Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2023-12-10

Utility Helicopters: Lifeline in the Clouds

Military Helicopters: Part 6
 

In this instalment of our Military Helicopters series, following our exploration of Helicopter Types, Attack Helicopters, Transport Helicopters, Search and Rescue (SAR) Helicopters, and Naval Helicopters in earlier editions, we now focus on Utility Helicopters. 
 
These versatile rotorcraft stand out for their adaptability, designed to offer flexible support across a spectrum of military missions. Characterised by their multi-purpose capabilities, utility helicopters excel in adapting to different roles based on specific military needs. 
 
A key role of utility helicopters is general transportation, facilitating the movement of personnel, equipment, and supplies between military bases, forward operating locations, or remote areas. With a moderate cargo capacity, these helicopters can be configured with versatile seating arrangements or cargo hooks to meet diverse transport requirements. 
 
Their vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities provide a strategic advantage, enabling operations in locations where conventional aircraft or ground vehicles might encounter limitations. 
 
They are also employed in medical evacuation (Medevac) operations. Equipped with medical equipment, stretchers, and other necessary facilities, they can speedily transport injured or critically ill individuals to medical facilities for treatment.  This capability proves especially vital in combat scenarios or remote regions where ground transportation may pose challenges. 
 
Additionally, these helicopters are employed for aerial firefighting purposes. Fitted with water buckets or firefighting equipment, they contribute to firefighting efforts by efficiently delivering water or fire retardants to combat wildfires or other aerial fire incidents. They can rapidly access and manoeuvre in areas where traditional firefighting resources may encounter challenges.
 
Disaster Relief
They play a crucial role in disaster relief, offering essential support by delivering aid, supplies, and equipment to affected areas. Their capability to reach remote locations, navigate challenging terrain, and efficiently transport personnel and cargo makes them invaluable assets in natural disasters or humanitarian crises.
 
Other roles may include aerial surveying, reconnaissance, or command and control functions. They can be equipped with various sensors, cameras, or communication systems to gather intelligence, monitor activities, or facilitate communication between military units.
 
Operated by skilled aircrews with specialised training, such helicopters are designed for reliability, durability, and easy maintenance, ensuring continuous operational readiness.
 
Utility helicopters are classified based on their primary functions and applications. 
 
Here are some common classifications:
General-Purpose Utility Helicopters: Designed for versatile tasks, these helicopters adapt to various roles, including transportation, logistics, reconnaissance, search and rescue, and general missions. 
Search and Rescue (SAR) Helicopters: Specifically equipped and configured for search and rescue operations, these helicopters often have features such as hoists, winches, and medical facilities to assist in rescue missions.
Medical Evacuation (Medevac) Helicopters: These are specialised for transporting injured or critically ill patients with in-flight medical care capabilities. 
 
Transport Helicopters: Focused on moving personnel and cargo, these choppers are utilised for troop transport, equipment movement, and logistical support.
 
Firefighting Helicopters: Equipped with firefighting systems such as water buckets or tanks for aerial firefighting, these helicopters are used to combat wildfires and assist in firefighting efforts.
 
Law Enforcement Helicopters: Configured for police and law enforcement missions, these are equipped with surveillance tools, searchlights, and other law enforcement equipment.
 
Electronic Warfare (EW) Helicopters: Designed for electronic warfare missions, including signals intelligence and electronic countermeasures, these are equipped with specialised electronic gear for reconnaissance and disrupting enemy electronic systems.
 
Training Helicopters: Utilised for pilot training, these are typically simpler in design and may lack certain features found in operational helicopters. 
 
Naval Utility Helicopters: These are specifically designed for naval operations, including anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare, and maritime patrol.
 
Offshore Support Helicopters: Such helicopters are deployed in the offshore oil and gas industry for personnel and equipment transport to offshore platforms.
Numerous robust utility helicopters, equipped with specialised features, are extensively utilised across a range of missions. 
 
