Tag Archives: U.S. Army

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)

Watch Night Stalkers’ MH-60 Black Hawk and MH-6 Little Bird Helicopters Fly Underneath The Brooklyn Bridge in NYC

The footage, showing U.S. Army’s elite unit’s helicopters was filmed during the exercises carried out by the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) last April.

Last April, some MH-60s and MH-6s helicopters belonging to the 160th SOAR “Night Stalkers” carried out a series of exercises in New York City. As reported by Tyler Rogoway at the War Zone back then, between April 17 and 18, the U.S. Army choppers flying over Lower Manhattan during flights that saw the helicopters, likely carrying special operators, flying between skyscrapers.

The 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment 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. They fly MH-47G Chinooks, MH-60L/M/K Black Hawks, A/MH-6M Little Birds and, since Nov. 19, 2013, the  MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone, 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).

160th SOAR mainly operate at night (hence their name) in attack, assault, reconnaissance, infiltration and exfiltration, and any kind of known or unknown special operations you may imagine. Indeed, the “Night Stalkers” are quite 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. During the years we have also speculated about the existence of stealthy Little Birds and stealthy Chinooks as well.

Anyway, just the Little Birds and Black Hawks can be seen in the footage filmed during the New York training last April.

The helicopters flying low over the East River were probably carrying special operators involved in a simulated terrorist attack on a vessel as reported by Rogoway who wrote that along with reports and videos of the choppers flying low level at night, there “were also reports that a Staten Island Ferry went sailing down the Hudson River flanked by police boats. It is possible that the special operators rappelled onto the vessel in response to a mock terrorist attack or hostage scenario.”

If you can’t see the video click here.

Not only are the Night Stalkers involved in urban training even though most units carry out such training far from residential zones: in 2017 we took part in “Realistic Urban Training” (RUT), a live fire assault on an “urban complex” on the ranges at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center (MCAGCC) in Twentynine Palms, CA. The activity was part of 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) workups to the deployment to the Pacific on the U.S.S. America (LHA-6) Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) The MEUs, the smallest Marine Air Ground Task Force (MAGTF) numbering about 2,200 Marines, are “broadly capable, forward deployed forces prepared to quickly respond to a global crisis of a humanitarian or military nature”. That’s why they conduct RUT to assess the combat capabilities of the MEUs to exfiltrate forces or secure and hold ground, even when the contested space is a large city.

Kinetic “urban operations” are carried out using live armament in “fake towns” specifically built to practice firing rockets, guns and laser-guided training rounds. Such as  “Yodaville” near Yuma, Arizona, within the Urban Target Complex or R-2013-West, an isolated town built in 1999 and surrounded by terrain similar to that you can find in the Middle East or Asia. Yodaville provides the most realistic target environment for pilot and ground controllers to improve their skills in CAS (Close Air Support) conducted in urban areas – aka UCAS (Urban CAS). UCAS sorties are also launched as part of MOOTW (Military Operations Other Than War) to assist civilians during NEOs (Non-combatant Evacuation Operations), as happened in the past, in Saigon or Tirana.

H/T to @thenewarea51 for sharing this on Twitter!

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

Bell V-280 Valor Conducts First Cruise Mode Test Flight as Program Advances

Second Milestone in 30 Days as New Light Tiltrotor Progresses to Max Speed Test.

Bell’s V-280 Valor light tiltrotor aircraft has flown in level flight with its tiltrotors in the horizontal/cruise mode for the first time this week. The aircraft reached 190 knots (218 MPH) during the flight.

The new Bell V-280 Valor is a medium, tactical tiltrotor aircraft designed for the U.S. Army Joint Multi-Role Technology Demonstrator (JMR-TD) program. The JMR-TD program is a precursor for the Army’s overall Future Vertical Lift (FVL) co-development and evaluation of possible replacements for existing rotorwing aircraft in five different roles. The V-280 Valor is a proposed candidate for a new JMR-Medium utility and attack helicopter to potentially replace the UH-60 Blackhawk utility helicopter and the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter.

The Bell V-280 is reportedly capable of a maximum speed of 280 knots or 322 MPH, hence the name “V-280”. That is significantly faster than the U.S. Army’s existing UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters’ maximum speed of 192 knots or 222 MPH and nearly as fast as the MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft with a top speed at sea level of 305 knots or 351 MPH according to Bell Boeing.

The V-280 Valor is intended to carry up to 14 troops in a tactical personnel transport configuration with a crew of four including two flight crew and two gunner/loadmasters. It may also be developed with the capability to be an attack helicopter with various weapons onboard as depicted early in the program in a concept video showing an animated assault on a high altitude insurgent camp during hot weather. High altitude/hot weather flight conditions, called “High and Hot”, are challenging for most existing rotor wing aircraft. The V-280 will be optimized for high and hot operations.

