Although it’s hard to believe, I’m almost sure that the Stealth Black Hawk that crashed during the Osama Bin Laden raid has never been officially or unofficially named “MH-X”. Still, if you google “MH-X” you’ll find thousands articles that give it as the designation of the Stealth chopper project.
So, how’s this weird designation become so widely known? Simple: it was derived from the file name I and Ugo gave to very first version of the rendering of the Black Helicopter. We named it MH-X because we thought it was an upgraded MH-60 but since we didn’t know which could be the exact desigantion we used the “X” meaning a mysterious number. So all the files with the renderings of the helicopter that I’ve uploaded to this website were all named mh-x.jpg or mhx-2B.jpg or mhx-2011 (sometimes with numbers used to identify the different revision: for example mh-x3.jpg, mh-x4.jpg, mh-x4 new2, etc.).
Noteworthy, even for the artwork prepared for AviationGraphic.com website we used the designation MH-X even if it was clearly fictional!
By the way, the last one is named MH-X-2011_I and, unlike the F-35I, the “I” suffix doesnt identify any special version developed for Israel….
Hence, unless some of my readers will be able to prove that the MH-X project existed before we used it (in fact, I can’t completely rule out the possibility that we used the correct designation by accident) I’m becoming increasingly convinced I should write it MH-X™ :)
In the meanwhile, since you may be interested, here’s the “story” of the MH-X concept since the beginning.
On Aug. 14, the Financial Times and the NYT, followed by other media all around the world, published the news that in the days after Operation Neptune’s Spear Pakistan’s intelligence gave China the opportunity to examine the remains of the Stealth Black Hawk that crash landed during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Is this really a front page news? In my opinion, it is not, as it was quite predictable. We have already seen videos and pictures of chunks of the top secret radar-evading helicopter, being moved from the Bin Laden’s compound at Abbottabad. Not only the tail rotor section, that had remained almost intact and whose shape indicated that the one involved in the incident was not a common MH-60, but even smaller parts, like the one collected by Adam Roberts of the Economist on May 3, 2011, that had also a Part Number on it.
Furthermore, China is Pakistan’s main military equipment supplier and ties among both nations are extremely tough and, to let things even simpler, Islamabad has never accepted that the US carried out the raid without Pakistan’s prior approval.
Hence, it was quite obvious that Chinese would soon be able to have parts of the Stealth technology used to make a “Silent Black Hawk”. How long does it take for China to have its chopper capable to elude radar? Not so much. Most probably, one or two years, considering the number of Stealth fighters being developed by Beijing and the ability of Chinese engineers to copy classified Western technologies.
Although they can’t be considered as a handbook for Stealth choppers, the fuselage concepts for low radar cross section aircraft configurations designed at the end of the ’70s still apply today and the concepts behind them could be still useful to imagine the real shape of the Stealth Black Hawk.
That’s why I’ve used them to create the famous Stealth Black Hawk concept that will appears in today’s newspapers until the real modified “Silent Hawk” will be disclosed or until China will announce its first Stealth chopper….
Don’t you think that the above helicopter recalls the possible shape of the Stealth Black Hawk (at least of the modified MH-60 that I imagined with Ugo Crisponi)? The funny thing this time is that, unlike the famous Dragon Models Limited kit that will be available from July 2011 and whose box cover artwork was released at the end of May, the above screenshots are from a videogame that was released on Mar. 11, 2011, more or less two months before the doomed stealth helicopter involved in Operation Neptune’s Spear crash landed in the Osama Bin Laden compound at Abbottabad.
Even the crash landing scene depicted above could be similar (althought it should be set at night) to the one of Abbottabad on May 2 before the Navy Seals put the explosive in the remains of the helicopter to destroy it.
The name of the video game is “Homefront”. According to Wikipedia it is “a first-person shooter video game developed by Kaos Studios and published by THQ, in which players play as members of a resistance movement fighting against a near-future Korean military occupation of the United States. The story was written by John Milius, who co-wrote Apocalypse Now and wrote/directed Red Dawn. It was released for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and Microsoft Windows, and also made available through OnLive on March 15, 2011 in North America, March 17, 2011 in Australia, March 18, 2011 in Europe, and April 14, 2011 in Japan. Its tagline is: “Home is where the war is.”
