Home » News » Around the Globe » Secret Bin Laden Raid Chopper A Modified MH-60?

Secret Bin Laden Raid Chopper A Modified MH-60?

by John Reed on May 4, 2011

I’m still skeptical, but Army Times’ ace reporter on all things special ops, Sean Naylor, used his very good source base to produce this piece saying that the secret helicopter that crashed during the raid that killed Osama bin Laden was indeed a stealth version of the MH-60 Black Hawk.

The helicopters that flew the Navy SEALs on the mission to kill Osama bin Laden were a radar-evading variant of the special operations MH-60 Black Hawk, according to a retired special operations aviator.

The helicopter’s low-observable technology is similar to that of the F-117 Stealth Fighter the retired special operations aviator said. “It really didn’t look like a traditional Black Hawk,” he said. It had “hard edges, sort of like an … F-117, you know how they have those distinctive edges and angles — that’s what they had on this one.”

In addition, “in order to keep the radar cross-section down, you have to do something to treat the windshield,” he said. If a special coating was applied to the windshield it is “very plausible” that would make the helicopter more difficult to fly for pilots wearing night-vision goggles, he said.

Here’s yet another shot of the bird’s tail.

According to Naylor’s piece, the modifications made to make the chopper stealthy could have contributed to the crash:

That crash landing might have been caused by a phenomenon known as “settling with power,” which occurs when a helicopter descends too quickly because its rotors cannot get the lift required from the turbulent air of their own downwash. “It’s hard to settle with power in a Black Hawk, but then again, if they were using one of these [low-observable helicopters], working at max gross weight, it’s certainly plausible that they could have because they would have been flying so heavy,” the retired special operations aviator said, noting that low-observable modifications added “several hundred pounds” to the weight of the MH-60, which already weighs about 500 to 1000 pounds more than a regular UH-60 Black Hawk.

Maybe this is a stealthed out MH-60 but I still think the modification required may hint at a basically new aircraft. More on this later.

I want to see a full on bird.

Here are some additional details from Naylor’s story:

This was to be expected, the retired special operations aviator said. “Certain parts of the fuselage, the nose and the tail had these various almost like snap-on parts to them that gave it the very unique appearance,” he said. He and another source referred to the disc-shaped device that is seen covering the tail rotor in the photographs as a “hubcap.”

If the radar-evading technology worked, it “would be a true statement” to say that the use of the low-observable Black Hawks was evidence that the United States gave Pakistani authorities no advance warning of the mission, the retired special operations aviator added.

The low-observable program started with AH-6 Little Bird special operations attack helicopters in the 1980s, said the aviator. During the 1990s U.S. Special Operations Command worked with the Lockheed-Martin Skunk Works division, which also designed the F-117, to refine the radar-evading technology and apply it to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s MH-60s, he said. USSOCOM awarded a contract to Boeing to modify several MH-60s to the low-observable design “in the ’99 to 2000 timeframe,” he said.

Initial plans called for the low-observable Black Hawks to be formed into a new unit commanded by a lieutenant colonel and located at a military facility in Nevada, the retired special operations aviator said. “The intent was always to move it out west where it could be kept in a covered capability,” he said.

USSOCOM planned to assign about 35 to 50 personnel to the unit, the retired special operations aviator said. “There were going to be four [low-observable] aircraft, they were going to have a couple of ‘slick’ unmodified Black Hawks, and that was going to be their job was to fly the low-observables.”

SOCOM canceled those plans “within the last two years,” but not before at least some of the low-observable helicopters had been delivered to the Nevada facility, the retired aviator said. “I don’t know if it was for money or if it was because the technology was not achieving the reduction in the radar cross-section that they were hoping for,” he said. In the meantime, MH-60 Black Hawk crews from the 160th’s 1st Battalion, headquartered at Fort Campbell, Ky., would rotate to Nevada to train on the stealthy aircraft, he said.



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{ 52 comments… read them below or add one }

Drunken Economist May 4, 2011 at 7:42 pm

It also sounds like the raid was on such short notice that they did not have the time to do any training or ‘dry runs’ with the weight of the team + the mods to catch this issue.

