Experts Describe the Secret, Stealthy Chopper From the bin Laden Mission

By Valerie Ross | May 9, 2011 5:07 pm

What’s the News: The helicopter that crashed during the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound earlier this week was a stealth design that the US government had kept secret, according to aviation experts. The military is still keeping mum and the SEALs—keeping with protocol—burned the aircraft after it went down. But information gleaned from photos of the surviving tailboom (the part that holds the rear rotor) and clues from other stealth aircraft suggest the helicopter was an H-60 Blackhawk, heavily modified to escape radar detection and fly more quietly—explaining why Pakistani air forces didn’t detect the helicopters.

How the Heck: To the experts’ eyes, several unusual features marked the helicopter as a never-before-discussed stealth model.

  • Rotor: The rotor had five or six blades—rather than the usual four—that were topped with a shield-like cover, which would keep down turbulence, making the helicopter more efficient, and reduce noise.
  • Skin: Most helicopters are liberally studded with rivets, but this one’s skin was unusually smooth and nearly rivet-free, a sign that this was a departure from the normal design.
  • Outer Shell: What’s more, the helicopter’s boom and tip-farings were reshaped from the original Blackhawk design to scatter radar beams rather than reflect them right back.
  • Paint Job: Coating the copter might have been an infrared suppression finish, which would camouflage the aircraft’s infrared signature and has been used on F-22’s and other stealth planes.

What’s the Context:

  • No one knows exactly how these helicopters came to be, since the government hasn’t released any info, but some of the stealth features may have come from the RAH-66 Comanche, a stealth helicopter program that didn’t make it past the prototype stage before it was canceled in 2004, or from another stealth-chopper development program called MH-X.
  • Since most of the plane was burned, it’s impossible to tell from the photos just what the whole thing looked like. Making their best guess, a journalist/ex-pilot, teamed with a graphic artist, did a mock-up, above, comparing the regular Blackhawk to a likely stealth design.

Image: David Cenciotti and Ugo Crisponi


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