Losses and Aviation Safety

The US Army UH-60 pilot with a wounded soldier aboard that during Operation Urgent Fury landed on a US Navy carrier even though he was waved off because he was not deck qualified

The UH-60 Black Hawk during Operation Urgent Fury

In October 1983, the US Army received orders to provide immediate military intervention to the small Caribbean island nation of Grenada located 70 miles off the coast of Venezuela. This invasion, known as Operation Urgent Fury, was the first major operation conducted by the US military since the Vietnam War and marked the beginning of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter support against an enemy in combat.

The Army’s Utility Tactical Transport Aircraft Systems (UTTAS) requirements for a twin-engine successor to the Bell UH-1 “Huey,” demanded high performance, maneuverability, maintainability, reliability and survivability. During the Grenada operation, the newly introduced Black Hawk model to the Army fleet proved these required capabilities to be true, which in-turn provided protection to innocent lives, alleviated further chaos, and aimed to restore law, order, and government institutions to the island of Grenada.

US Army UH-60 Black Hawk landing on a US Navy aircraft carrier

Former US Army Paratrooper Leland Williams recalls an interesting story about the UH-60 Black Hawk participation in Operation Urgent Fury on Quora;

‘My (then) boss, Major Lamb, told me the story of his time during the invasion of Grenada. A US Army US Black Hawk helicopter was loaded with a severely wounded soldier and headed towards a Navy aircraft carrier offshore.

‘Grenada was fraught with issues and problems that led to massive changes in combined arms and inter-service cooperation in combat. One of the biggies was lack of compatibility between communication gear.

‘During the operation, there was discovered a single FM frequency that could be used by all parties, and it was packed with radio traffic. Major Lamb’s unit had a radio tuned to this frequency and listened in as the chopper with their dying comrade headed to life saving treatment.

Not deck qualified

‘“USS Bigboat (?), This is Army Blackhawk on approach with priority wounded. Request landing instructions, over.”

‘“Negative Army. You are not cleared to land. You are not deck qualified. Wave off.”

‘“USS Bigboat, I say again. I have priority wounded onboard in need of immediate medical attention. Landing instructions please.”

‘“Army flight, I say again, you are not deck qualified and NOT cleared to land, over.”

‘Silence.

‘“ARMY FLIGHT YOU ARE NOT DECK QUALIFIED AND ARE NOT CLEARED TO LAND!”

‘Silence.

‘“WAVE OFF, WAVE OFF!”

‘Silence.

‘“Guess I’m deck qualified, now”.

‘Big brass ones, on that guy.’

A US Army UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter on the flight deck of the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship USS Guam (LPH-9) during “Operation Urgent Fury”, the invasion of Grenada, Nov 3 1983.

Photo credit: PH1 Martin Maddock / U.S. Navy and U.S. Army

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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