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The Sikorsky MH-53J Pave Low III is an upgraded variant of the MH-53 Pave Low, the helicopter served in the Operation Desert Storm until 2008, when all Pave Low variants were replaced by the V-22 Osprey.


MH-53J Pave Low IIIE is an upgraded version of the MH-53 Pave Low, a heavy lift helicopter which was used

A Pave Low III dropping soldiers in the Middle East

extensively during the Vietnam War. The MH-53J's mission is to perform low-level, long-range, undetected penetration into denied areas, day or night, in adverse weather, for infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces.

The MH-53 helicopter is a highly versatile aircraft. It is used for a variety of missions, usually in conjunction with special operations. The MH-53 is a two-engine, single-rotor, heavy-lift helicopter. It has a crew of six and can be refueled while in flight. It has a precision navigational and communications package, which makes it excellent for conducting deep infiltration and exfiltration missions. The MH-53 helicopter can fly at night in all weather and terrain conditions. It can follow down to 100 feet and operate from unprepared sites. It is fitted with three gun stations for a mix of 7.62-mm miniguns and caliber .50 machine guns.

Under the Pave Low III program, the Air Force modified nine MH-53H's and 32 HH-53s for night and adverse weather operations. Modifications included forward-looking infrared, inertial global positioning system, Doppler navigation systems, terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radar, an on-board computer, and integrated avionics to enable precise navigation to and from target areas. The Air Force designated these modified versions as MH-53J's.

The MH-53J Pave Low III heavy-lift helicopter is the largest and one of the most powerful helicopter in the Air Force inventory, and the most technologically advanced helicopter in the world. Its terrain-following, terrain-avoidance radar and forward-looking infrare d sensor, along with a projected map display, enable the crew to follow terrain contours and avoid obstacles, making low-level penetration possible.

The helicopter is equipped with armor plating, and a combination of three 7.62mm miniguns or .50 caliber machine guns. It can transport 38 troops or 14 litters and has an external cargo hook with a 20,000-pound (9,000-kilogram) capacity.

The MH-53J has twin turbo-shaft engines; self-lubricating, all-metal main and tail rotors; and a large horizontal stabilizer on the tail rotor pylon's right side.

The MH-53J Pave Low is a modified version of the HH-53 Super Jolly Green Giant helicopter used extensively during the Vietnam War for special operations and rescue of combat personnel. During past space programs, the HH-53 was on duty at the launch site as the primary astronaut recovery vehicle. Under the Air Force's Pave Low IIIE program, nine MH-53H's and 32 HH-53s were modified for night and adverse weather operations and designated MH-53J's. Their modifications included forward-looking infrared, iner tial global positioning system, Doppler navigation systems, a terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radar, an on-board computer and integrated avionics to enable precise navigation to and from target areas.

MH-53J's were used in a variety of missions during Desert Storm. Pave Lows were among the first aircraft into Iraq when they led Army AH-64 Apaches to destroy Iraqi early warning radars and opened a hole in enemy air defenses for t

USAF MH-53J Launching flares

he opening air armada. In addition to infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special forces teams throughout Iraq and Kuwait, Pave Lows provided search and rescue coverage for coalition air forces in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and the Persian Gulf.

An MH-53J made the first successful combat recovery of a downed pilot in Operation Desert Storm. Following the war, MH-53J's were deployed to Northern Iraq to support Operation Provide Comfort, assisting displaced Kurds. Pave Lows were also used extensively during Operation Just Cause in Panama.

The 58th Special Operations Wing TH-53A is the first model of the H-53 helicopter students learn to fly before going to the more advanced MH-53J Pave Low IIIE. The 58th SOW offers more than 90 courses for special operations and combat search and rescue troops at Kirtland Air Force Base, NM. Courses include transition and instruments, aerial refueling, airdrops, helicopter hoist and combat tactics training. The wing trains some 1,600 students each year in HH-60 Pave Hawk, UH-1N Huey, TH-53A and MH-53J Pave Low IIIE helicopters, and MC-130 Combat Talon and MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft.


General Characteristics

  • Crew: 6 (two pilots, two flight engineers and two aerial gunners)
  • Capacity: 37 troops (55 in alternate configuration)
  • Length: 88 ft (28 m)
  • Rotor diameter: 72 ft (21.9 m)
  • Height: 25 ft (7.6 m)
  • Empty weight: 32,000 lb (14,515 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 46,000 lb (50,000 lb in war time) (21,000 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2× T64-GE-100 turboshaft, 4,330 shp (3,230 kW) each
  • Rotor system: 6 blades


  • Maximum speed: 170 knots (196 mph, 315 km/h)
  • Cruise speed: 150 kt (173 mph, 278 km/h)
  • Range: 600 nmi (1,100 km) can be extended with in-flight refueling
  • Service ceiling: 16,000 ft (4,900 m)


  • Any combination of three 7.62mm M134 Miniguns and/or .50 BMG (12.7 mm) M2 Browning machine guns mounted on left and right sides (immediately behind flight deck) and ramp

See also

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