Air Force pilot flies HH-60W for first time

The HH-60W is the new combat search and rescue helicopter for the Air Force. (Lockheed Martin photograph)

The 413th Flight Test Squadron successfully conducted the first Air Force-piloted flight of the HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopter July 11. The test took place at the contractor’s testing facility in West Palm Beach, Fla.

The unit embedded Air Force personnel with the contractor, Sikorsky, to provide early warfighter involvement and operationally relevant developmental testing.

The aircraft, based on the Army’s UH-60M helicopter, is modified to perform missions locating and rescuing downed pilots in hostile territory. The Air Force is contracted to purchase 113 HH-60W aircraft to replace its aging fleet of HH-60G helicopters.

“Our entire team has been focused on bringing together a lot of moving parts to get here today. We are really excited to be a part of recapitalizing a vital component of our warfighting strategy,” said Lt. Col. Wayne Dirkes, 413th FLTS operations officer.

The purpose of the test flight was to collect level flight performance data the Air Force requires to move the program into the production and deployment phase of the Defense Acquisition Process. 

According to Dirkes, the crew performed an instrumentation and telemetry checkout with the control room, gathered basic engine start data, and flew referred gross weight level flight speed sweeps between 40 knots and maximum horizontal speed. 

“Performance testing requires extremely precise aircraft control, and our test pilot maintained tolerances of plus or minus 1 knot of airspeed, 20 feet of altitude, and less than 100 feet per minute vertical speed, flying by hand,” explained Dirkes.

The flight also served as a method for the test pilot to complete the required qualifications to fly the aircraft. Maj. Andrew Fama was the first Air Force pilot to fly the aircraft.

“I’m honored to be the first Air Force pilot to fly the ‘Whiskey’ and very excited to deliver a new aircraft to my rescue brothers and sisters,” said Maj. Andrew Fama, 413th FLTS test pilot.

Sikorsky pilots have been flying the aircraft for about a month, however, this milestone marks the beginning of integrated government and contractor flight test operations. 

There are six aircraft dedicated to the developmental test program. The 413th’s HH-60W operations are scheduled to begin at Duke Field this fall.