The MH-60 Crash At Bin Laden’s House

A variety of factors could have led to the crash or “hard landing” of one of the helicopters that helped carry out the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden yesterday. First off, we’ve heard reports that the choppers used in the raid, which apparently involved a total of about 40 operators, were a mix of MH-60 Black Hawks and MH-47 Chinooks. Both of which are flown by the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment. The AFP picture above shows what appears to be the tail section of an MH-60 draped over a wall at Bin Laden’s compound. There are still no reports of U.S. casualties during the raid, which is impressive given the image above.

A mix of Black Hawks to carry in the initial assault teams (roughly 24 SEALs) and the larger Chinooks to bring in supporting troops as well as carry away any prisoners makes sense. Keep in mind that the crew and passengers of the downed chopper had to pile onto another bird (probably a Chinook) to make their exit.

In any case, a chopper on final approach to a raid insertion could have been forced down by small arms fire (a lucky shot to the gearbox), brownout conditions where dust kicked up from the rotor wash interfere with the pilot’s ability to see, or it could have clipped some of the nearby power lines you can see in these pictures of the site (although there don’t appear to be any downed lines) or a combination of all factors. Or maybe, it really was mechanical failure. Keep in mind the raid was conducted around 1:00 in the morning so they were using night vision goggles. This goes to show just how tough missions like this are, even for the pilots of the 160th, whose skills are legendary in the helo community. Those pilots have also had weeks, at the minimum, to practice the mission at a site that was built to reflect the compound and its environs. So they probably knew where any potential obstacles were and how to avoid them.

44 Comments on "The MH-60 Crash At Bin Laden’s House"

  1. I heard somewhere (can't remember where) that it was a loss of lift due to the high walls. Anyone know about the effects of large walls/structures on helo performance? Seems like at least it would cause some buffeting/ control difficult landing in an enclosed courtyard.

  2. FormerDirtDart | May 2, 2011 at 3:34 pm | Reply

    There is also the possibility that the "hard landing" was a mission designed event, in the same way a helicopter was essentially crash landed into the prison compound during the Son Tay raid.

  3. If they blew the helicopter up wouldnt there be scorch marks and a destroyed wall? The wall is perfectly intact and not a scorch mark to be seen.

    This whole location and timeline is confusing and things like this make me doubt the official story. They just love fueling cospiracies I guess.

  4. One picture is all that is shown, and its clearly only the tail which must have seperated from the fuselage. Where is the rest of the wreckage?

  5. BombsOverRabdad | May 2, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Reply

    They may have just blew up some of the avionics or coms gear and not actually blew up the whole helo

  6. One question so far unanswered: how did four helicopters enter and exist Pakistan without alerting air defense systems? I know that twin rotor Chinooks make a lot of noise, and OBL's compound was not in the middle of nowhere like Vietnam's Son Tay prison or Desert One in Iran. Given the proximity to the Pakistani military college, I'd assume that air defense missiles were around to ward off Indian air strikes. Is it possible that the Pakistani military was told to stand down in some way?

  7. Does anybody else think that the tail section does not look like an MH-60. The tail planes are canted rearwards and the MH-60's are basically square.

  8. Ok…I wonder who the Helo drivers where…..

    Army Special Ops…..

    I'll bet some Air Force Pj's where in the mix….

  9. wondered…sorry…

  10. Byron Skinner | May 2, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Reply

    Good Evening Folks,

    To CarterY. Think the F-16CJ. You really don’t think that an operation of three UH-60 and a CH-47 that crossed nearly half of a “hostile” country went in alone do you.

    The F-16CJ can shut down an Air Defense Missile System, and has on several occasions since 1999.

    Byron Skinner

  11. On Defense Talk, there is a report that Chinese media (Xinhua) stated that it was Pakistanese forces that "got" OBL and the US forces only went in to retrieve the body.

    One can trust that report as much as… Pakistan's swearing not to harbor any terrorists in their country. Is China getting nervous now that OBL is gone and the US finally can refocus on issues in Asia, particularly the South China Sea?

  12. It definitely looks like that tail rotor is on one side of the wall and the main airframe is on the other, as you can see there is still a driveshaft attached to something over the top of the wall.

    Thermite grenades would not blow the tail rotor over the wall. High walls should create greater backpressure beneath the aircraft as rotor wash cannot escape as readily. Could the pilot have been forced to reduce rotor spin to allow controlled descent to the point of a stall? Could this have fouled the airflow to the engines with exhaust causing a stall?

    I am sure my terms are off, but you get the physics of what I am describing. Any helo pilots have an opinion?

