VEHICLES & AIRCRAFT
 

Role Light observation helicopter
Origin United States
Manufacturer MD Helicopters
Introduced 1980
Status Active service

AH/MH-6 "Little Bird" Special Operations Helicopter

The MH-6 Little Bird (also known as Killer Egg) and its attack variant, the AH-6, are single-engine light helicopters used for special operations aviation in the United States Army. Originally based on a modified OH-6A, it was later based on the MD 500E, with a single five-bladed main rotor. The newest version, the MH-6M, is based on the MD 530F and has a single, six-bladed main rotor and four-bladed tail rotor.


01 Development
The A/MH-6 was started in 1960, the U.S. Army issued Technical Specification 153 for a Light Observation Helicopter (LOH) that could perform personnel transport, escort and attack missions, casualty evacuation and observation. Twelve companies took part in the competition and Hughes Tool Company's Aircraft Division submitted the Model 369. Two designs, those submitted by Fairchild-Hiller and Bell, were selected as finalists by the Army-Navy design competition board, but the Army later included the helicopter from Hughes as well.
The first Model 369 prototype flew on 27 February 1963. Originally designated the YHO-6A under the Army's designation system, the aircraft was redesignated the YOH-6A under the Department of Defense's new joint system in 1962. Five prototypes were built, fitted with a 252 shp (188 kW) Allison T63-A-5A, and delivered to the U.S. Army at Fort Rucker, Alabama to compete against the other 10 prototype aircraft submitted by Bell and Fairchild-Hiller. In the end, Hughes won the competition and the Army awarded a contract for production in May 1965. The initial order was for 714 aircraft, but that was later increased to 1,300 with an option to buy another 114. Seventy helicopters were built in the first month.
This agile, unarmed helicopter is outfitted with outboard "benches" designed to ferry up to three commandos on each side. There is also an gunship variant, the AH-6. Painted black for nighttime operations, this small aircraft can conduct rapid insertions and extractions of special operations forces into areas its larger brother, the MH-60 Black Hawk, cannot.

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02 Operational history
After the April 1980 failure of Operation Eagle Claw, it was determined that the US Army lacked aircraft and crews who were trained and prepared to perform special operations missions. (Marine pilots and Navy helicopters were used.) To remedy this shortcoming, the Army began developing a special aviation task force to prepare for the next attempt to rescue the hostages: Operation Honey Badger.
Task Force 160
The architects of the task force identified the need for a small helicopter that could land in the most restrictive locations and could be easily transported on Air Force airlifters. They chose the OH-6A scout helicopter, and it became known as the Little Bird compared to the other aircraft in the task force, the UH-60A and the CH-47C. As a separate part of the project, armed OH-6As were being developed at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
The pilots selected to fly the OH-6A helicopters came from the 229th Attack Helicopter Battalion and were sent to the Mississippi Army National Guard's Army Aviation Support Facility (AASF) at Gulfport, Mississippi, for two weeks of qualification training in the aircraft. When the training was completed, C-141 aircraft transported the aircraft and crews to Fort Huachuca, Arizona, for two weeks of mission training. The mission training consisted of loading onto C-130 transport aircraft which would then transport them to forward staging areas over routes as long as 1,000 nautical miles (1,900 km). The armed OH-6 aircraft from Fort Rucker joined the training program in the fall of 1980.
Operation Honey Badger was canceled after the hostages were released on 20 January 1981 and, for a short while, it looked as if the task force would be disbanded and the personnel returned to their former units. However, the Army decided that it would be more prudent to keep the unit. The task force, which had been designated Task Force 158, was soon formed into the 160th Aviation Battalion. The OH-6A helicopters used for transporting personnel became the MH-6 aircraft of the Light Assault Company and the armed OH-6As became the AH-6 aircraft of the Light Attack Company.

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03 Operation Urgent Fury (Grenada)
The OH-6s of 160th SOAR were some of the first to see action in Grenada during Operation Urgent Fury. A/MH-6 Little Birds were used during the 1983 invasion of Grenada to evacuate casualties onto Navy ship decks. The existence of the unit became widely known in the aftermath of the October 1983 invasion of Grenada, as OH-6s helicopters were seen supporting Special Operations during this operation.DoD and the US Army denied A/MH-6s were used in the operation despite amateur video going public showing the helicopters in action.
The OH-6s were flown in USAF C-130 transport planes, two-at-a-time, to nearby Barbados. From there they flew to Grenada.

