Tag Archives: 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne)

We Got Interesting Photos of The Secretive 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s Helicopters in Training

Images May Show Special Operations Unit Training with DEVGRU or Army Delta.

Frequent contributor to The Aviationist, Lance Riegle, of Dearborn Heights, Michigan, noticed unusual aviation activity during his recent trip to Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grabbed his Canon EOS 70D with a Tamron 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens and started shooting photos. What he got is interesting.

“To be honest, I started taking photos before I knew what I was taking photos of. There had been a lot of other activity from the airshow [Ed’s note: the NAS Oceana Airshow had just ended that weekend] and I had my camera ready to go next to the balcony where we were staying. I heard jets, then I heard a helicopter, ran out the door, and there they were.”

Lance Riegle spent four days photographing the secretive 160th SOAR flying off the Dam Neck training area. (All photos: Lance Riegle)

Virginia Beach is close to the Dam Neck Annex of Oceana Naval Air Station. In December, 2016, journalist Sarah Pruitt reported on the use of the classified area by the most famous special operations unit in the world, the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6. The unit, also known as “Development Group” or “DEVGRU” trains in this facility.

Pruitt wrote that, “Today, the top-secret headquarters of SEAL Team Six are located at the Dam Neck Annex of the Oceana Naval Air Station, just south of Virginia Beach.” Lance Riegle was only six miles north of the top-secret facility.

The general public knows DEVGRU from Operation Neptune’s Spear, the raid to capture Osama bin Laden in 2011 using highly-modified “Stealth Black Hawk” helicopters flown by the U.S. Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR), the famous “Night Stalkers”.

While the military won’t officially verify it, what Lance Riegle got photos of just north of Dam Neck was almost certainly a (classified) training exercise being conducted by a Naval Special Warfare Team (SEAL team), possibly DEVGRU operators, using highly modified helicopters only flown by the 160th SOAR. The aircraft in the photos are MH-6M Little Bird and MH-60M Blackhawk helicopters.




The Night Stalkers’ unusual helicopters are readily identifiable during the day. They are painted flat black instead of the more common olive green color and have almost no visible markings. The aircraft Lance Riegle photographed had temporary markings on the fuselage using tape, a common practice in a large training evolutions using numerous aircraft.

The Nightstalkers are the only unit in the Army using the MH-6M Little Bird, the helicopter you may remember landing on the roof of the Olympic Hotel in the book and movie “Blackhawk Down” when the secretive SFO-D (Special Forces Operational detachment- Delta) assaulted the building.

A pair of MH-6M Little Bird helicopters of the “Nightstalkers” flies toward the Navy SEAL facility at Dam Neck. Even at night only a single red light was visible on the aircraft. (Photo: Lance Riegle)

The U.S. Army’s 160th SOAR specializes in night flying at low altitude for clandestine insertions into denied areas. Aircraft flown by the Nightstalkers have an exotic communications and sensor suite on board accounting for the massive number of antennae and vision systems protruding from the helicopters. The MH-60M Blackhawks have a dazzling array of special secure radios, sensors and satellite communications on board. They include the AN/ARC-201D single channel ground and airborne radio system (SINCGARS), four onboard Raytheon AN/ARC-231 Skyfire radios, two of them equipped with satellite communications capability, two AN/ARC-220 high frequency radios, an MTX Blue Force Tracker to prevent accidental friendly fire engagements. The nose of the MH-60M also features the Raytheon AN/APQ-187 SilentKnight radar for terrain-following at low altitude at night and the Raytheon AN/ZSQ-2 EOSS electro-optical (EO) and infrared (FLIR) cameras for night vision. Nightstalker pilots are also the most proficient aviators in the world at dangerous low-altitude, night vision goggle flying. All these system antennae and sensors are visible in Riegle’s photos.

MH-60M Blackhawks return to the Navy SEAL facility at Dam Neck after a training sortie at sea.

