The Stealth Chinook involved in the Osama Bin Laden raid and why the Stealth Black Hawk crashed in Abbottabad

An interesting article published yesterday by the Associated Press and commented by Wired/Danger Room, provided some interesting details about the Osama Bin Laden raid. Indeed, anonymous government sources have told the story to the AP even if information they disclosed, raise more questions…
Anyway, first of all, I can’t help but notice that my possible explaination of Operation Neptune’s Spear (OBL raid’s name), published on May 6, was not disproved by facts disclosed so far!

Five aircraft flew from Jalalabad, Afghanistan, with three school-bus-size Chinook helicopters landing in a deserted area roughly two-thirds of the way to bin Laden’s compound in the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, two of the officials explained.

Good. The departure aerodrome is Jalalabad (my guess was right)  and there were also 3 Chinooks. Let’s have a look to what I wrote on May 6:

“I think there are two possibilities: both [helicopters involved in the raid] were Silent/Stealth/Upgraded/Modified/etc. Black Hawks; or 2 were Stealth Black Hawks and Stealth Chinooks. I don’t believe that “normal” MH-47s were involved as some media speculated (for the above mentioned considerations on the stealthiness of the formation) so, I’m almost sure only new Black Hawks were used. However, since we now know that a Black Helicopter exists, I can’t completely rule out the possibility that, along with a Stealth Black Hawk, somewhere there’s also some sort of modified Stealth Chinook flying.

Since the officials confirmed that 3 Chinooks were involved and given that a mixed formation of stealth and non-stealth helos would have rendered the entire formation clearly visible on radars and audible from distance, I believe that there must be also a modified MH-47 flying with the 160 SOAR. Unlike the Black Hawk, we have no photographic evidences of it, but I think that their existence is somehow confirmed by the fact that the officers admitted their presence on the scene. Furthermore, it is quite obvious that the sources are trying to deceive the public opinion when they say to the AP journalist that:

The Black Hawks were specially engineered to muffle the tail rotor and engine sound, two officials said.

You can’t reduce noise by modifying only the tail rotor. Even the main rotor had to be fixed. And what about the anti-radar finish to enhance stealthiness? In my opinion, as explained in the last post on this subject, the Stealth Black Hawk is a highly modified version of the UH-60 helicopter.

I’ve asked once again to Ugo Crisponi to prepare a sketch of how a Stealth Chinook might look like by applying more or less the same modification used for the Stealth Black Hawk.

The same AP article then gives some details about the Stealth’s crash landing:

The added weight of the stealth technology meant cargo was calculated to the ounce, with weather factored in. The night of the mission, it was hotter than expected. […]

The plan unraveled as the first helicopter tried to hover over the compound. The Black Hawk skittered around uncontrollably in the heat-thinned air, forcing the pilot to land. As he did, the tail and rotor got caught on one of the compound’s 12-foot walls.

On this topic I had a chat with a friend of mine, who’s a former helicopter combat pilot with some Tour of Duty in Afghanistan. He’s quite skeptical about the “weather factor”: Abbottabad is “only” 4.000ft AMSL and at night, the temperature is always (well) below 30° C. Even a heavy modified helicopter should not have problem hovering over the compound. Hence, there could have been three kind of “root cause” for the crash landing:

1) flying a very risky mission at night with Night Vision Goggles, the pilots could have lost situational awareness and impacted the compound’s wall while approaching it for landing. This would explain why the tail is cut as images show
2) the helicopter, flying at lower altitude than the other Stealth Black Hawk, was hit by wake turbulence generated by the other chopper’s rotor. “It’s a very dangerous situation” my friend told me “since the turbulence hits both the main and tail rotor, giving almost no chances to react”
3) there was a “recirculation condition”: exacerbated by proximity to walls or cliffs or trees, this occurs when the air passes down through the rotor disc, hits the ground, moves out horizontally, hits the wall, goes up and then gets sucked down again through the rotor. You then have air that is already moving down coming through the disc and this leads to a greater power requirement which can then make the effect worse. This accident may not have been helped by the modifications to the tail rotor to make it stealthy that also reduced its efficiency and need for more power. It may not have been helped by pilot’s under pressure, coming in low and fast, possibly with obscured vision behind the first aircraft throwing up dust/sand.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.


  1. I think an interesting suggestion…but from the information I red until now I not get the feeling the Chinooks are so strongly changed too. There was no need for that. They were back-ups and only came into action when one of the changed Blackhawks was lost. Then there was the picture already of a Pakistani defence that did not see the planes but only reacted on an alarm about the explosions and shots around the compound. When they arrived the US forces had left already.

    Also…I not believe that when so many Chinooks and Blackhawks are so strongly changed as in the impressions, nobody had seen and leaked information about them earlier. During trainingmissions or earlier operational missions. Because they are probably not so much changed, for most witnesses they look quite the same as normal Blackhawks and Chinooks. And so they could be out of the picture for such a long time.

    This impression would be nice for the next generations of helicopters…

  2. Just two notes:
    1) the “Blue edge” rotor blades on the sketch ale malformed – the image you used as a reference is from useless angle. The whole rotor is curved, actually – not just the tip. See
    2) about the cause of the crash, Bloomberg wrote:
    A United Technologies Corp. (UTX) Black Hawk helicopter carrying U.S. Navy SEALs to Osama Bin Laden’s hideout was downed by an air vortex caused by unexpectedly warm air and the effect of a high wall surrounding the compound, not mechanical failure or gunfire, according to U.S. officials and a lawmaker.
    The Army pilot from the service’s most elite aviation unit executed a hard but controlled landing — clipping a corner wall — after the chopper lost lift. The 12 heavily armed SEALs exited the aircraft unharmed.
    The commandos detonated an explosive to destroy the helicopter, which the Army Times reports was a specially configured stealth model Black Hawk.
    Two 160th additional MH-47 special operations Chinook helicopters provided back-up and assisted in flying out the raiders.

    According to this source, your theory No.3 would be correct.

  3. Hmm, I think this is possible, the MH-47 stealth derivative, but I think you are taking only one snapshot press account, when every other one has been conistant that 2 Blackhawks went in, and MH-47s were loaded with extra troops on standby. It is also been reported by a major outlet that the spares were 10s of minutes away. Just this one AP report with some “official” not named is not enough to jump to these conclusions. The DoD and others have said 2 Blackhawks made the run in with 26 operators and a dog. That does not mean a armanda of stealth helicopters were used. The total manpower stated used for this raid was about 57 troops including backup I believe. It has also been reported by multiple sources in the US and abroad that once the chopper went down and the backups had to push the US alerted the Pakistanis as to exactly what was going on and to not intervine in any way. I have left this before, maybe you checked it out maybe you didnt, this guy seems to have a real hard grasp on what happened, I heard him on national radio the day after the crash saying the pics were NOT a blackhawk, he seemed to have been first- Now his views on the F-35 I DONT fully agree with!

    Cheers and keep up the great work!

  4. I had the experience of standing 500 yards from where one of the teams practiced. They had at least 2 black hawks and at least one chinook involved. All of them had silence capabilities. In the dark, I could not begin to tell you any rotor shape, but when they turned off the sound…it was louder than noise!

  5. There are no stealth Chinooks; there wasn’t any need for them, anyway. Repeated tests in topography similar to that around Abbottabad found that MH47Gs could easily mask themselves from Pakistani radar. Actually, nobody wanted to use the Stealth Black Hawks, because they were notoriously unstable. Colonel John Thompson, the 160th Commander, went to McRaven (JSOC commander) and actually said that they should use the 47s instead of the 60s. McRaven lost it, chewing Thompson a new one.

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