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04 Operation Just Cause (Panama)
On 17 December 1989, 9 MH-6s, 11 AH-6G/Js, 19 UH/MH-60As were flown by Air Force C-5 Galaxy airlifters to Howard AFB's Hangar 3. After dark, on 19 December, the aircraft were rolled out to prepare for Operation Just Cause.
Before the main invasion force arrived in Panama City, Panama, two MH-6s supported by two AH-6s landed at Torrijos-Tocumen Airport to insert a beacon and combat controllers. Four other AH-6s conducted pre-assault attacks on the Panamanian Defense Force (PDF) Headquarters, La Comandancia, adjoining the heavily populated El Chorrillo neighborhood in downtown Panama City. One of the AH-6s was damaged by ground fire and crashlanded in the Comandancia compound. The two pilots, pinned down by small-arms fire for two hours, eventually made their way back to friendly forces, taking a PDF soldier prisoner along the way.
Other AH-6s escorted MH-6s on a rooftop rescue operation conducted at Cárcel Modelo, a prison adjacent to La Comandancia. In Operation Acid Gambit, the aircraft approached the prison. Under fire from a nearby apartment house, the Little Birds landed on the roof, dropped off the rescue team, and lifted off. Upon their return, heavy smoke made it tough to find the roof and the helicopters took heavy fire from a cellblock about 50 to 60 feet (18 m) from the landing site. Maj. Richard Bowman, a copilot, took a round in the elbow. His pilot took over the controls and landed the aircraft. The aircraft picked up the rescue personnel and headed back toward Howard AFB. But one MH-6 lost power as it left the roof, and crashed in the street below with minor injuries to the passengers, who were helped from the crash site by U.S. infantry soldiers.
Elsewhere, four AH-6s provided fire support for the airborne assault at Rio Hato Airfield, supported by an MH-60 which operated as a Forward Arming and Refuel Point (FARP). Two nine-man teams from the 160th participated in the airborne assaults of Torrijos-Tocumen Airfield and Rio Hato Airfield, and were dropped from Air Force C-141s to set up FARPs, 12-foot (3.7 m) platforms with HE-rocket and minigun ammunition, parts and replacements for the miniguns, and fuel and refueling pumps, hoses, etc. But the FARP dropped at Rio Hato landed out of reach in a marsh, forcing the team to “wet wing” refuel from the MH-60.
The Rio Hato mission originally included nine other MH-60s and four MH-6s. Several hours prior to H-hour, these aircraft and crews were instead sent to support a raid near Colon, Panama, a key PDF stronghold where PDF leaders were believed to be. At H-hour, the helicopters conducted an air assault on a beach house along the coast of Colon. It was during this mission that the first 160th soldiers to die in combat perished when their AH-6 was shot down.
Another force of eight MH-60s and four MH-6s were on strip alert to conduct follow-on raids should the need arise.
After these initial missions, elements of the 160th provided support to special operations forces securing outlying areas, recovering weapons caches, and "hunt for Elvis" – the phrase the men of the 160th used to refer to the search for General Manuel Noriega. Four MH-60s, two MH-6s, two AH-6s, and two MH-47s were moved to Ft. Sherman in the north for operations in and around Colon.
The 160th conducted numerous air assault missions over the next two weeks, and on 3 January 1990, the majority of the force went back to Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

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05 Operation Gothic Serpent (Somalia 1993)
MH-6 Little Birds were part of the initial assault near the Olympic Hotel in the Bakara Market of Mogadishu, Somalia. The MH-6s conducted rooftop insertions of Delta Force soldiers.
After the shootdown of the MH-60L, call sign "Super 61", by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG), an MH-6 Little Bird, call sign "Star 41", piloted by CW4 Keith Jones and CW3 Karl Maier, landed in the street next to the downed MH-60 and attempted to evacuate the casualties. Jones went to assist survivors, successfully pulling two soldiers into the Little Bird, while Maier laid down suppressive fire from the cockpit with his individual weapon. Under intense ground fire, the MH-6 departed with its crew and survivors.
During the night, AH-6J gunships provided fire support to Rangers and Delta Force operators who were in defensive positions around the crash site of "Super 61" and under constant fire from Warlord Mohammad Farrah Aidid's militia members.

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