“The first time I saw them was at night. I was surprised they were flying as close to the ground and to buildings as they were at night with all their lights off. The only light they had on was one small, blinking tail light.”

Training activities for these elite teams are common in the area, but being in the right place at the right time to get photos can be tricky, especially for a large training exercise like this one. Riegle observed the aviation activity for four days at multiple times throughout the day. The aircraft would fly in and out of two points, sometimes loaded with operators, sometimes returning empty. The aircraft originated north of Riegle’s location and then flew south to Dam Neck initially before heading out to sea. This mission profile suggests the aircraft and their load of special operators could have been conducting Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) operation training. “At night, they stayed closer to shore, during the day they were further out,” Riegle noted.



Once Lance Riegle began noticing the high tempo of special operations activity in the area he kept his camera with him and managed to grab some photos of the rarely seen stealthy 41-foot CCA Mk1 high speed boats used by Special Boat Team 20 stationed at Dam Neck.

The unusual CCA Mk1 high speed boats of Special Boat Team 20 at Dam Neck.

In August 2017 journalist Joseph Trevithick reported at The War Zone that, “From what little we know about the 41-foot long craft, technically known as the CCA Mk. 1, it is low-observable design with a composite material hull and a pair of high performance engines that could operate with a low likelihood of detection even close to shore. It is reportedly small enough that U.S. Air Force C-17s can air drop it directly into a given body of water.”

A close look at a CCA Mk1 high speed boat.

Following a few days of managing to get some rare photos of these secretive aircraft, boats and special operations teams in training Riegle said, “It’s interesting that these guys do this every day around the world but nobody ever sees them including us Americans.” Thanks to Lance’s interesting photos, we get a rare glimpse at these exotic aircraft, boats and men in action.

All images: Lance Riegle.

Top image: A grainy close-up of an MH-60M Blackhawk of the U.S. Army’s 160th SOAR, the “Night Stalkers” flies just off the coast of Dam Neck. The numerous sensors, the night vision goggles on the helmets of operators and their unusual uniforms with knee pads can barely be seen in this enlargement. (Photo: Lance Riegle)

Questions Remain Surrounding Special Operations Blackhawk Crash in Iraq

Veteran Helicopter Pilot Killed in Crash Was in Ninth Combat Deployment.

Late Tuesday, August 21, 2018, U.S. military officials identified the Army helicopter pilot who died on Monday as a result of wounds received in a crash in Iraq on Sunday, August 19, 2018 during an undisclosed operation. Official news releases report three additional wounded U.S. personnel have been evacuated to treatment facilities.

Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin, 34, from Spokane, Washington, died Aug. 20, in Baghdad as a result of injuries sustained when his helicopter crashed in Sinjar, Ninevah Province, according to a Department of Defense news release.

CW3 Galvin was assigned to Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) as an MH-60M Blackhawk helicopter pilot. He was flying in support of Operation Inherent Resolve. Galvin was originally from Phoenix, Arizona. He was 34 years old. Galvin was a combat veteran special operations pilot with nine deployments including two during Iraqi Freedom, three in Operation Enduring Freedom and four more during Operation Inherent Resolve. He was the recipient of the U.S. Army Air Medal (C device) and Air Medal (30LC) for heroism or meritorious achievement while flying in addition to numerous other awards.

A file photo of U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor J. Galvin, 34, of Spokane, Washington. Galvin died Monday from injuries received in the crash of his MH-60K Blackhawk special operations helicopter. (Photo: US Army)

In an August 20, 2018 article on Newsweek.com about the fatal crash, journalist James LaPorta reported that, “It is unclear why the MH-60 Blackhawk went down, but U.S. military sources with knowledge of the crash said the helicopter was returning to base after conducting a partnered small-scale raid on Islamic State militants in an undisclosed region as part of ongoing counterterrorism operations.” LaPorta went on to write, “Ten U.S. military personnel were onboard the aircraft being flown by U.S. Army pilots from the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, known as the Night Stalkers.”

