The U.S. Air Force’s new HH-60W Jolly Green II combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter completed a month-long ‘trial of extremes’ inside the McKinley Climatic Lab on April 2.
The Sikorsky test aircraft endured real temperatures ranging from 120 degrees to minus 60 degrees 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 goal of these punishing tests was to prove the new aircraft’s sustainability in any operational environment, according to an Air Force statement.
“Operating the HH-60W in the extreme conditions was a truly unique experience as a pilot and a tester,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Coates, 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron (88th TES) pilot, who also 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 extreme environments, the 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 environments. 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.
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 USAF 413th Flight Test Squadron (413th FLTS), the 88th TES and Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center (AFOTEC). Test aircraft are primarily split between Duke Field at Eglin Air Force Base and Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach facility.
HH-60W Jolly Green II
The HH-60W Jolly Green II Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH) is significantly more capable and reliable than its predecessor, the HH-60G Pave Hawk.
The aircraft hosts a new fuel system that nearly doubles the capacity of the main fuel tank on a UH-60M Black Hawk, giving the Air Force crew an extended range and more capability to rescue those injured in the battlespace. The HH-60W specification drives more capable defensive systems, vulnerability reduction, weapons, cyber-security, environmental, expanded adverse weather sensor capabilities, and more comprehensive net-centric requirements than currently held by the HH-60G.
The primary mission of the HH-60W helicopter will be conducting day or night combat search and rescue (CSAR) operations into hostile environments to recover isolated personnel during war. The HH-60W will also be tasked to perform military operations other than war, including civil search and rescue (SAR), medical evacuation (MEDEVAC), disaster response, humanitarian assistance, security cooperation/aviation advisory, NASA space flight support, and rescue command and control.
The HH-60W performed its first flight at Sikorsky’s West Palm Beach, Florida site on May 17, 2019, and the first Air Force-piloted flight, by the 413th Flight Test Squadron (413 FLTS), took place on July 11.
Sikorsky achieved the Milestone C production decision from the Air Force on Sept. 24, 2019, which launched the contract award known as Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) to build 10 HH-60W CRH helicopters. A second LRIP contract, worth over $500 million, was awarded to Sikorsky in Feb. this year to build 12 additional HH-60Ws.
The U.S. Air Force program of record calls for 113 helicopters to replace the Pave Hawks. A total of nine aircraft will be built at Sikorsky’s Stratford, Connecticut, facility during the Engineering & Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase of the program ― four EMD aircraft and five System Demonstration Test Articles (SDTA).
The first two Air Force HH-60W units to be fielded will be the 41st Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, and the 512th Rescue Squadron at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.