USAF trials: Jolly Green II heli tested ‘deep behind enemy lines’

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Just a couple of days ago, on February 27th, the skies above Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, witnessed the inaugural test flight of the U.S.’s latest rescue helicopter, the HH-60W Jolly Green II. Incidentally, it took to the skies from the very same Kadena Air Base that the Americans wrested control of during the historic Battle of Okinawa in World War II. 

Photo by Luis E. Rios Calderon

This flight marked the debut of the HH-60W Jolly Green II, known affectionately in aviation circles as “Whiskey”. You see, Whiskey is no ordinary helicopter; it’s stepping up to take the place of the HH-60G Pave Hawk, a rescue helicopter that has been operating out of Kadena since the early ’90s. The primary mission for Whiskey while stationed in Okinawa? To lead search and rescue operations in contested environments. 

The February 27 flight test was even more significant as it was the first time the HH-60W had flown with a fully operational crew on board. What’s next on the horizon? All the helicopters from this model promised to Kadena are expected to be delivered by the end of 2025. There’s some chatter about the fate of the H-60G Pave Hawk too. Rumor has it that it could be sold to a domestic or international buyer as soon as August of this year. With all this in perspective, it seems a replacement has likely been found.

The focus has shifted

Japan’s inaugural showcase of an HH-60W wasn’t merely coincidental. During the spring of 2020, Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall emphasized a crucial shift towards high-end combat operations against China and Russia, recognizing the pressing reality of a “highly contested” airspace. Initially, the plan was for the USAF to procure at least 113 of these helicopters. However, in a subsequent declaration, Kendall adjusted the target to 75 units for the American Air Force. 

The operational testing phase for the HH-60W also kicked off in 2020. However, it was not conducted in Japan but rather on American soil. The Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada housed these tests. Interestingly, before these tests, the 413th Flight Test Squadron at Duke Field Air Force Base in Florida performed the preliminary round of evaluations.

Photo by Jonathan R. Sifuentes

The differences

Let’s delve into the key differences between the HH-60W and HH-60G helicopters. First off, the HH-60W has a stronger engine, meaning it’s faster and can cover a larger area. This is crucial for rescue operations where time is of the essence. Next, let’s consider the HH-60W’s electronics. It boasts a cutting-edge ‘glass cockpit’ that facilitates a better understanding of the surroundings for pilots. Additionally, it features advanced flight systems, such as a digital autopilot, making it easier to operate and more reliable. 

Moving on to defense systems, the HH-60W is better equipped. It boasts various features for protection against threats like surface-to-air missiles, including radar warning receivers, infrared missile warning sensors, and a system for dispersing flares and chaff. Furthermore, it has a larger fuel tank, enabling longer air time without the need to refuel. Impressively, it’s even capable of refueling during flight, extending its range even further. 

Photo credit: DoD

When it comes to load capacity, the HH-60W bests the HH-60G. Thanks to its spacious cabin and increased payload capacity, it can carry more soldiers or supplies. Additionally, it has a stronger lifting system, crucial for rescue missions. Finally, the HH-60W is future-proof. Its modular design allows for easy integration of new technologies as they emerge, ensuring it remains at the forefront of helicopter technology for a long time.

First positive reviews

Undeniably, the HH-60W is poised to revolutionize the daily operations within the Air Force in the Asia-Pacific region. Still, the achievements of the HH-60G, particularly its life-saving missions in Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific, should not be discounted. 

Upon its inaugural test flight, the latest iteration of this vital machinery garnered its initial approval. U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Louis “Shiner” Nolting, the commander of the 33rd Rescue Squadron, extolled the helicopter for its advanced avionics, defense systems, weapons, robustness, and personnel recovery capabilities, dubbing it a battle-ready chopper. 

USAF Lt. Col. Brian Rhodes, the team leader of the 33rd RQS Combat Rescue Helicopter, vouched for its performance. He accentuated that it fulfilled every expectation they had laid out. He also lauded the painstaking efforts of the 33rd Helicopter Maintenance Unit responsible for routine maintenance for the HH-60 models. Their commitment ensures that these machines operate flawlessly, minimize delays, and boost efficiency – enabling operators to perform their duties effectively and safely.


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