The region near Sinjar (Shingal), Iraq where the crash occurred had been active in supporting cross-border anti-ISIS operations into neighboring Syria for more than a month until U.S. troops were withdrawn from the area in the middle of July, 2018 according to a report by Wladimir van Wilgenburg published in the regional Kurdistan 24 online news source. This is also the region where Iraqi Air Force F-16s have conducted their first airstrikes against insurgents during cross-border strikes into Syria.

The crash was reported to have occurred at approximately 10:00 PM local time (2200 hrs, GMT+3). Sunset in the region on August 19, the date of the accident, occurred at 6:40 PM local time. Weather in the area was hot, 101 degrees Fahrenheit, with light winds and clear skies. Pentagon spokesman Colonel Robert Manning told reporters Monday that the crash was not caused by enemy fire.

Reports about the aircraft and the personnel on board may contradict official assertions that the U.S. role in the region is predominantly in an advisory capacity. The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Night Stalkers”, is a highly-specialized combat aviation unit headquartered at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky that supports elite U.S. and coalition combat units like Army Special Forces, Naval Special Warfare (SEALs) and other special operations units.

This latest crash brings the total of serious U.S. military aircraft accidents this year to at least 14.

The 160th SOAR, the “Night Stalkers”, are most famous for the raid to capture Osama bin Laden, Operation Neptune’s Spear, on May 1, 2011. During that raid, the unit flew a classified, low-observable variant of the Blackhawk helicopter that has since been popularly referred to in speculation as the “MH-X Stealth Black Hawk” or “Silent Hawk”. Images of part of the secret helicopter were seen around the world when one of them crashed inside Bin Laden’s compound during the raid, leaving the tail section visible. Books and media accounts suggest only two of the aircraft were ever produced.

In 2015, a MH-60M Black Hawk crashed on the deck of a U.S. Navy ship near Okinawa, Japan, injuring seven; more recently, in August 2017, a 160th SOAR’s MH-60 crashed off Yemen killing one soldier.

Top image credit: U.S. Army

USAF Special Operator May Posthumously Receive Medal of Honor for 2002 Battle on Takur-Ghar in Afghanistan

TSgt. John Chapman May Have Fought Desperate, Solo Battle to Safeguard Rescuers.

Alone, abandoned, outgunned. USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman wakes up on a freezing mountaintop in Afghanistan to realize a special operator’s worst nightmare: he is trapped by himself behind enemy lines.

Now he must fight for his life. He is wounded, exposed and low on ammunition as he faces a large number of insurgents bent on making sure he is dead, or worse.

It is Mar. 4 and 5, 2002. The U.S. and coalition led Global War on Terror is at its peak. Coalition conventional and special operations forces are engaged in Operation Anaconda, a combined U.S. military, CIA and international attempt to eliminate Al Qaeda and Taliban forces from the rugged, remote Shahi-Kot Valley in the Arma Mountains of Afghanistan southeast of the Zurmat district.

The operation started hours earlier, and it is already not going well. Among other problems, mechanical delays have caused a U.S. MH-47E Chinook heavy special operations helicopter to attempt to land directly on top of the 10,469-foot Takur-Ghar mountain near sunrise. The helicopter was supposed to insert a long-range surveillance team that would have climbed from their originally planned landing zone (LZ) lower on the mountain to the top of the mountain to provide overwatch for the operation. But the delays compelled planners to save time by landing directly on top of Takur-Ghar. The large helicopter, callsign “Razor 03”, immediately comes under withering machinegun and rocket fire from insurgents dug-in on the mountain summit.

A USAF file photo of TSgt. John Chapman in Afghanistan. (Photo: USAF)

One U.S. Navy SEAL, Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts, slips on a slick of expanding hydraulic fluid on the back ramp of “Razor 03”. Roberts slides out of the helicopter and falls to the ground below. The heavily damaged helicopter with casualties on board attempts to retrieve him, but can no longer remain in the air. It crash lands several miles away near the bottom of the mountain. Petty Officer First Class Neil C. Roberts is left alone on top of the mountain to fight for his life.

