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The Air Force's Pave Hawk woes

The Air Force's fleet of HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopters is old and flies a lot, and that means that fewer than 60 percent of the birds will be available for missions this year,  David Larter reports in Air Force Times. In fact, the helos have flown twice as much as they were intended, Larter writes, and the family members of their crews want to know when airmen will get a new helicopter they feel more confident in.

Wrote Larter:

[Gen. William Fraser, the outgoing commander of Air Combat Command] addressed concerns from an airman at the Air Force Sergeants Association gathering in July, who asked when her husband, a side gunner, would get a replacement for the aging Pave Hawk so spouses could “feel comfortable with birds” their airmen are flying in.

Fraser said the service was looking for budget solutions to replace the entire fleet of 99 remaining Pave Hawks, but as a stop-gap, the Air Force was using appropriated funds to replace 13 birds lost in combat or retired.

The Pave Hawk is so popular with commanders downrange, Fraser goes onto explain, that the fleet is being flown into oblivion. Here's how Larter broke it down:
The Air Force announced in April that half the fleet was undergoing repairs to major structural cracks that made the HH-60s unsafe to fly. The cracks were primarily in the “308 beam,” which stretches over the roof of the helicopter and bears as much as 20,000 pounds when the Pave Hawk is fully loaded out.

“The HH-60G Pave Hawk is a severely stressed aircraft that is showing the impacts of its demanding mission,” said ACC spokeswoman Master Sgt. Pamela Anderson in an email.

The mission-capable rate for fiscal 2010 was 59 percent and availability for fiscal 2011 is trending toward 57 percent, Anderson said.Air Force officials said in April that by 2015 the mission-capable rate would dip below 50 percent.

The entire Pave Hawk fleet is slated for replacement, but the timeline is uncertain, Anderson said. As an interim fix, the Air Force is buying the Army’s UH-60M Black Hawk and modifying it for combat search-and-rescue missions. The first Black Hawks were procured last year, but they are still undergoing modifications and none has reached operational units, Anderson said.

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