Here are a few examples:
The Remarkable Huey
The Bell UH-1 Iroquois, or “Huey,” is a legendary military utility helicopter, renowned since the Vietnam War. It symbolises helicopter operations in military and civilian contexts, adapting seamlessly to roles like troop transport, medical evacuation, gunship, and general utility transport. 
 
The remarkable Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) was the quintessential all-purpose military helicopter for over three decades. 
 
Since 1959, all U.S. armed services and international forces employed the UH-1 for missions spanning mountain rescue to troop transport, and anti-armour to anti-submarine warfare. Originally designated the HU-1, it earned the nickname “Huey,” later re-designated UH-1 in 1962 under the unified tri-service scheme. 
 
Bell produced two major versions of the UH-1: the single-engine Models 204 and 205, each with several variants. Models 204 and 205 were skid-equipped helicopters with a single two-blade, all-metal, anti-torque tail rotor mounted on the left side of the tail-boom. 
 
The all-metal, semi-monocoque fuselage could accommodate two crewmen and seven passengers in the Model 204, and two crewmen and 11 passengers in the Model 205. 
 
These UH-1 models served as gunships, in addition to casualty evacuation, search and rescue, vertical envelopment, attack transport, anti-submarine warfare, and general utility roles during their long service life.

Iconic Black Hawk
The Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk is a widely used military utility helicopter designed and manufactured by Sikorsky Aircraft. It serves a variety of roles, making it one of the most iconic military helicopters.
 
The Black Hawk is used by the U.S. military and 34 other nations worldwide. Over the last 40 years, it has played a crucial role in various missions, including troop transport, casualty evacuation, supply delivery, disaster relief, and firefighting.
 
The modern Black Hawk variant has evolved into an Armed Helicopter, tasked with providing fire suppression and armed escort for ground troops. Equipped with digital avionics, powerful GE engines, and advanced airframe features, it offers enhanced survivability, situational awareness, and increased payload capacity compared to its predecessors.
 
More than 4,000 Black Hawk aircraft of all types are in service worldwide today. The U.S. Army is the largest operator with 2,135 H-60 designated aircraft. The same aircraft sold internationally direct from Sikorsky acquires the S-70 designation. 
 
Gritty H125M  
Airbus H125 is a well-known light utility helicopter that has been used in various military and civilian applications.  The military version H145M is based on the civil variant H125. 
 
The H125M is a member of Airbus’s rugged and proven Ecureuil family, with over 7,000 members (AS350, AS355, AS550, AS555, H125, H125M, EC130, H130) delivered in 133 countries to more than 2,500 operators, accumulating 38 million flight hours. The H125 remains the undisputed leader in its class for 30 years.
 
Some 4,100 rotorcraft in this series are in service worldwide (of which more than 1,300 are the H125/AS350 B3e versions), and they primarily are used for high-performance missions in high and hot conditions.
 
The H125 is equipped with a Safran Helicopter Engines’ Arriel 2D turboshaft engine with a dual-channel full authority digital engine control (FADEC) unit, plus a third independent and automatic backup channel and an automatic engine startup. It can be reconfigured for various aerial work missions with a wide range of optional equipment to get the job done, whatever the environment and mission requirement.
 
The H125 excels in versatile law enforcement roles such as surveillance, command and control, search and pursuit, rescue, special operations, escort, and border patrol, particularly in challenging high and hot conditions.
 
H125M is installed with self-protection system [Electronic warfare system (EWS)] which includes laser, radar and missile-warners on board; LAPKs (Light Armament Protection Kits) against 7.62mm for the pilot, copilot and cabin; helmet mounted side displays; self-sealing supply tanks; encrypted communication and further capabilities. The H145M is much more than a civil helicopter with attached weapons. It’s no secret that the H145M went to Afghanistan and Niger.
 
The range of weaponry that the H145M can integrate increases the scope of missions that it can perform. HForce (modular weaponry) is very flexible in terms of integrating whichever weapons a customer might want, allowing operators to choose different options. The H145M offers both unguided and laser guided rockets, as well as 20mm cannon and 12.7mm gun.