The wreckage of the first MH-47E Chinook, callsign “Razor 03”, on the summit of Takur-Ghar. (Photo: U.S. DoD File)

The heroic story of Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts is well-known from books and other media. But information suggests Roberts wasn’t the only man left alone on the summit of Takur-Ghar in a lonely, one-man battle for survival.

Following the fall of Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts from the back ramp of the first MH-47E helicopter “Razor 03”, a second MH-47E Chinook helicopter, this one with callsign “Razor 04”, returned to an area near the original landing site of “Razor 03” near the top of Takur-Ghar in an attempt to rescue Roberts.

The second MH-47E Chinook helicopter, “Razor 04”, inserted a small team of operators including Navy SEALs and an Air Force special operator in an attempt to rescue Roberts.

One of the rescuers was USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman. After their insertion the second team of Navy SEALs and Air Force TSgt. Chapman came under heavy insurgent fire at the summit of Takur-Ghar and several were wounded. For the second time that day, they too were forced to withdraw from the summit. But Chapman had been hit and lay motionless on top of the mountain. When the SEALs withdrew under heavy insurgent gunfire, they thought Tech Sgt. John Chapman was killed in the firefight. It turns out they were likely wrong.

Recent information strongly suggests that USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman survived alone on the summit of Takur-Ghar after the SEAL withdrawal and singlehandedly fought insurgents in hand-to-hand combat. After what appears to be a dramatic close-quarters battle, he did not survive. Now TSgt. John Chapman may receive the United States’ highest military award, the Medal of Honor.

A Department of Defense 3D map showing the location of Takur-Ghar relative to the rest of Operation Anaconda. (Photo: DoD)

In 2016, USAF Colonel Andrew N. Milani, former commander of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the “Night Stalkers”, presented an addendum to an original 2003 report he wrote about the incident that says, “With some of the original uncertainty removed, I can state that the probability now lies more in favor of Chapman surviving the original assault”.

TSgt Chapman has already been awarded the Air Force Cross, but the more recent review of intelligence gathered from the top of Takur-Ghar supports the current push to posthumously award him the Medal of Honor.

As indicated in the documents that awarded him his Air Force Cross, Chapman had, “exchanged fire with the enemy from minimum personal cover until he succumbed to multiple wounds.”

New examination and analysis of video shot from an MQ-1 Predator drone and an AC-130 Spectre gunship above Takur-Ghar may appear to tell the story of remarkable heroism.

At approximately 05:25 local time, video shot from both the MQ-1 Predator drone and from an orbiting AC-130 Spectre gunship showed a person on the ground, almost certainly TSgt. Chapman, moving. And fighting back against insurgents.

“It was really grainy. But there was still somebody up there fighting, and you could see that,” USAF Sgt. Kenny Longfritz, Chapman’s first sergeant at 24th USAF Special Tactics Squadron, said of the Predator drone footage he reviewed after the battle.

The grainy surveillance video goes on to reveal a brutal fight. At 06:00 local time insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at Chapman’s position after he had regained consciousness and joined the battle. At the same time the insurgents attacked Chapman at close range with the RPG, one insurgent charged Chapman’s position in an attempt to overrun him. Chapman killed the insurgent. Moments later another insurgent crawled into Chapman’s foxhole. In the surveillance video, the two can be seen engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Chapman prevailed again, killing the insurgent at arms’-length.

Only moments after Chapman’s desperate one-man stand, two helicopters carrying 75 U.S. Army Rangers were bearing down on Takur-Ghar in a last, massive assault to seize the summit position. It was not known at the time that Chapman was still in position fighting to the death. In his final moments, as the helicopters approach, Chapman appears to rise to provide covering fire for the approaching aircraft- possibly with the dead insurgent’s weapon, maybe with his own, no one knows. As he lays down a field of suppressive fire presumably to protect the incoming helicopter force, insurgents finally gun him down in a withering fusillade of machine-gun fire.