Kudos to those who, envisaging the existence of a black stealth helicopters in the near future (Homefront is set in 2025), have designed, by coincidence or not, a helicopter whose shapes resemble those of our famous “Silent Hawk” (and much thanks to Marco Olimpio for the heads up).
The video below provides some information about the plot of Homefront:
Those who were worried that China could get its hands on some pieces of the ill-fated chopper that crashed in the Osama Bin Laden compound to reverse-engineer the Stealth helicopter have to accept the unpleasant reality that the Chinese have already copied it. As a matter of fact, on May 23, 2011, Dragon Models (based in Hong Kong, China) announced a new model (to be released in July): the 1/144 scale Stealth Helicopter “Operation Geronimo” (Twin Pack).
Image: Dragon Model Limited
If you look at the artwork on the box, you’ll notice that the one created so quickly by DML is quite similar to the concept I developed with Ugo Crisponi. It has the same (fictional) intakes and exhausts, and the overall shape is almost identical. To be honest it also includes some of the inaccuracies of our famous MH-60X rendering (dated May 5) that we fixed in a subsequent “release” (published on May 17) and a few more (based on the artwork, the blades seem quite unrealistic while the horizontal stabilizers are different from what the pictures suggest).
Anyway, here below you can find the May 5 sketch and if you compare it to the above image, you’ll see that, most probably, I and Ugo had the same ideas about the Stealth Black Hawk as the Dragon graphic designers. Noteworthy, the model comes with the unofficial/unconfirmed raid’s codename, since the official one is Operation Neptune’s Spear and not Operation Geronimo (“Geronimo” was the codeword for Bin Laden’s capture or death).
Above: the Stealth Black Hawk rendering I published on this site on May 5. Below the new version issued today (May 31, 2011).
Here’s an excerpt of how Dragon introduces its new model:
[…] Looking like a mixture of MH-60 Black Hawk and F-117 Stealth Fighter, this mysterious helicopter from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) has distinctive edges and angles. The fuselage, nose and tail were all modified to reduce the craft’s radar cross-section.
[…]Befitting the innovative and ultra-secretive shape of the helicopter, this model is newly tooled in every aspect. All the low-observable features such as the angled surfaces are carefully rendered. […]
To be or not to be [Stealth]: that is the question
If Drangon dared to venture into a Stealth model about which we still know very little (even if a 1/144 scale is small enough to “hide” some unknown details), Italian model manufacturer Italeri, took a different approach. Instead of producing a small kit of the Stealth Black Hawk basing on few pictures or artworks they announced a larger 1:48 UH-60/MH-60 Black Hawk “Night Raid”. The model box in this case is depicted performing a “generic” Special Forces operation inside a compound in Afghanistan (or Iraq).
Italeri told me that they have decided not to launch a product that, most likely, would have been quite different from the real Stealth Black Hawk, given the few images and known facts available to date. So they released a “normal” Black Hawk even if they are ready to work on a realistic “Silent Hawk” as soon as new details about the modified MH-60 used in the OBL raid will surface.
Whatever the choice (stealth or not stealth), such a quick reaction by both Dragon Models and Italeri shows how fast the response to a news story (and to the subsequent market demand) can be.
Dealing with the daily updates about the OBL raid and the Stealth helicopter, here’s an interesting news: on May 30 some media reported the (unconfirmed) news that two helicopters crossed the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to take five Taliban members in North Waziristan, and bring them back across the border into Afghanistan. This article provides an interesting analysis of the episode. Obviously, I’m not suggesting Stealth Black Hawks were involved again; however, given that the targets were high-value ones and that this kind of mission (once again in “enemy territory”), if confirmed, would be probably carried out by Special Forces, who knows?
