Marine Infantry Rifleman tells why (except the VH-60 White Hawks flown by HMX-1) the USMC doesn’t use the Black Hawk Multirole Helicopter

The Black Hawk Multirole Helicopter

The Black Hawk is the military’s most versatile helicopter, suited for a variety of missions, including command and control, air assaults, medical evacuations, and lift operations. Capable of carrying four crew members (two pilots and two crew chiefs) plus a fully equipped 11-person infantry squad, the Black Hawk can also hold a 105 mm howitzer or a Humvee suspended below the aircraft during sling-load operations.

The Black Hawk serves with the US military and the armed forces of 28 other countries worldwide as a tough, reliable utility helicopter.

More than 4,000 Black Hawks of all types are in service worldwide today. The US 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.

Marines don’t fly the Black Hawk helicopter

One of the few military branches that does not use the iconic Black Hawk is the US Marine Corps. Why?

‘Marines don’t fly Black Hawks for a couple of reasons,’ Jonathan Burba, former infantry rifleman at US Marine Corps, explains on Quora. ‘First, Marine Corps aircraft have to be able to operate off of a ship. The MV-22 Osprey and the CH-53E Super Stallion [and in the future the CH-53K King Stallion] are both huge, but are capable of adjusting to fit on a flight deck. Both aircraft are large, but they actually fold for easy storage.

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. MV-22B Osprey, VMM-163 “Ridge Runners”, YP00, 168011

‘The Ospreys and Super Stallions also have a lot more cargo capacity than a Blackhawk. The Black Hawk can carry 11 loaded troops, the Osprey carries twice that, the Super Stallion can carry 50 or 60 depending on how the interior is arranged. As far as weight goes, the Blackhawk can carry up to 9000 lbs, the Osprey and Super Stallion carry 15,000 lbs and 36,000 lbs respectively.

‘Since we operate from the sea, it’s helpful to be able to sling vehicles such as Hummers, JLTV’s and LAVs onto shore by helicopter, and since we’re operating off of a very small airport, all of the birds have to be able to handle a lot of different jobs. We didn’t use Hueys all that often the units I’ve served with, I’ve flown on 2 I think. I can’t tell you how may CH-53’s I’ve been on, it was usually that or the CH-46, the Ospreys were still being developed when I got out so I didn’t get to fly on those personally.’

VH-60 White Hawks

Burba concludes;

‘The closest the Marine Corps has to the Black Hawk are the helicopters used by HMX-1 to fly the president. The Marine One birds are from the Black Hawk family, but all the VH-60 White Hawks are being retired and replaced with a new helicopter based on the Sikorsky S-92 in the near future though.’

VH-60 White Hawk

Photo credit: U.S. Army, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

View Comments

  • Unfortunately, the source for this story missed the mark. First, the Navy uses the Sea Hawk, which is a version of the same helicopter, it's on ships, and the rotor and tail fold to reduce its footprint on the ship. Second, the CH-53E and its replacement are heavylift helicopters in another class and should be compared to CH-47s in the Army and not H-60s. Third, he didn't fly on Hueys much, because they're old, not because Marines didn't historical use them. Fourth, whether the White Hawk is being replaced or not is irrelevant to this argument, given Marines still use them, thereby pending the point that Marines don't use them. If the Osprey outperforms the H-60, then that should have been the focus. Did the CH-46 outperform the H-60? Or did the Marines simply have it before the H-60 came on scene, then replaced it with the Osprey given its better performance than the H-60?

  • As a pilot w/ over 2K hours in USMC UH-1N's (1977-1984), I'd like to add my nickel's worth to the "discussion." First, having gained about 15-30 minutes of time in the pattern in an Army UH-60 (demo courtesy of an Army pilot who was very proud of his bird and wanted to make me jealous - which I was) it needs to be remembered that at the time the UH-60 came into service (the SH-60 was still being developed), its four-bladed rotor could not fold so it would have been "palm tree" on the very "space limited" decks of the USN Amphib Assault fleet. That's strike #1. Strike #2 would have been that it was larger than the UH-1N's, but could only carry about the same number of troops (we used to quote 10 troops and our 1 crew chief; or 8 troops & 2 door gunners/crew chiefs), so cold not really replace either USMC CH-46, or the CH-53, both of which carried significantly more troops. Speaking of the CH-46, it should also be noted that with its twin tandem rotor design, it had much greater control authority than ANY single main rotor/tail rotor design helo (ask the Navy guys who used to drop sling loads "on a dime" with their -46's onto a ship that was underway in the open ocean). The real reason the USMC preferred the UH-1 design (and still does) over the UH-60 is that the UH-1 is the "cats & rats" mission helo of choice in the USMC mission mix. The real reason for that preference is Strike #3 for the UH-60 vs. the UH-1. As any UH-1 pilot (Army, USMC, or USN) will tell you, from geometry we know any three points will define a plane. Meaning all a UH-1 pilot has to do is find a spot where any three points (earth, ship, structure) will touch under both skids (usually two points under one skid and one under the other) and you have a place where a UH-1 can land (assuming a clear main rotor disc). I know! I've landed on some ridiculously small LZ's on ridgle lines/sheer drops at MCB Camp Pendleton, MCAS Yuma/Chocolate Mountains Range area, MCCATC 29 Palms, NAS Fallon Area, Fort Irwin, Okinawa, Korea (ROK), The Philippines, Etc., Etc.. The UH-60 needs to have each of its three landing gear touching Mother Earth, otherwise its only maintaining position in a two-point hover (much less stable than actually being landed with all lift off the rotor head).

