FORT CAMPBELL, KY – The first shipment of the newest line of special operations helicopters were recently delivered to the Night Stalkers.
Two of the long-awaited MH-60M Blackhawks were flown in to Fort Campbell from the Special Operations Forces Supply Activity (SOFSA) facility in Richmond, Ky., to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) Feb. 1, much to the anticipation of everyone involved.
“This aircraft is a real game changer,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tracy Stapleton, a Night Stalker and experimental test pilot for the new helicopter. “This is good for everybody. It will provide an immense tactical advantage to the aviators and crews as well as the ground forces we support.”
The new Blackhawk brings plenty to the table in the form of state-of-the-art day and night optics systems, enhanced integrated weapons systems, multi-mode radar with all- weather capability and new high-performance engines. The larger, stronger engines coupled with improved rotor blades allow the new aircraft to operate at higher altitudes while maintaining substantial payloads. These capabilities enable the helicopter to literally soar to new heights. Regiment developmental test pilots from the Regiment’s Systems Integration and Maintenance Office (SIMO) who aided in its development are excited about the opportunity to employ the new and improved capabilities.
“From what I’ve seen and experienced during the testing of this aircraft, it will be a great combat multiplier for the unit,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tom Thompson. “This aircraft will take us to the enemy no matter where he is hiding.”
Thompson and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Hangge were the Night Stalker pilots who delivered the new Blackhawks to the regiment. After a few photos next to the aircraft they helped produce, both men were quick to acknowledge the many individuals and countless hours of effort involved in the process of making the 160th’s modified MH-60M a reality.
“This all began back in 2005 when it was just a vision of those whose shoes I now fill,” said Thompson. “Since then, it has been the efforts of hundreds of engineers (mechanical, electrical, software and aerospace), corporations, contractors, other governmental agencies, and military personnel to make it all come to fruition. Many a great people have sacrificed precious nights and weekends of their own time to make this happen.”
Hangge echoed Thompson’s comments saying, “I have flown this aircraft nearly from coast-to-coast and have had the distinct pleasure of working with the one of the most professional, dedicated, and self-sacrificing teams ever melded together. There is no way to acknowledge everybody who has had an impact upon this program. There are literally hundreds of men and women, both in and out of uniform, who have dedicated large portions of their lives to the continuing development of the MH-60M.”
Asked how it felt to be selected as the pilots who got to deliver the new Blackhawks to the unit, both men responded with the same word: “Humbling.”
“After all the efforts of others, to be one of the first Night Stalkers to deliver this aircraft to the unit I am greatly humbled and thankful for this opportunity,” said Thompson.
Hangge was also quick to point out that this first delivery “was just one milestone on a long road to the combat deployment of the ‘Mighty Mike’ and the sweat that this team has given will continue to pour well into the future. Even as these aircraft were delivered, there are aviators, engineers, mechanics, and many others working diligently towards the ultimate goal of qualifying the aircraft for full operational employment. To be given the opportunity to test and evaluate this amazing aircraft while working beside such consummate professionals has been one of the finest aviation experiences of my career.”
The new Blackhawks are scheduled to be phased into use throughout the next four to five years; ultimately replacing the 160th SOAR’s existing fleets of MH-60K and MH-60L models.