MH-60G that rescued F-117 pilot Dale Zelko who was shot down over Yugoslavia in 1999 has been retired

Gen. Franks flew MH-60 Pave Hawk tail number 009 during Operation Allied Force, rescuing Lt. Col. Darrell Patrick “Dale” Zelko F-117 Nighthawk pilot downed in enemy territory.

An MH-60G Pave Hawk, tail number 009, piloted by Capt. Tanner Bennett, MH-60G aircraft commander, took off from the 66th Rescue Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada and touched down in Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida for a very special send off.

As told by Master Sgt. Andrew Satran, 15th Air Force, in the article MH-60G Pave Hawk tail number 009 soars one last time, Maj. Gen. Chad P. Franks, Fifteenth Air Force commander, took command of MH-60G 009 at Pensacola NAS and flew the final flight to Hurlburt Field, Florida, where it will be displayed at the Hurlburt Field Memorial Air Park. Both he and 009 have a history together when then Capt. Franks flew combat search and rescue missions in 1999 during Operation Allied Force.

During Operation Allied Force, Pave Hawks provided continuous combat search and rescue coverage for NATO air forces, and successfully recovered two Air Force pilots who were isolated behind enemy lines.

Franks flew 009 in the rescue of Lt. Col. Darrell Patrick “Dale” Zelko, who was shot down in his F-117 Nighthawk over Yugoslavia in 1999. In 1999, during the same operation, the helicopter belonged to the 55th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field.

“This Pave Hawk represents the hard work and accomplishments of the men and women of the 55th Special Operations Squadron who took great care of 009 when I flew it in 99’,” Franks said. “It is an honor for me to fly this retirement flight.”

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-117A Nighthawk (Stealth) 49th OG, 8th FS “The Black Sheep Squadron”, HO/88-843, Holoman AFB, NM – 2008

The 55th SOS originated as the 55th Air Rescue Squadron in 1952. In 1966, it was redesignated as the 55th Air Rescue and Recovery Squadron. The MH-60G began its operations in 1982 under the 55th ARRS, which later became the 55th Special Operations Squadron in 1988. While under the 55th SOS, the MH-60G was flown during operation Just Cause, Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Northern Watch, Allied Force and various other special operations missions.

The 55th SOS received several decorations and recognitions while operating the MH-60G, which continued the legacy of the 40 years of distinguished lineage that preceded the 55th SOS. The final flight represents the heritage and lineage of those that operated and maintained this helicopter.

That’s what made the preparation for this flight even more honorable. Bennett stated the maintenance team at Nellis AFB worked very hard to ensure 009 was safe to fly.

The end of a lifecycle for any aircraft differs for each one. For 009, being 32 years old, 11,000 flight hours and multiple deployments, to fly it one last time made this retirement special.

“It’s pretty awesome in terms of rescue history,” Bennett said. “For us to take her home, with Maj. Gen. Franks flying the last part, and knowing it will be on display for future pilots, is an honor to be a part of.”

The parts will be used to aid future aircraft to accomplish their missions, and continue to save lives, so that others may live.

The tail number of a MH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter is displayed during the retirement flight for the MH-60G at Hurlburt Field, Fla., May 5, 2021. Maj. Gen. Chad P. Franks, 15th Air Force commander, flew the very same aircraft during Operation Allied Force, rescuing a downed F-117 Nighthawk pilot from enemy territory.

The Pave Hawk is a highly modified version of the Army Black Hawk helicopter which features an upgraded communications and navigation suite that includes integrated inertial navigation/global positioning/Doppler navigation systems, satellite communications, secure voice, and Have Quick communications.

All Pave Hawks have an automatic flight control system, night vision goggles with lighting and forward looking infrared system that greatly enhances night low-level operations. Additionally, Pave Hawks have color weather radar and an engine/rotor blade anti-ice system that gives the helicopter an adverse weather capability.

Pave Hawk mission equipment includes a retractable in-flight refueling probe, internal auxiliary fuel tanks, two crew-served 7.62mm or .50 caliber machineguns, and an 8,000-pound (3,600 kilograms) capacity cargo hook. To improve air transportability and shipboard operations, all Pave Hawks have folding rotor blades.

Pave Hawk combat enhancements include a radar warning receiver, infrared jammer and a flare/chaff countermeasure dispensing system.

The helicopter rescue equipment includes a hoist capable of lifting a 600-pound load (270 kilograms) from a hover height of 200 feet (60.7 meters), and a personnel locating system that is compatible with the PRC-112 survival radio and provides range and bearing information to a survivor’s location.

Maj. Gen. Chad P. Franks, 15th Air Force commander, poses in front of a MH-60G Pave Hawk after completing the helicopter’s retirement flight to Hurlburt Field, Fla., May 5, 2021. Franks flew the very same aircraft during Operation Allied Force, rescuing a downed F-117 Nighthawk pilot from enemy territory.

Photo credit: Senior Airman Robyn Hunsinger / U.S. Air Force

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.

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