Air Force’s new search and rescue helicopter heads for first deployment

The Air Force’s new HH-60W Jolly Green II combat search and rescue helicopter has deployed overseas for the first time, a milestone in more than a decade.

Airmen from the 347th Rescue Group at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, departed with the HH-60W Sept. 24, though the Air Force did not say where they deployed or how long they might be gone. .

“The future of [Air Force] rescue is secure and our team is ready to recover anyone, anytime, anywhere, against any adversary,” 23rd Wing Commander Col. Russell Cook said in a statement Wednesday. a message on the Moody’s Facebook page.

The deployment is the latest of multiple accomplishments for the helicopter program over the past few months as the Air Force prepares to end the purchase.

On Sept. 7, Moody’s Airmen made their first stop in an HH-60W when they airlifted an Airman from a hospital in Valdosta, Georgia, to another in Tampa, Florida. It is not known why he needed medical attention.

A Moody’s helicopter was called in to respond after a several-hour training sortie, the service said. After a quick supply and maintenance check, he embarked on his homeland mission with the call sign “Air Force Rescue 490”.

Shipping the HH-60W took about 45 minutes – faster than usual for military rescues. He landed about 20 km away on a soccer field in downtown Valdosta.

From there, three airmen – a flight doctor and two pararescuers – from Moody’s 38th Rescue Squadron took an ambulance to South Georgia Medical Center. They picked up an airman from Moody’s 75th Fighter Generation Squadron, which operates A-10C Thunderbolt II attack aircraft, and loaded him onto the helicopter.

The next leg of about 200 miles turned out to be bumpy.

“Captain. John ‘Jack Sparrow’ O’Neill, commanding officer of Air Force Rescue 490, said they dodged bad weather the whole way to Tampa, but got there safely,” said the Air Force said in a news release. “Air Force Rescue 490 landed on a football field in Tampa…where they were met by an ambulance from the Moffitt Magnolia Center.”

The rescue party unloaded the injured airman and returned to Moody.

“The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center credited the 41st and 38th Rescue Squadrons with one stop,” the service said.

Shortly thereafter, the Air Force approved the HH-60W to perform basic combat missions as the fleet continues to mature. Reaching “Initial Operating Capability” means the Air Force now has the helicopters, supply chain and trained Airmen to support a 30-day, four-plane deployment anywhere in the world.

“It’s an exciting day for combat rescue,” said Maj. Gen. David Lyons, director of operations for Air Combat Command. “This statement is the culmination of years of hard work and vision.”

The future of the Air Force’s combat rescue mission is in flux following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and rising military competition with China and Russia.

The service plans to buy 75 helicopters – all but 10 of which have been ordered from Lockheed Martin subsidiary Sikorsky – for $4.1 billion.

The Jolly Green II fleet, named after the HH-3 helicopters flown during the Vietnam War, can fly faster and farther than its predecessor and better withstand threats. Moody was the first Air Force operating base to receive the new airframes in November 2020.

They are slated to replace an earlier Sikorsky airframe, the HH-60G Pave Hawk, at several active duty and Air National Guard installations around the world. Airmen have flown Pave Hawks since the early 1980s in conflicts and emergencies from Panama to Afghanistan to Japan.

Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as a senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, The Frederick News-Post (Md.), The Washington Post, and others. .

Brandon D. James