
The UH-60’s internal fuel tanks have a capacity of 1,360 litres but this can be increased through the use of two internal auxiliary fuel tanks containing 1,400 litres and 1,740 litres in a pair of external tanks. The latter are carried on a stub wing system known as the External Stores Support System (ESSS), which can also be used to carry 10,000lb (4,500kg) of armament, including rocket pods, anti-tank guided missiles and gun pods. This has subsequently been upgraded to be able to carry two 230
The basic UH-60 has spawned a huge family of sub-variants. Addition of a new automatic flight control system (AFCS), the more powerful -701C model of the GE T700 engine and a stronger gearbox to the basic transport helicopter produced the UH-60L; while there have been dedicated search and rescue versions for the USAF (HH-60G), heavily-armed special forces support helicopters (AH-60L, MH-60K, and MH-60L), dedicated Casevac versions (UH-60Q), as well as the EH-60A/L Quick Fix EW and Elint platform and the EH-60C command post helicopter.
As a result, wherever the US Army fights, the H-60 is there in support – and often at the forefront of the action. The type played a prominent part during the
The type also formed the basis of the navalised SH-60 SeaHawk, which has, in turn, produced a bewildering array of variants for ASW, ASuW, SAR and other naval roles, and the US Marine Corps’ HMX-1 uses the VH-60N version of the Black Hawk as a presidential and VIP transport helicopter.
Exports have further increased the number of S-70 variants but, though the type has enjoyed some success with parapublic operators, it has not broken through as a civilian helicopter.
The Black Hawk has remained in production for more than 30 years and, though today’s aircraft are visually hard to distinguish from the earliest examples, those now rolling off the production line are much more capable aircraft than their predecessors. Further improvements are in train, both for new-build examples and for retrofit to existing in-service machines, which are, thereby, gaining more power, more lift capability and state-of-the-art cockpits, instrumentation, avionics equipment and navigation systems.
The latest improved variant, the UH-60M, was originally designed as an upgrade programme for 1,500 US Army Black Hawks, approved in April 2001. The US Army later decided to opt for the procurement of new-build helicopters to UH-60M standards, rather than upgrade its existing airframes, and a decision was made to authorize a multi-year contract. Subsequently, a decision was taken to upgrade 900 existing aircraft to UH-60M standards.
The new-build UH-60M prototype made its first flight in September 2003 and entered low-rate initial production (LRIP) in April 2005. After completing initial operational evaluation, the Army approved full-rate production and placed a five-year contract for 1,227 helicopters in December 2007.
Some 20 early aircraft are being delivered as HH-60M combat rescue helicopters, ordered in March 2008. The first of 22 LRIP UH-60Ms was delivered in July 2006, and the first upgraded aircraft is due to be delivered this year.
It has recently been announced that the USAF will also order 112 Sikorsky UH-60Ms, modified to HH-60L standards, to replace its ageing fleet of HH-60G Pave Hawks in the combat search and rescue role.
The UH-60M incorporates upgraded T700-GE-701D engines with an advanced new infrared suppression system. These drive new wide chord composite spar main rotor blades (which will provide 500lb more lift than the current UH-60L blade), via an improved durability gearbox, and the aircraft has a strengthened fuselage.
The variant has a new fly-by-wire flight control system and a four-axis fully-coupled autopilot. The glass cockpit incorporates a MIL STD 1553 bus-based avionics suite. The state-of-the-art-cockpit features four Rockwell Collins multi-function displays, and dual Canadian Marconi (CMC) electronic flight management systems. Honeywell provides dual embedded GPS inertial (EGI) navigation systems, with a digital moving map and Goodrich provides an integrated vehicle health management system (IHVMS) computer.
In the region, the Black Hawk is in widespread service, with
The biggest operator in the Arab world is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whose 21 S-70A-1 Desert Hawks are broadly equivalent to the UH-60L. These aircraft are operated by the Royal Saudi Land Forces’ 1 Aviation Battalion at
Sixteen more Saudi Black Hawks are dedicated aeromedical evacuation versions, designated S-70A-L1, and these are used by the Saudi Armed Forces Medical Services at
In November 2007, the
The Royal Bahraini Air Force operates two UH-60As and eight UH-60Ls with 9 Squadron at Rifa’a Air Base. In June 2007, the kingdom became the first international customer for the UH-60M, placing an order for nine of the new helicopters, the first of these being delivered in December 2009.
The final Black Hawk operator in the region is the Royal Moroccan Police Air Squadron, which received a pair of S-70-26 helicopters (equivalent to the UH-60L) for VIP transport duties.
One obstacle to selling the Black Hawk has been its relatively high price. To address this perceived disadvantage, Sikorsky has developed the ‘International Black Hawk’ or S-70i – intended as a less expensive multi-mission variant produced with Sikorsky’s global partners and delivered from outside the
The ten tonne S-70i will be priced competitively with smaller 6-8 tonne rivals. To facilitate this, Sikorsky designed the new type as a modular platform with a key common core, but that can be configured to meet specific customer requirements. Common elements of all S-70i versions include a dual pilot IFR-capable digital glass cockpit, an advanced four-axis autiomatic flight control system, coupled flight director, and active vibration control.
To build the new version, Sikorsky acquired the PZL Mielec plant in
Some of the new Black Hawks may be delivered in a more heavily armed configuration known to Sikorsky’s marketing department as the Armed Black Hawk (ABH) or ‘BattleHawk’, with an advanced cockpit, helmet-mounted sighting systems, comprehensive defensive aids, and a chin-mounted EO turret and an undernose 20-mm gun. The company completed development testing of this variant (developed in association with
In the longer term, there may be regional interest in the ‘optionally manned’ Black Hawk now being developed for US Army service from 2015-2016. This could be flown manned (with one or two pilots) or as an autonomous unmanned vehicle for use in the classic ‘difficult, dirty, dull, and dangerous’ missions for which unmanned platforms may be better suited.