Chapman’s survival and courageous one-man fight against insurgents on top of Takur-Ghar could very well have enabled the approaching helicopter assault force to land more safely than without his suppressive covering fire during his final moments.

In multiple media stories, from the New York Times to Task and Purpose, there are reports that TSgt. John Chapman will receive the Medal of Honor. Journalist Paul Szoldra wrote in an April 20, 2018 article in Task and Purpose that:

“Chapman’s family was notified sometime in March that he would be awarded the Medal of Honor, according to several sources familiar with the matter. A source familiar with the Medal of Honor awards process told me the time between family notification and the award ceremony in Washington is typically a matter of weeks.”

A USAF file photo of TSgt. John Chapman in Afghanistan. (Photo: USAF)

While the Whitehouse has declined to comment yet on any upcoming award for John Chapman, the emerging version of events on top of Takur-Ghar on those days back in 2002 strongly suggest that he demonstrated exceptional selflessness, courage and determination in his solo defense of the mountain top against insurmountable odds. As the United States celebrates its annual Memorial Day holiday to remember servicemen fallen in combat, the new information about USAF Tech Sgt. John Chapman valor seems deserving of the nation’s highest award for heroism.

Images show that parts of U.S. Army 160th SOAR MH-60M that crash landed off Okinawa were covered to hide some details

A Special Operations Black Hawk performed a “hard-deck landing” on the USNS Red Cloud off Okinawa, Japan.

Seven military were injured after an MH-60M Black Hawk helicopter belonging to the U.S. Army’s 160th SOAR (Special Operations Aviation Regiment) performed a “hard-deck landing” on the USNS Red Cloud, 20 miles off Okinawa, Japan.

Aerial footage broadcast by several media outlets showed the helicopter (coded “63”) with part of its tail broken off: screenshots posted on Social Media (special thanks to @AbraxasSpa) shows that main and tail rotors were covered, most probably to hide some details (maybe noise reduction devices and other interesting sensors) of the Special Operations helicopter.

MH-60 Japan 4

Therefore, not a Silent Hawk like the one involved in the Abbottabad raid to kill Bin Laden, but a highly modified chopper with plenty of details that is better to keep away from cameras.

MH-60 Japan 3

Screenshots via @AbraxasSpa

 

U.S. Army Special Operations MQ-1C drone has crashed in Iraq. And someone took a selfie with the wreck

A U.S. Gray Eagle UAS has crashed in southern Iraq.

A photo posted on Jul. 21 on Twitter shows some people taking shots around a crashed (still largely intact) MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) sporting U.S. Army markings.

The Gray Eagle is an advanced derivative of the Predator  specialized in providing direct operation control by Army field commanders. It can fly Reconnaissance, Surveillance, and Target Acquisition (RSTA); convoy protection; Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detection as well as providing live aerial imagery to ground patrols carrying also PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions): in other words, it can support a wide variety of missions including attack, assault, reconnaissance, infiltration and exfiltration, and any kind of known or unknown special operations you may imagine.

That’s why it is also operated by the US Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) “Night Stalkers”, a Special Operations unit that used two stealthy MH-X “Silent Hawk” (or Stealth Black Hawk) to infiltrate and exfiltrate U.S. Navy SEALs during the Osama Bin Laden raid back in 2011.

The “Night Stalker” have been quite active in the region since August 2014 and have recently taken part in a “daring” raid to kill ISIS high level operative Abu Sayyaf,  in eastern Syria.

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) is known to operate 12 Gray Eagle (along with a fleet of smaller RQ-11B Raven and RQ-7 Shadow drones, that are used for ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) task in support to Special Ops.

 

The Night Stalkers also operate MH-47G Chinooks, MH-60L/K Black Hawks, A/MH-6M Little Birds, MH-X Silent Hawks (and maybe stealthy Little Birds and stealthy Chinooks as well).