Moral of the educated guess story: Don’t beta test out in the field if it’s a ‘high profile’ scenario. Which they most likely did. At least they didn’t use an Osprey….

-Drunken Economist


NoJokes1 May 5, 2011 at 4:03 am

Actually the SEALs rehearsed this mission for about four months. They even made a compound exactly like Bin Ladens to train for the raid. Command knew about the location of the compound since sometime last year when a prisoner at Gitmo gave up Bin Ladens courier who was traced to the compound.


BombsOverRabdad May 4, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Fox news just reported that the tail has been removed from the area and that talks at the highest level are underway to get it back. They are worried about it falling into Chinese hands.
Whoever said a follow up strike by a JDAM would've capped the mission off nicely couldn't be more right.


Guest May 5, 2011 at 9:19 am

That would be the ideal way to end it, but I don't think that would go over too well being there's a military community in the immediate area.


Joe Schmoe May 4, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Has anyone considered that this might not just be a transport helicopter?

Or as another alternative, a follow up to the "Battlehawk" design:


cartman2394 May 4, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Well i looks like weather it was new or modified we are gonna get to see something cool looking here in a little bit.


BombsOverRabdad May 4, 2011 at 8:24 pm

I just hope the Chinese/Iranians/Russians/North Koreans/ect dont get to see something cool too


Tushkah May 5, 2011 at 11:39 am

True, They would clone it, Use cheap hazardous materials in it, then sell it to the world for pennies on the dollar by using slave labor to build it, And then, put our manufacturer out of business.
Only thing is they would only last about a year and they would give you a better deal on buying replacements!


WHAT May 4, 2011 at 9:14 pm

The first word that came to my mind when I read about this chopper crash was "China". I just hope that parts of this chopper really doesn't end up in Chinese hands.


mzungu May 4, 2011 at 10:08 pm

Radar stealth is 90% shaping, you can pretty much learn it from looking at the pictures. but I am pretty sure the Chinese will be getting pieces of it. It doesn’t take much for a operative to take some photos and do some photogrammetry, and probably scrape off some coatings/paint, but I doubt there is much fine surface treatment like on the B2/F22, since helo are design to take a beating and rugged.

When ever there is high walls around the hover zone, it’s hard to predict the down-wash /airflow the copter is operating in. that;s prob. a good portion of the cause.


drew May 4, 2011 at 10:15 pm

couldn't use the ospry no stelth and really has no heavy gun for defense. these birds had to have at lease 14 men on board 12 commandos a piolet and gunner we should be finding this piece and bombing or retreiving our junk back should have sent in cobra's on second run to run defense and blow up any pieces off chopper. WITH A HEAVY JET COVER TO GROUND Pakistans Air Force. Screw them if they have a peoblem with that.
seven billion a year for them to play two face. Infact we should demand that peice back.


Adam May 4, 2011 at 10:51 pm

We are all getting excited that the Americans have something new but it is probably some field mod to help with noise and RPG protection. Do people really think the yanks would let new tech get driven away in a pick up truck by local militia??? All prototypes that get made eg comanche all have tech on them that gets passed down to current types so as to improve fightability, even if they don't make production themselves.


Jeff m May 5, 2011 at 12:53 am

Personally, I think the chopper was intentionally left there, how do you have a”mechanical failure” and land the thing right in bin laden’s back yard for all to see, with no crash and no loss of life. I think this is a psychological game. Now the jihadists can look at the sky and wonder when the effin stealth chopper full of commandos is going to fly in and waste them. Also, letting it out that this was a stealth chopper protects the pakistan from destabilizing rumors that they are working with the Americans.


NoJokes1 May 5, 2011 at 4:09 am

Even if we don't want "new tech get driven away in a pick up truck by local militia" there's nothing we can do about it since we went in there without telling the Pakistanis. That's the consequence the US feels it's worth it for getting Bin Laden


dan May 4, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Everyone sees a tail. Does anyone see a complete, yet broken up, remote-piloted drone helo??


Tushkah May 5, 2011 at 11:41 am
Cisco May 5, 2011 at 1:41 am

I really have to take issue with one statement you quoted in your post.

