On this day in 2008, a US Air Force helicopter made its last flight.
That in itself is not so exceptional, what made this retirement so special was the fact that the aircraft in question was retired after 40 years of continued service with the US Air Force. The helicopter in question was Sikorsky MH-53 Pave Low IV special operations helicopter with military serial number 68-8284 and construction number 65-147.
An MH-53 Pave Low
It flew its last combat mission on this day in 2008 while assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron, after which it was retired with 12.066.6 flight hours in 40 years of service.
It was one of the 72 MH-53 aircraft built for the US Air Force. The Pave Low helicopters were specially designed for low-level, long-range, undetected penetration into denied areas, day or night, in adverse weather, for infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces.
68-8284 was built as part of a 40 aircraft batch by Sikorsky as an HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant. In 1968 it was delivered to the US Airforce and operated out of Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base as "Jolly Green 55" for the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. In that role, it carried out several successful rescue flights in the combat area of the Vietnam war. 68-8284 was built as part of a 40 aircraft batch by Sikorsky as an HH-53C Super Jolly Green Giant. In 1968 it was delivered to the US Airforce and operated out of Nakhon Phanom Royal Thai Air Force Base as "Jolly Green 55" for the 40th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. In that role, it carried out several successful rescue flights in the combat area of the Vietnam war. An HH-53C on a combat rescue mission
Later in its career, it was assigned to the67th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron 67th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. During its years of service, it received several modifications and upgrades, the first major upgrade of the aircraft took place in the late 1980s when it was upgraded to MH-53J Pave Low III/Enhanced. Later in its career, it was modified to the MH-53M Pave Low IV standard. Operated by a crew of 6, 2 pilots, 2 flight engineers and 2 gunners the Pave Low IV is equipped with terrain-following radar and forward looking infrared for operations in darkness and low visibility at low-level.
68-8284 with another Pave Low IV on its final mission. 27 September 2008
After its retirement from operational duty, the aircraft was put on display at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford, UK.
Specifications of MH-53M Pave Low IV General characteristics
Crew: 6 (two pilots, two flight engineers and two aerial gunners)
Capacity: 37 troops (55 in alternate configuration)
Length: 88 ft (27 m)
Height: 25 ft (7.6 m)
Empty weight: 32,000 lb (14,515 kg)
MTOW: - 46,000 lb (20,865 kg) normal - 50,000 lb (23,000 kg) in emergency
Powerplant: - 2 × General Electric T64-GE-100 turboshaft engines, 4,330 shp (3,230 kW) each
Number of main rotor blades: 6
Main rotor diameter: 72 ft (21.95 meters)
Number of tail rotor blades: 4
Tail rotor diameter: 16 ft (4.88 meters)
Maximum speed: 170 kn (200 mph, 310 km/h)
Cruise speed: 150 kn (170 mph, 280 km/h)
Range: 600 nmi (690 mi, 1,100 km) can be extended with in-flight refueling
Service ceiling: 16,000 ft (4,900 m)