MH-53 Pave Low Special Operations Helicopter

MH-53 Pave Low

MH-53 Pave Low

Find the AFSOC MH-53 Pave Low tee-shirt or browse our collection of AFSOC MH-53 souvenirs at The Military Chest.
Or visit The PatriArt Gallery and choose the AFSOC MH-53 Pave Low poster, framed art print, 12-month calendar, or greeting card set.

The MH-53J/M Pave Low’s mission is low-level, long-range, undetected penetration into denied areas, day or night, in adverse weather, for infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces (Air Force Special Operations Command — AFSOC).

The MH-53J/M Pave Low IV medium-lift helicopter is the largest, most powerful and technologically advanced helicopter in the Air Force inventory. The terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radar, forward-looking infrared sensor, inertial navigation system with global positioning system, along with a projected map display enable the crew to follow terrain contours. It also enables the crew to avoid obstacles in adverse weather, making low-level tactical penetration possible.

The MH-53M Pave Low IV is a J-model that has been modified with the Interactive Defensive Avionics System/Multi-Mission Advanced Tactical Terminal. This system greatly enhances present defensive capabilities of the Pave Low. It provides instant access to the total battlefield situation, using near real-time electronic Order of Battle updates. It also provides a new level of detection avoidance with near real-time threat broadcasts over-the-horizon, so crews can avoid and defeat threats, and replan en route if needed. 

Under the Pave Low III program, the Air Force modified nine MH-53Hs 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-53Js. 

Since they entered the Air Force inventory, Pave Lows, with their unique special operations mission and capabilities, have supported several campaigns. In 1990, Pave Lows from the 20th Special Operations Squadron led the way for Army AH-64 Apaches during an air strike, thus opening the air war in Operation Desert Storm. Most recently, Pave Lows have played a crucial role in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

General Characteristics
Primary Function: Long-range infiltration, exfiltration and resupply of special operations forces in day, night or adverse weather conditions
Contractor: Sikorsky
Power Plant: Two General Electric T64-GE-100 engines
Thrust: 4,330 shaft horsepower per engine
Rotary Diameter: 72 feet (21.9 meters)
Length: 88 feet (28 meters)
Height: 25 feet (7.6 meters)
Speed: 165 mph (at sea level)
Ceiling: 16,000 feet (4,876 meters)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 46,000 pounds (Emergency War Plan allows for 50,000 pounds)
Range: 600 nautical miles 
Armament: Combination of three 7.62 mini guns or three .50 caliber machine guns
Crew:  Two pilots (officers);  two flight engineers and two aerial gunners (enlisted)
Date Deployed: 1981
Unit Costs: $40 million (fiscal 2001 constant dollars)

The MH-53 Pave Low helicopter will be retired from active service with the US Air Force effective the end of September 2008.

Data courtesy USAF


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