AH/MH-6 "Little Bird" Special Operations
||Light observation 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.
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,
02 Operational history
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.
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.
04 Operation Just Cause
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,
05 Operation Gothic Serpent
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.