KIRTLAND AFB, N.M. -- HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters 23644, left, and 23680 reach an aviation milestone here Tuesday, when they surpassed 10,000 hours of flying time. The two 58th Special Operations Wing helicopters fly over Hanger 1000 as they approach the landing Pad. (photo by Edward C. Harrison)
KIRTLAND AFB, N.M. -- Two 58th Special Operations Wing helicopters reached an aviation milestone here Tuesday, when the HH-60G Pave Hawks surpassed 10,000 hours of flying time. Pictured here are the flight crews from the historic 10,000 hours on the air frame for aircraft tail numbers 82680 and 82644. (photo by Edward C. Harrison)
by Connie Rankin
377th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
9/1/2011 - KIRTLAND AFB, N.M. -- Two 58th Special Operations Wing helicopters reached an aviation milestone here Tuesday, when the HH-60G Pave Hawks surpassed 10,000 hours of flying time.
In addition to their longevity, the helicopters also share other characteristics.
Aircraft 644 was accepted in the Air Force on Dec. 10, 1982, at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., with 10.9 hours of flying time.
The aircraft came to the 58 SOW on Dec. 13, 1994, from the Navy Aviation Depot at Pensacola Fla., with 4,841.6 hours.
To reach 10,000 total hours, the 58 SOW put 5,158.4 hours on it, including three search and rescue missions since 2002.
Aircraft 680 was accepted in the Air Force on Feb. 4, 1983, at Eglin AFB, with 4.3 hours. The 58 SOW gained the aircraft from Navy Aviation Depot at Pensacola on Oct. 27, 1994, with 4,498.2 hours. The 58 SOW has flown it 5,501.8 hours.
Rod Reay, chief pilot for M1 Support Services, was assigned to the 55th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron at Eglin AFB, Fla., when the first UH-60A Black Hawks arrived in December 1982. One of them was aircraft 644.
"We ended up getting six more Black Hawks at the 55th during my time there. Our job was to take existing tactics, techniques and procedures developed for Air Force rotary-wing combat rescue and special operations missions and adjust them for employment with the Black Hawk, an aircraft the U.S. Army had been using as a utility helicopter since 1978," he said.
Reay noted the history he shares with the specific aircraft.
"I'm humbled to get the chance to take the very aircraft I used to fly when it had double-digit flight time and fly it past the 10,000-hour mark," said Reay. "Before they arrived at Kirtland, these Pave Hawks had seen extensive service in war zones around the world. Now at Kirtland, they continue year after year to have the significantly highest utilization rates of all Air Force H-60s. They have, as the saying goes, 'been rode hard and put away wet.' It is a true testament to Air Force's military, civilian and contract maintainers that an aircraft produced with an original lifespan of 7,000 flying hours is now surpassing the 10,000-hour mark."
Some of Kirtland AFB's initial cadre of aircrew trainers still work at Kirtland: Joe Falzone, M1 Support Services; and Tom Berardinelli, 377th Air Base Wing director of staff, among them.
Falzone is a maintenance test pilot and HH-60 instructor pilot with the 58 SOW. After 25 years of service, he retired from the Air Force in 2004 with 4,500 hours of rotary-wing time.
"I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to start the HH-60 program on Kirtland AFB in 1988," he said. "I was also honored to have spent my Air Force career flying two of Sikorsky's best medium-lift helicopters."
Falzone said the HH-60 is a versatile and dependable helicopter that has served the country well, because it is air-transportable and can be deployed quickly anywhere in the world.
"We put this to the test when we were called to assist in the search for Congressman Mickey Leyland in Ethiopia back in 1989," he said. "We had two HH-60s ready to deploy in a C-5 within hours of notification. I call it 'the F-16 of helicopters,' because of its high performance. Next to its predecessor, the mighty HH-3E, it is my favorite helicopter to fly. The Air Force has used the HH-60s for 30 years now, and they have surpassed all expectations," he said.
Berardinelli said the aviation milestone brought back some great memories. He was part of the initial group of instructors at Kirtland AFB who requalified from their existing aircraft to form an instructor cadre necessary to implement the Air Force formal course for HH-60 qualification.
The retired colonel said he was fortunate enough to be one of the pilots to ferry the first HH-60G from the modification line in Troy, Ala., to Kirtland AFB.
"After flying the HH-3E Jolly Green for eight years, which was underpowered in high-altitude environments, such as New Mexico and many of the places we've flown in combat today, it was great to have an aircraft that was more maneuverable and capable as part of the combat rescue and special operations fleet at the time. One of the best parts of being in the initial group of instructors was that I got to fly a lot - more than 800 hours in about 16 months," he said.
Berardinelli expressed gratitude for his experiences in flying the helicopter.
"I consider myself incredibly blessed and will be forever grateful for the flying opportunities I had with the Air Force; especially for the opportunity to be part of the HH-60 program at Kirtland AFB. It's reached a significant milestone, but I'm not surprised. The HH-60G and other combat rescue and special operations aircraft have been workhorses, in continuous combat operations from 'Operation Just Cause' in Panama in December 1989 to this very day," he said.
Berardinelli said the combat loss of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, with its Army aircrew, Navy SEALs and Air Force pararescuemen aboard, reminds them of how special operations is essential to national defense and the high price special operators continue to pay.
"It is a reminder to me of the motto of combat rescue aircrews - "These things we do, that others may live," he said.