The main difference, compared to some of its competitors, is the Spike ER2, which has a firing range of up to 16 km, if controlled via radio frequency, or 10km, if controlled via fibre optic—depending on a customer’s operations. This allows the helicopter to eliminate targets from a distance without encountering enemy fire.
 
Adaptable Bell 412
The Bell 412, a twin-engine utility helicopter developed by Bell Helicopter, is widely employed in diverse roles, from civilian applications like offshore transport, emergency medical services, and search and rescue to military use, often referred to as the Bell 412EP (Enhanced Performance).
 
The Subaru Bell 412EPX represents the next generation, enhancing the reliability of the active Bell 412 series. With a spacious cabin, robust airframe, and advanced technology, it ensures secure flights across various fields. This twin-engine utility helicopter is utilised for various purposes including search and rescue, firefighting and offshore support.
 
The Bell 412 is known for its adaptability to a wide range of missions. It can be configured for military utility roles, firefighting, and law enforcement. The helicopter has a high cruise speed and a range suitable for various mission profiles. It can be equipped with a cargo hook for external load operations, making it suitable for transporting underslung cargo.
 
The military Bell 412 excels in utility roles, covering logistical support, troop transport, medical evacuation, and search and rescue, with variants tailored for specific operational needs.
 
Apex Aviator AW139M 
The AW139M is the military version of the AW139, a medium-sized twin-engine helicopter, that thrives in both civilian and military applications. Renowned for advanced avionics, it’s a go-to for offshore transport, emergency medical services, and executive transport. Military variants excel in diverse utility missions.
 
Part of the AW Family, this helicopter boasts a spacious cabin, ideal for roles like offshore transport, search and rescue, and VIP transport. Shared DNA with the AW169 and AW189 ensures consistent design, safety features, and high-performance characteristics.
 
The AW139M is a responsive lifesaver, configured for Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Search and Rescue (SAR). Armed with advanced technology, safety features, and top-notch performance, it holds Category A with Performance Class 1 certification, ensuring secure operations when lives are at stake.
 
Operators of AW139M benefit from advanced technology, high power margins and inherent high levels of safety and survivability. Day/Night VFR and IFR operations are enabled by state-of-the-art digital avionics that enhance situational awareness and reduce pilot workload. 
 
It boasts a versatile cabin, easily configured for SAR and Medevac operations with up to four stretchers. It provides ample space for mission control, medical treatment, and casualty evacuation, along with an accessible baggage compartment for stretcher or SAR equipment storage.
 
In military service, the AW139 shines in utility and transport roles, transporting soldiers or Special Forces and facilitating medical evacuations with dedicated medical equipment.
 
Mighty MD 500 
The MD Helicopters MD 500 series, born from the civilian Hughes 500, embodies a family of light utility helicopters celebrated for their agility and performance across varied roles. Military adaptations have excelled in reconnaissance, light attack, training, and observation.
 
Models like the MD 500E, MD 520N, and MD 530F in this series, powered by five-blade main rotor and a Rolls-Royce 250-C20B or 250-C20R turbine engine, offers unparalleled flexibility for diverse mission profiles.
 
Renowned in reconnaissance, the MD 500 series has been armed for light attack roles, equipped with machine guns, rocket pods, and munitions. It serves adeptly in pilot training, border patrol, maritime surveillance, and law enforcement, thriving as a nimble scout helicopter. Key military variants, including the MD 530, MD 530MG, and MD 530F Cayuse Warrior, exhibit adaptability and manoeuvrability in global conflict zones.
 
MD Helicopters sustains and enhances the MD 500 series, ensuring its effectiveness and relevance in contemporary military operations, with configurations tailored to diverse customer needs.
 
High-performance H135M 
The H135M, the military version of the H135, is Airbus Helicopter’s 3-tonne class, twin-engine helicopter. With its highly sophisticated observation equipment, long endurance, wide array of communication systems and large variety of armament, the H135M is perfectly suited for the modern battlefield. The stealth and no-hear distance of the H135M allow it to remain undetected throughout its mission a crucial aspect for surveillance and reconnaissance operations. These sound-reducing qualities are also particularly important for missions including urban flyovers and training.
 