    As for why the USMC has stayed with the UH-1Y model? UH-1Y's are nothing more than UH-1N's that were sent back to Corpus Christi rework facility and stripped down to their main structures and rebuilt to UH-1Y standards. The "new" UH-1Y's have the same BUNO numbers as the UH-1N's they came from! That was a much cheaper alternative than buying a newly manufactured batch of UH-60's. That's my USMC, why buy new when you can go the old "Army Surplus" route! Puttin' lipstick on a pig & calling it your new girlfriend! Gotta love it! And yet, the irony is that all the fleet USMC UH-1N/UH-1Y's have killed fewer aircrew in their long years of service than have the MV-22's or CH-53E's! I'll take the UH-1N/Y series, thank you! Semper Fi!

  • I retired Air Force in ‘07 after 21 years. Prior to the Air Force, I served for 4 years in the Marine Corps. My entire career was maintaining and flying in helicopters. I worked on Marine CH-53A’s and became a Crew Chief. I earned my wings of gold. In the AF I worked on HH-53C’s, HH-3E’s, UH-1N’s and HH-60G’s. My flying career, where I got to count my flight hours, achieved 500 hours in the CH-53A and the UH-1N.
    I also worked on U/VH-1N’s, UH-1F’s, CH-53D’s and HH-53B’s, albeit in very limited circumstances.
    53’s are the heavy haulers, par excellence. H-1’s did a little bit of everything but did it extremely well.
    The question why we didn’t use H-60’s in the Marine Corps was fairly simple. It couldn’t do the jobs we needed to get done. I’ll explain. The Huey was designed to fly a specific number of troops from point A to point B. The Huey D model derivative was the most successful at performing the mission. The mission was to take a squad into combat, drop them off, then sustain them for the duration of the mission. They literally hauled beans, bullets and unfortunately, body bags. They made an outstanding medivac platform. The were small and they performed small but critical missions that had to be done. The H-60 is in essence, is an “electric Huey”. The mission of the H-60 is basically the same as the H-1. The H-60 is across the board a much better, stronger, faster squad helicopter than its predecessor. It does all the same missions for the Army as was done by the Huey. The Air Force and the Navy use highly modified H-60’s. The AF uses theirs as rescue platforms. The Navy does a little bit of everything with theirs. Again, small but very critical jobs done by a small helicopter.
    The Marine Corps MV-22’s took over the mission of the H-46, which is aerial assault. Very quickly, get in with a bunch of Marines, drop them off, then go get some more. The key here is numbers. Hauling one squad is insufficient for Marine operations. Packing the numbers of Huey’s or H-60’s on to assault carrier to do the same numbers missions that CH-46’s / MV-22’s wouldn’t be logistically feasible. Again, numbers. One 46/22 carries 20 Marines and all their toys into battle. The same number of Huey’s needed to do the same job would entail using 3 Huey’s. Deck space is at a premium on the helicopter assault carriers. In the long run, numbers decide which airframe can do the job. That job is getting the maximum numbers of troops and trash to the shore.
    It’d be a waste of resources expecting a H-53 to haul these lighter loads. 53’s carry the big stuff. Humvees, artillery, LAV’s, whatever is big that needs to be flown to the shore in support of the assault. As a Marine Crew Chief, my Helo carried troop, rations, jeeps, trailers, construction supplies and equipment and any and all big missions.
    The Marine H-1’s are doing the same job they’ve been doing since Vietnam. This includes the UH and AH versions. Small critical missions that must be done and nothing else can do them.
    Hope this helps.
    Semper Fi, Aim High, Fly Fight Win!

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