Mention the Black Hawk helicopter and the first thing most people think of is the 1993 incident in Somalia where the Sikorsky-manufactured helicopter became famous for all the wrong reasons. A best-selling book and Hollywood movie tends to trump the day in, day out work that's been performed by the helicopters for more than 30 years. But if the Bell UH-1 Huey was synonymous with "military helicopter" during the 1960s and 1970s, the UH-60 Black Hawk (and its siblings) has taken its place ever since.
The UH-60 Black Hawk is actually just one member of a large family of helicopters. The military designates the variants of the H-60 with a prefix indicating their intended purpose: there's the utility UH-60; search and rescue/medical evacuation HH-60; anti-submarine SH-60; multi-mission MH-60; or the staff transporting VH-60. (No word on the designation for the stealth version used in the Osama bin Laden raid.) The company designation for the model is S-70.
The helicopter is used by every branch of the U.S. armed forces and several other government agencies, including the Customs and Border Patrol and the Drug Enforcement Agency. More than 30 foreign countries operate at least one variant of the S-70 family, some as close as Canada and Mexico, others as far away as China.
On a trip earlier this year to learn about Sikorsky's speedy X-2 helicopter program, we visited the company headquarters in Stratford, Connecticut. On our way to the flight test office, we were able to take a tour of the factory where the S-70 helicopters roll off the assembly line and are test flown before being delivered to the wide range of customers. Here's a sampling of what we saw -- and how the signature U.S. military helicopter gets put together.
Above, an unpainted UH-60M sits on the flight line just outside the factory doors, awaiting its first ground run before preliminary flight testing. Some of the helicopters are painted before flight test, while others are flown with only the primer colors on the various components.
Photos: Jason Paur/Wired.com