"If the radar-evading technology worked, it “would be a true statement” to say that the use of the low-observable Black Hawks was evidence that the United States gave Pakistani authorities no advance warning of the mission, the retired special operations aviator added."

While I agree that the evidence could be read that way, I also want to point out that mission security may have dictated that even if the Pakistani government OK'ed the raid ahead of time, they probably were told NOT to tell their officers in the field out of the very real concern that one of them might tip off UBL. Also, the above statement presumes that the government has as much control over all of its military as the US does of its forces. This is a major mistake, the Pakistani military his a history that could easily suggest that the commanding officer of a search radar, or SAM battery commander might well have loyalties that supersede his duty to his country.

One phone call and the target could be gone. And/or worse, one phone call, and our team of SEALs has a fully equipped Motorized Rifle company waiting for them upon delivery. I have all the respect in the world for the SEALS, but that could have turned into an American bloodbath very quickly.


Brian Black May 5, 2011 at 3:23 am

Snap-on panels designed ten years ago.
Doesn’t sound like cutting-edge tech, the Chinese probably have that covered already without getting their hands on that broken tail.


Fqubed May 5, 2011 at 3:32 am

Hmm if they are landing heavy wouldn't it be even harder to leave with 1 helicopter down and the extra weight of the troops, equipment, and seized assets/bodys?


NoJokes1 May 5, 2011 at 4:22 am

The Chinese military is still far behind the US in technology and equipment. To put this in simple perspective, the US has 11 super carriers and the Chinese has zero; they don't even have one normal carrier. One of these super carriers has the firepower of destroying a country like Iraq. It's the strongest conventional military weapon in the world. There's one supporting Iraq and another Afghanistan. For China to attack the US without using nuclear weapons they'll have to get pass these super carriers along with it's friends like cruisers, frigates, submarines, etc. SO MR. AUSTRALIA YOU'RE THE DUMB ONE! DO SOME RESEARCH BEFORE YOU MAKE A STUPID COMMENT!


NoJokes1 May 5, 2011 at 4:29 am

AGAIN YOU MAKE ANOTHER STUPID COMMENT! China does some of their own military research and development but they mostly get it from Russia. Russia is their main military supplier. Majority of Chinese military equipment are Russian variants and Russia is still not up to par with the US. For example, the US has 5th generation aircraft like the F-22 Raptor. Russia and the Chinese are still using 3rd and 4th generation aircraft. SO LMAOOOOOOOOOOO IS ON YOU AUSTRALIA!


novalia May 5, 2011 at 5:01 am

calm down dude, he’s a troll


NoJokes1 May 5, 2011 at 4:38 am

Plus China doesn't have the natural resources like the US to sustain a war. If both countries did fight it will be very nasty and a lot of lives will be lost on both sides however the US will prevail in the end because of our resources. The US has one of the largest oil reserves in the world. China's reserves are nothing compared to the US. Last, the US is well more experienced than the Chinese. The Chinese military hasn't seen combat since the Korean war. The US military has been thru many wars and conflicts since Korea and US troops are in combat as we speak. They're way experienced than the "green" Chinese military


ben May 5, 2011 at 5:12 am

The satellite overhead of that courtyard looks like a tight fit for even one helicopter.
I am thinking that the operators might have planned to crash land instead of losing time going around for another try.
With only 10-15 ft left to go, the helo doesn't have time to rotate much out of control from losing the tail rotor, and the blackhawk was specifically designed to maximize survivability in hard landings.
And nothing says "element of suprise", like a 10 ton helo crashing onto your lawn at 6am.


Joe Schmoe May 5, 2011 at 5:37 am




BombsOverRabdad May 5, 2011 at 6:00 am

Didnt the Aussies buy some broken Brit subs a few years back? Yeah, I'd like to hear your opinion on these matters, please continue….


Jeff May 5, 2011 at 6:35 am

Just a guess, but if these were really a canceled effort and yet obviously operational… they canned it for not meeting a capability requirement; for example, the retrofitted stealth was probably heavier than expected and probably weighed it down… that could have significantly contributed to the mechanical failure when landing.


Andy May 5, 2011 at 6:51 am

I'm sure some of the planners of this mission were planned or were mentored by the planners of the Son Tay raid. That is one of the few (at least, publically known) Special Ops missions comparable to the Osama assault and the tactical elements came off perfectly.

