Inside the Gates: Maintaining U.S. Air Force Pave Hawks
The 176th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron is currently in the middle of a major overhaul on an HH-60G Pave Hawk combat search and rescue helicopter. The helicopters are used by pararescuemen across the state of Alaska, off the coast and over the ocean during search and rescue missions.
"They are primarily used for combat search and rescue when they are deployed," Tech Sgt. Walker Haken with the 176th Air Force Aircraft Maintenance Squadron said. "Here in the state of Alaska they are used for local search and rescue when we go out and rescue crashed airplanes, people that crash an airplane, lost snowmobilers, lost hikers and hunters."
Every 600 flight hours, which equates to about a year to a year and a half, depending on if the helicopter was deployed or not, the Pave Hawk undergoes a full body maintenance reconstruction.
"The overhaul takes several months, four to five to be exact and covers every system and subsystem," Sgt. Haken said. "Cracks are something we have a lot of because we fly super heavy, we max gross just because of all the equipment we have to carry."
Structure work is a big part of the phase inspection. The heavy loads take a toll on the helicopter, as does salt water, sand and general wear and tear.
"We reinstall everything," Sgt. Haker said. "Right now, we are working on the rotor head. That's what the rotor blades connect to. I'm the one in charge of the flight craft, I'm responsible for making sure everything gets done on this aircraft. When it's flying, I'm the one helping to launch it, recover it, gassing it and fixing it if it breaks."
The Pave Hawk is a self-sustaining helicopter for rescues. It is similar to the Army's Black Hawk with a few extra features.
"We're able to go into a combat zone and pick up survivors," Sr. Master Sgt. Dennis Mobley said. "We're also able to protect our self and provide top cover for our self. We can go on extended range missions with a refueling probe, we are able to refuel while in the air, and hoist at a higher altitude and tree line to get a survivor out as needed."
Most recently the Pave Hawk was involved in the search for survivors in the K2 plane accident near Denali, it also is used in countless other airplane and sea rescues across the state.
"Flattop Mountain, we do quite a bit of rescues up there," Mobley said. "Outside the road system is where we are really utilized most. We've been a couple hours off the coast of Alaska over the ocean helping someone on a cargo ship. We go out there just because we have the long range capability with the HC-130 tanker supporting our fuel package."
In Alaska, there are five Pave Hawk helicopters, four on Elmendorf Air Force Base and one at Eielson.
"Our primary role here in the state is to provide backup for our fighters," Mobley said. "Just in case one does go down we can go out and get the pilot and bring them back home. Our secondary mission is state search and rescue. When we do deploy we send them out in a C-17."
The maintenance process is a very time-consuming procedure with a gratifying return for the men and women involved.
"It's very important and very comforting for the aircrew," Mobley said. "To know that they have a safe helicopter to fly in and it's one less thing they have to worry about when they are flying in the dark or rainy weather.
"It's a very good feeling," Haker said. "Almost as good as when you send it out to go save somebody. It's a pretty good feeling knowing that all the strenuous labor that you put into it over the past four months, and it just fires up and it's ready to rock."
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