Operation Mount Hope III (1988)

In June 1988, the 160th Special Operations Aviation Group (SOAG) and other US Special Operations Forces received a last minute directive to recover a Russian-made Mi-24 Hind attack helicopter from a remote location in Africa.

takeoffIn 1960, Chad had gained independence from France. Its neighbor, Libya, recognizing the unrest in the new country, took advantage of the situation to occupy a 114,000 square mile uranium- and oil-rich area of northern Chad known as the Aouzou Strip. In 1987, after 15 years of fighting, the Libyans were ousted from the area and a cease-fire agreement was reached. Among the equipment abandoned by the Libyans in the desert of northern Chad near the Libyan border was a Russian-made MI-24 Hind helicopter of great intelligence value to the U.S. military. The Government of Chad agreed to let the U.S. have the helicopter, if they could get it out of the desert. After other U.S. government organizations had been unsuccessful in recovering the aircraft, the 160th SOAG was called upon to perform the mission.

In April 1988, two CH-47 Chinooks were loaded on an Air Force C-5 Galaxy and flown to White Sands AFB, New Mexico, along with 70 to 75 maintenance personnel and crews to rehearse the mission. From White Sands AFB, the Chinooks flew to Biggs AAF in El Paso, Texas, the same distance that would be required for the mission. At Biggs, chalk one, the first Chinook picked up six blivets (500-gallon fuel tanks) full of water, simulating the weight of the Hind, and, with the second Chinook as back up, the two Chinooks returned to the simulated Forward Support Base, successfully completing the training mission.

When the execution order was issued on 21 May 1988, an advance team led by CW4 Juergen Stark went to the European

Flying through the sandstorm
Flying through the sandstorm

Command Headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, and on to Ndjamena, Chad, to await their aircraft. Nearly two weeks later, the Chinooks and 76 crewmembers and maintenance personnel arrived by Air Force C-5 Galaxy. In Ndjamena the six pilots and four crewmembers stayed in the home of a U.S. Embassy employee, and the maintenance personnel stayed at the U.S. Marine Corps barracks attached to the embassy.

At midnight on 11 June 1988, the two MH-47s lifted off on Operation MOUNT HOPE III and flew 490 miles at night without outside navigational aids to the target location, the Ouadi Doum airfield in northern Chad, arriving at approximately 5:00 a.m. The first Chinook landed close to the Hind and configured it, while the second Chinook hovered over the Hind and sling loaded it for the return to Ndjamena. There were refueling stops at Faya Laargeau and Mousorro, Chad.

hindBecause of a lack of adequate weather reporting, approximately 45 minutes from Ndjamena, the flight encountered a surprise sandstorm, with sand rising as high as 3,000 feet. The Chinooks separated by approximately one mile and slowed to 40 knots until the sandstorm cleared enough for them to set the Hind down and land at Ndjamena. After they landed, the sandstorm came around again, and they were unable to exit the aircraft for more than twenty minutes. As soon as the storm passed, the ground crew immediately began loading the Hind and the Chinooks aboard the C-5 for return to the United States. It had been just 67 hours since the first arrival of the C-5 in Chad. This mission once again demonstrated the ability of the 160th to strike deep and accomplish the mission despite the most demanding flight conditions.

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