I’ve already written a lot about the Stealth Black Hawk, whose existence is proven by pictures taken at Abbottabad the day after Osama Bin Laden raid, and about a Stealth Chinook theoretically taking part in Operation Neptune’s Spear. However I hadn’t thought about another stealth helicopter possibly flying in Pakistan during the OBL raid until I saw a video of a 160th SOAR rescue mission in Iraq that reminded me that the Night Stalkers often fly mixed formations of Black Hawks and MH-6 Little Birds, smaller choppers conducting, for example, rooftop insertions of Special Forces. The 160th SOAR is equipped with both MH-6s and AH-6s, the attack version of the Little Bird, aircraft that were used in almost all US (special) operations: from Op. Urgent Fury (1983, Grenada) to Just Cause (1989, Panama) to Gothic Serpent (1992, Somalia) to Iraqi Freedom (since 2003) the MH-6s have been a constant presence within some of the most difficult operations involving Delta Force and Navy Seals. In 2009, AH-6s took part in the helicopter assault (involving Navy Seals) to kill wanted terrorist Saleh Ali Saleh Nabha in Baraawe, Somalia, taking off from a US vessel. Having imagined the possible shape of a Stealth Black Hawk and Chinook, why not consider the possibility that even a modified, quieter, stealth MH-6X took part in the OBL raid flying with the 160th SOAR? I know that there’s almost nothing that can give some credence to this theory especially because another Stealth helicopter on the scene would make the air space over Abbottabad too crowded. However, I wanted to give it a try and hear what my readers think about a Stealth Little Bird. So, once again, I’ve asked Ugo Crisponi to help me with a rendering of a fictional “Black” MH-6 (6-bladed main rotor and 4-bladed tail rotor) that could be obtained with some modification of the original Little Bird:
I’ve just said that there is “ALMOST” nothing to give credence to the new theory of a Black fleet made by Stealth Black Hawk, Chinook and Little Bird. In fact, a highly modified “Black” Hughes 500s, was used by the CIA in 1972 from a Laos base. An extremely interesting article published in 2008 by Air & Space recalls the story of two OH-6As which were modified to fly with Air America and “to quietly drop off and pick up agents in enemy territory”. Dubbed “Quiet One”, the somehow stealth helicopters conducted their secret mission, on Dec. 5 and 6, 1972, when they carried in N. Vietnam commandos to place a wiretap and a solar-powered relay station that enabled Americans to eavesdrop communications on a telephone line used by the enemy commanders.
The article, written by James R. Chiles, provides some interesting details about the “Quiet One”:
The slapping noise that some helicopters produce, which can be heard two miles away or more, is caused by “blade vortex interaction,” in which the tip of each whirling rotor blade makes tiny tornadoes that are then struck by oncoming blades. The Quiet One’s modifications included an extra main rotor blade, changes to the tips on the main blades, and engine adjustments that allowed the pilot to slow the main rotor speed, making the blades quieter […]. The helicopter also had extra fuel tanks in the rear passenger compartment, an alcohol-water injection system to boost the Allison engine’s power output for short periods, an engine exhaust muffler, lead-vinyl pads to deaden skin noise, and even a baffle to block noise slipping out the air intake.
The extensive alterations did not blank out all noise, Taylor says. Rather, they damped the kinds of noise that people associate with a helicopter. “Noise is very subjective,” he says. “You can reduce the overall noise signature and an observer will still say, ‘I can hear it as well as before.’ It’s related to the human ability to discriminate different sounds. You don’t hear the lawnmower next door, but a model airplane is easily heard. It has a higher frequency and seems irritating.”
It also explains that some Quite One’s modifications can be found on later choppers:
“The agency got rid of it because they thought they had no more use for it,” says Glerum. At least one of the ex-Quiet Ones surfaced years later at the Army’s Night Vision & Electronic Sensors Directorate in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
But according to the participants, no more were built. It’s puzzling why the CIA did not keep a stable of Quiet Ones, at least while the technology remained under wraps. And it remained a secret for more than two decades, until Ken Conboy and James Morrison told the story in their 1995 book Shadow War.
But there were valid reasons for dropping the Quiet One from the spymasters’ catalog.
“In the long run, the 500P was not the best for setting wiretaps,” says Casterlin. “It was not good for high-altitude work.” It was a light helicopter and had to be loaded with gear that cut into its payload capability and operating altitude. The Twin Pack was much louder but also simpler to run and more powerful, so Air America used it for later wiretap missions in North Vietnam. At least one tap, placed on the night of March 12-13, 1973, was successful.
Some of the Quiet One’s innovations did show up on later helicopters, including the Hughes AH-64 Apache, which has a scissor-style tail rotor. And Hughes engineers’ interest in modifying the tips of the main rotor blades to cut the slapping noise caused by blade vortices has been taken up by other experts. Aerospace engineer Gordon Leishman and his team at the University of Maryland, for example, are developing a blade with curved tubes at the tip to divert the air, thereby countering vortex formation. But, thanks to its many unusual modifications, the 500P still holds the title that Hughes gave it in April 1971: “the world’s quietest helicopter.”
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