The opening phase of that assault involved crashing the helicopter containing an assault team into the courtyard of the Son Tay prison.

Not saying that was the plan, or at least the plan A, but there is a precedent.

Why would they have used a secret helicopter? What better mission to use something like this? If the tail section wasn't left intact, I doubt anyone would have noticed something was unusual about this helicopter at all. Just another crashed / burned out Blackhawk.

Or be paranoid - was this left intentionally? Now everyone knows that there is an unknown factor when it comes to American helicopters / capabilities. Sure, it's probably just a bolt-on / modified Blackhawk, but is China / North Korea / Iran / etc sure? How much are they going to spend on air defenses to protect against this unknown threat?


Blight May 5, 2011 at 8:30 am

Wasn't Son Tays helicopter crash because they lacked fast rope as a means of rapid disembarkation?


Guest May 5, 2011 at 7:12 am

I'm more interested in the fact that USSOCOM worked with LM, and awarded Boeing a contract to modify a Sikorsky airframe.


Blight May 5, 2011 at 8:33 am

Boeing Sikorsky previously collaborated on Comanche, so the question is why LM is needed; asides from better expertise in low RCS design and materials?


Guest May 5, 2011 at 9:11 am

I know LM and Sikorsky work together in NY on 60s, but I think it's more avionics/comms components that they provide vice low observable kit.


JEFF J May 5, 2011 at 10:31 am

That's really not anything new. Generally Sikorsky or Boeing will build the airframe than the Army or whoever the customer is will come in and want more goodies on the airframe so they'll either bid it out or just sole source it to a company with the prior expeirence. This was prob some kind of sole soure because of the classified nature of the mods. Really nothing earth shattering.


YanniT May 5, 2011 at 9:12 am

Seriously….its nothing more than a kitted-up MH60…I cant believe people are still trying to claim it was something entirely new.


Guest May 5, 2011 at 10:10 am

I'd rather say it is not a kitted-up. It is not that easy to just upgrade a Chopper with Stealth-panels.


YanniT May 5, 2011 at 10:53 am

Arguably it is.


Jeff May 5, 2011 at 11:31 am

I don't think it was necessarily just a "kit" but just a very heavily modified MH60 airframe, that was more extensive than "kit" implies.


J House May 5, 2011 at 9:23 am

Cannot tell if there are any external/internal antennae on the remaining fuselage. There may have been an electronics package in it.


J House May 5, 2011 at 9:26 am

It is obvious from the photo that there was pilot error or a settling event that caused the crash on the ingress. The tail/rotor section didn't make it over the wall…they had plenty of room in that courtyard to set it down, and they had to land a bird. They couldn't fast rope everyone in because they were taking bodies and intel they gathered out with them.
They were lucky no one was killed or seriously injured (that we know of).


Doogie May 5, 2011 at 9:28 am

Very well done, Yanni.


William C. May 5, 2011 at 9:51 am

We ought to be tracking that tail section and have a UAV drop a SDB on it if Pakistan doesn't give it back ASAP.


guest May 5, 2011 at 12:03 pm

One thing no one has raised is the fact that helicopter completely burned up except the rotor and engine/trans. Blackhawks are not composite but it appears to have burned like a composite frame.


Anthony July 27, 2014 at 6:58 am

We couldnt snap the other side due to wall but what we dont see was blown up believe me.If it was new or kitted up what does it matter our men did their dangeruios mission,did what had to be done and left! Most important!.


YWF May 5, 2011 at 6:40 pm

More pictures of the crashed bird


biggreydog May 6, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Something keeps bugging me about what has been reported. I've heard there were 25 US personnel and possibly a couple of dogs. The Blackhawk seats up to 17. How can you possibly get the dogs, a dead body, 10 hard drives and all 25 SEALs on one bird?


John Johnson May 7, 2011 at 3:34 am

Call me a pessimist but I think some parts (or piece of the skin) will end up in China no matter what… Pakistan is pissed at us. China really really wants something they can copy without paying (er but paying Pak I'm sure)…


guest May 12, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Isnt it obvious?! its a weather baloon of course!


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