Renowned for versatility, it excels in training, reconnaissance, medical evacuation, and light utility transport. With Airbus’ signature features, including a bearingless main rotor and the Fenestron shrouded tail rotor, the H135 offers enhanced payload and best-in-class performance. 
 
Equipped with Safran Helicopter Engines’ Arrius 2B2plus or Pratt & Whitney Canada’s 206B3, it ensures exceptional performance and power reserves, even in one engine inoperative scenarios, along with fuel efficiency.
 
As one of Airbus’ most successful lightweight rotorcraft, it is celebrated for endurance, compactness, low sound levels, reliability, versatility, and cost-competitiveness. The H135M, when serving as a training helicopter, facilitates military pilot training and proves adept in reconnaissance, medical evacuation, light utility transport, surveillance, search and rescue, and homeland security missions. 
 
Kinetic K-MAX
The Kaman K-MAX, a distinctive military utility helicopter, is renowned for its unique design and specialised capabilities. Initially crafted for commercial external lift operations, it has seamlessly transitioned into military service, excelling in cargo resupply missions with its intermeshing rotor system, eliminating the need for a tail rotor.
 
Designed and produced by Kaman Aircraft, the K-MAX stands out for its intermeshing rotors, making it a quick-launch and cost-effective aerial lift helicopter. Its diverse applications range from logging and firefighting to military operations. In Afghanistan, the U.S. Marine Corps employed unmanned K-MAX models between 2011 and 2014, proving its efficacy in supply delivery missions.
 
While Kaman recently announced the end of K-MAX production after 30 years, its impact remains significant. The primary military role is cargo resupply, delivering essential supplies to forward bases. The unmanned variant reduces risks in hazardous environments, showcasing its adaptability in logistics support, search and rescue, and challenging terrains. 
 
In Afghanistan, the K-MAX has proven invaluable in supporting troops in remote and mountainous areas, solidifying its place as a specialised solution for military logistics and cargo transport.
 
Agile AW109
Military operators require a helicopter that can perform under all conditions, day and night. The AW109 TrekkerM, the military version of the AW109 Trekker, is the new multi-role, light twin-engine helicopter that delivers rugged and reliable capability allied with outstanding mission flexibility, high performance and speed.
 
The AW109 TrekkerM is a three-tonne class military helicopter that is ideally suited to a broad spectrum of battlefield missions including troop transport, cargo resupply and external lift, Casualty Evacuation/Medical Evacuation (Casevac/Medevac), Search and Rescue (SAR), special forces operations, Command and Control (C2), and armed escort.
 
The AW109 excels in challenging environments, showcasing remarkable ‘hot and high’ performance and elevated safety standards. Its rugged design, compact footprint, and skid landing gear, coupled with a diverse array of mission equipment and weapons, establish a genuine multi-role capability.
 
The helicopter features a spacious and unobstructed cabin that can be reconfigured rapidly for multiple battlefield missions. There is room for the rapid transport of fully-equipped troops, while large sliding doors provide exceptional access, rappelling and fast roping capability. Cabin door-mounted crew-served weapons ensure wide area threat suppression.
 
It provides a comprehensive selection of optional mission equipment, encompassing a Defensive Aids Suite (DAS), multi-band radios, Electro-Optic/Infrared (EO/IR) devices, searchlight, loudspeakers, Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR), rescue hoist, and cargo hook. Additionally, users can opt for a comprehensive suite of both internal and external weapons.
 
These classifications are not mutually exclusive, and many utility helicopters are designed with the flexibility to perform multiple roles depending on mission requirements. Advancements in technology continue to expand the capabilities of utility helicopters, making them more adaptable to various tasks.
 
In our upcoming issue, we will delve deeper into the world of Utility Helicopters, spotlighting additional rotorcraft that contribute to the dynamic landscape of military operations. Stay tuned for an insightful journey into the latest innovations and strategic significance of these indispensable aerial assets.
 
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