While similar in visual configuration to the existing V-22 Osprey tiltrotor in service with the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Marines, the V-280’s engines remain in a fixed position on the wing while only the tiltrotors change geometry from vertical flight to horizontal flight. One advantage to this system is that both tiltrotors on the V-280 can operate off a single engine. On the V-22 Osprey both of the entire engine nacelles rotate during the transition from vertical to horizontal flight and the engine drive systems are fully segregated from each other, but joined by a complex gear box so the aircraft can operate on one engine.

The wing section of the V-280 is a unique single-piece composite construction. (Photo: Bell Helicopters)

Another unique feature of the V-280 Valor is the one-piece carbon fiber composite wing section. The one-piece composite wing uses Large Cell Carbon Core technology, reducing costs by over 30% compared to the construction of the V-22 Osprey wing. The one-piece wing is also integral to the ability of the twin tiltrotors to operate off power from only one engine if needed.

The Bell V-280 Valor competes with the Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant aircraft in the JMR-TD program. The SB-1 Defiant uses two contra-rotating rotors and a “pusher” style tail rotor in a more traditional helicopter configuration as compared to the Bell V-280 tiltrotor design.

As the V-280 program advances through flight testing the aircraft has now flown 27 hours with approximately 90 hours of time turning the rotors in ground and flight tests. The aircraft has demonstrated its ground taxi and hover capability as well as low-altitude maneuvers including 360-degree pedal turns and forward/aft/lateral repositions along with 60 knot roll-on landings.

The next phase of flight operations for the V-280 will include maximum speed flights scheduled for some time within the next 90 days according to Bell. “During the summer, we plan on reaching most of the required performance parameters that were part of the test program,” said Jeffrey Schloesser, Bell’s executive vice president of strategic pursuits, during an interview last month with Aviation Week.

An interesting part of the advancements in the test program is that now the Bell V-280 is accompanied during test flights by an Aero L-39 jet chase plane because of the V-280’s increasing speed in testing.

These Photos Show U.S. Army AH-64E Apache Supporting The Fight Against ISIS With New Counter IR Missile Systems

Here are some interesting shots of U.S. Army attack choppers equipped with LAIRCM.

U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack choppers supporting the fight against Daesh in Syria and Iraq have received Northrop Grumman’s AN/AAQ-24 large aircraft infrared countermeasure (LAIRCM) system.

According to the service, the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment was the first unit to operate the U.S. Army’s new LAIRCM aircraft survivability equipment in combat last summer. LAIRCM is a DIRCM (Directional Infrared Counter Measures) an acronym used to describe any infrared countermeasure system that tracks and directs energy towards heat seeking missiles.

Several U.S. Army helicopters provide support to Operation Inherent Resolve: rotary-wing assets operate from multiple Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) in the region, pairing with RQ-7Bv2 Shadow Unmanned Aerial System, which performs reconnaissance and surveillance for the coalition forces. The Shadow UAS identifies enemy personnel and hands the target off to either the AH-64E Apache helos or to the MQ-1C “Gray Eagle” drones, the two U.S. Army’s air strike platforms in theatre.

US Army AH-64Es from Task Force Saber in Sarrin, Syria on Jul. 28, 2017. LAIRCM GLTA highlighted in the photo. (Credit: U.S. Army)

In order to perform their tasks, the attack helicopters operate at low altitude, well within the envelope of MANPADS (Man Portable Air Defense Systems) possibly in the hands of Daesh fighters. Shoulder-fired missiles have long been a concern in Syria, especially in the past years when MANPADS were occasionally used (also by Free Syrian Army militants to bring down Assad regime helicopters).

MANPADS in ISIS hands have made the Syrian battlefield more dangerous to low flying helos and aircraft as proved by the fact that U.S. and coalition aircraft have been targeted by man-portable systems while flying their missions over Syria in the past. For this reason, the U.S. Army Apaches have been equipped with what appears to be the Department of the Navy Large Aircraft Infrared Countermeasure (DON LAIRCM) system with the Advanced Threat Warning (ATW) upgrade.

The AN/AAQ-24V turret (Northrop Grumman)

The DON LAIRCM system, a variant of the U.S. Air Force LAIRCM system for fixed wing aircraft, is a defensive system designed to protect the asset against surface-to-air infrared missile threats. According to official documents, the system combines two-color infrared missile warning sensors with the Guardian Laser Transmitter Assembly (GLTA). The missile warning sensor detects an oncoming missile threat and sends the information to the processor, which then notifies the crew through the control interface unit and simultaneously directs the GLTA to slew to and begin jamming the threat.

The ATW capability upgrades the processor and missile warning sensors to provide improved missile detection, and adds hostile fire and laser warning capability with visual/audio alerts to the pilots.

LAIRCM System (Northrop Grumman)

The U.S. Navy plans to fully integrate the DON LAIRCM ATW system on the MV-22 and KC-130J with the mission system software whereas the Army plans to integrate AH-64, UH/HH-60, and CH-47 helicopters.

H/T Babak Taghvaee for providing the images of the AH-64Es included in this post.