The HH-60G Pave Hawk, recognized by its iconic mustache, has been the premier rescue aircraft at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., for almost two decades.
After years of faithful service, the Pave Hawks are retiring, being replaced with the HH-60W Jolly Green II.
In 2003, the 55th Rescue Squadron was assigned to DM, bringing the Pave Hawks with them. These aircraft have been used across the globe during deployments, as well as humanitarian rescues in areas of the United States devastated by natural disasters ever since.
“Entering service in 1982, the Pave Hawks have been used for the rescue mission set in nearly every U.S. military conflict since 1989,” said George Tinseth, 355th Wing historian. “The Pave Hawks from the 55th RQS and 66th RQSs have directly participated in saving thousands of lives.”
Pave Hawks are a highly modified version of the U.S. Army HH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter. The integration of multiple communication system upgrades, automatic flight controls, in-flight refueling, all weather flight regime, and the ability to employ multiple insertion and extractions have set the Pave Hawk apart from its Army counterparts.
Active-duty, Reserve and Air National Guard units have used Pave Hawks in response to countless natural disasters across the United States. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Pave Hawks from across the country aided in the rescue and recovery efforts of those affected by the storm. The helicopters flew non-stop for nearly a month and are credited with saving over 4,000 people across multiple states.
Airmen with the 55th RQS deployed with three Pave Hawks in early 2022 and returned in October of the same year. While on their final deployment at an undisclosed location, the Pave Hawks aided in missions that included personnel recovery, casualty evacuation and more than 2,400 hours of on-call support to joint and coalition forces. These aircraft have supported countless rescue objectives during their time in service, including search and rescue in active combat zones, local civil search and rescue missions, supporting the launch of NASA space flights and much more.
“The golf (HH-60G Pave Hawk) has been essential to ensuring success of the Air Force’s worldwide personnel recovery mission during their time here at DM,” said Lt. Col. Paul Sheehey, 55th RQS director of operations. “Countless people across the globe have survived their worst day because of these aircraft and the highly skilled 55th aircrew who operate them.”
The U.S. Air Force began phasing out the Pave Hawk in 2022 and replacing them with a newer helicopter, the HH-60W Jolly Green II. The new fleet of Jolly Greens is set to be fully integrated at the 55th RQS by 2024.
“While everyone at the 55th is sad to see the golf models go, we are excited about the transition to the whiskey model,” Sheehey said. “The newer HH-60 platform should increase aircraft availability and bring newer technology to bear that our aviators can leverage to guarantee the solemn promise that Air Force combat search and rescue affords our nation into the future.”
The Air Force rescue community and those whose lives were saved will never forget the legacy of the HH-60G Pave Hawk because of the valiant actions of the Airmen at DM who work tirelessly to ensure no one’s worst day is their last day.