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Flightline Friday: Hunting Mines with the MH-53E – UPDATED September 25, 2015

Posted by Tantumblogo in awesomeness, Flightline Friday, fun, history, non squitur, silliness, Society, technology.

The MH-53E Sea Dragon is a specialty version of the Marine Corps CH-53E Super Sea Stallion used by the Navy primarily for mine countermeasures (MCM).  The primary anti-mine capability employed by the Sea Dragon is a very large sled pulled behind the aircraft across the water. This is designed to detect mines and possibly trigger their detonation in a relatively harmless way.  Since the sled is large and the drag from passing through the water tremendous, a helo of great power is needed.  That is why a version of the H-53 was chosen, it is the largest, most powerful helicopter in US service.  Unfortunately, the Navy was phasing out the MH-53E in favor of the must lower-powered MH-60S for the MCM role, but I believe I’ve read that phase-out has at least been delayed due to problems with the MH-60S in that role.  It just really doesn’t have enough power, especially in hot/humid environments and rough seas.

The MH-53E is a highly modified version of the standard CH-53E.  The most obvious distinguishing characteristic are the very large fuel sponsons on each side of the fuselage.  The interior can be outfitted with large reels and other mechanisms to deploy and retract the MK-104 acoustic mine sweeping sensor (sort of like a sonar for finding mines) and other sleds which I believe can be used to detonate mines (maybe Blaine can comment, not sure if those are still used, they were in the Vietnam timeframe).

Real short video of a sled being pulled:

The video below shows the interior of an MH-53E while performing the MCM mission, including recovery of the sensor:

Our own reader Blaine says he prefers the vertical tape and round dial instruments to the fancy electronic flat panel displays.  He’s not alone.

This one shows an MH-53E from HC-4 going from Sigonella Sicily to Iraq during its last deployment before disestablishment in 2007.  Lots of combat footage, you can see the many other roles an MH-53E can perform with its long range and great power.  Music is terrible, sorry.  Lots of NVG combat:

Saving the best for last, bringing a 20 ton helo from maybe 80-100 kts to zero in a few seconds and a few hundred feet.  Not a bad capability to have in combat. I understand this makes for a very exciting ride:

I’ve been next to CH-53Es during takeoff.  “Colossal threshing power” is a great phrase for the power from the main rotor.  Even more than a Chinook.  Really great bird.

The Marines have an even larger and more powerful version in development called the CH-53K King Stallion.  It will have, get this, 24,000 horsepower from thee engines and an all up weight of 44 tons.  This will be nearly as heavy as the ridiculously gargantuan helicopters built by the Mil design bureau for the Soviet Union, the Mi-6 and Mi-26.  The former was horribly underpowered and suitable only for low-level, near sea level work.  The Mi-26 was much more capable.

One final note, don’t confuse the MH-53E with the MH-53J/M Pave Low III/IV, recently retired by the Air Force as their primary special operations capable helicopter for deep penetration and night missions.  MH-53Js served as pathfinders for Army AH-64A Apaches during the opening hours of Desert Storm, flying hundreds of miles at very low level at night to key Iraqi radar and command and control sites (then destroyed by the Apaches), blinding crucial portions of the Iraqi air defense network.  After that it was pretty much all over for the Iraqis.  The Pave Lows had terrain following/avoidance radar, forward looking infra-red, advanced INS with embedded GPS, and other systems that allowed them to fly long missions at night and in really bad weather.  AH-64As did not have that capability and so had to follow the MH-53Js to their targets.



UPDATE: Found two really good vides of MH-53E of HM-14 in action at an airbase in Taiwan, along with an MH-60S and some really good footage of an FC-1 “Ching Kuo” in the second video.  Heavy load lifting in the first. Both in HD. Great stuff:

Some trouble with weight balance there!

I guess this is from a typhoon relief mission in 2009.



1. Blaine - September 30, 2015

Hey, look at that beautiful thing!

So as far as mine countermeasures goes, there are two components – mine-hunting and mine-sweeping. Mine hunting is actively looking for mines in the water. For that, we use sonar systems to acquire and laser systems to ID mine like contacts. Mine sweeping can be accomplished either mechanically, where the chain or cable anchoring the mine to the ground is cut and the mine floats to the top, or influence means which causes the mines to detonate based on what aspect of a ship they’re cuing in on (acoustic, magnetic, etc.).

I do prefer the old gauges for a number of reasons, but simplicity is first and foremost. That computer stuff is distracting. The only advantage it has is much less calibration needed. Other than that, it’s hard to read.

What else y’all want to know?

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