  13. Cyborgmudhen | May 3, 2011 at 1:26 am | Reply

    It's an MH-60, no doubt.
    Flying with ESSS (external stores support system- tanks) is not really feasible for an op like this. IFR is the way to go, though I'm not sure the distances involved this time would require that.
    I've got some time in Blackhawks and can assure you that LTE ( loss of tail rotor effectiveness ) is pretty uncommon, even when you are heavy . High alt and high weight can change this some, but a low wall can't. The tail rotor on a 'Hawk is one of the most powerful in the world.
    Know that 160th SOAR specializes in long range, night time penetrations. Simply put, it's 'what they do'.

  14. Its good everyone got in & out without losses. Since the Desert One disaster (1980) and other helo failures; we should have a system the works in critical condictions.
    I guess the V-22s were not up to the task or appropriate for the operation.

  15. For what it’s worth, I suspect that the pilot just knocked the tail into the wall whilst landing. No matter how experienced the pilot, or how well rehearsed the mission, errors of judgement are easily made. Current NVG still offer only a narrow field of view which will hamper the pilot’s awareness – that could be sufficient on its own to cause the accident, or an unexpected obstacle could have blocked the practised landing areas. Such an accident, at low level, more easily fits with there being no casualties than some other suggestions.

  16. Don’t know much about helos except for the ones in Call of Duty, but I saw Brian Williams on Letterman last night. He said the chopper was a Pave Low. Sound right to you guys?

  17. Pavelows are retired!

  18. Looks a lot like the pilots tried to bring their bird down hard and fast inside those walls but misjudged their positioning, cracking the tail off on the wall just ahead of the end.

  19. Yes a 5 bladed TR on a hawk would be a very substantial modification, from a new hub and controls to a new blade design

  20. Consider a tail-low steep approach at night with NVG (diminished depth perception and periferal vision) over a barb-wired 14 foot wall. It appears that the tail section hit the wall since it is outside the compound but the fuselage is inside. Nascar driver Davey Allison died due a similar incident at Talladega AL when he made a downwind (tail-low) approach to a confined garage area over a concertina-wired security fence causing the tail rotor to impact the fence. His Hughes 269 came to rest on its side as did the MH-60 Other than that congrats on a job well done under demanding and difficult conditions.

  21. cyborgmudhen | May 3, 2011 at 1:46 pm | Reply

    I , too,THINK ( just no way for me to know) this was the result of a high speed decel. Add high deck angle to what you've described and you've got one helluva approach to live through.

    Not sure where you got these pics from, but if true they definitely are proof a a Blackhawk quite a bit different than the ones I've flown….or have even SEEN.

  22. All of those speculating on this as if this was some "hidden from Pakistanis" sort of episode are mistaken. Some simple facts are as such that had the Pakistanis wanted to stop this operation (not that they wanted to), they have enough capability to saturate the airspace in and around the region with upwards of 250-300 fighter aircraft in a very short amount of time (I have seen this during the last Indian-Pak flare up). While the USAF and USN/USMC assets can handle this threat, the conduct of a unilateral 60 minute plus operation would have become impossible in these circumstances.

    The simple explanation is the correct one which is that this was a joint operation. There was no choice but to give the Paks the ability to plausibly deny their participation for fear of blowback from TTP extremists within the country.

  23. AMVET,
    I agree with you. I am currently in the Army and I am a Blackhawk crewchief. Under NVG's your depth perception is at a minimum. I can see how a 30 degree nose up situation over a 14' wall can be the cause to take this aircraft down. But from the looks of the tail section wreckage… It might be the angle of photo but the Horizontal Stab looks a bit small to be a UH MH 60. I would like to see a photo of the front half of the A/C

  24. I can tell you that it was the MH-60K Sikorsky Blackhawk for NightStalkers (SOAR) 160th! And the MH-47E Boeing Chinook. How do I know – because I worked on the SW for both at IBM/Lockheed Martin.

  25. AMVET.. +1
    Tugboat.. Only 30 degrees? I've watched medivac birds come in hot and tail stand at more like 60 degrees. Makes my buddies and me cringe everytime, but they pull it off constantly.
    I know the 160th pilots have many times the skill of the Q pilots and do things with these birds that would make Sikorsky engineers faint.
    It could also have been a tail stand due to another pilot's short landing. If so, this pilot probably prevented killing everyone in both birds by taking the wall instead.
    Either way, my hat's off to everyone involved.

  26. cartman2394 | May 3, 2011 at 9:12 pm | Reply

    No one has really brought it up, but the blackhawk is a low tail helcopter, that wall is too high for them to have landed with it hanging over. the tail would have had to hit the wall and broke off for it to be in that position and not burned at all. secondly if that is the back side of the upside down tail of a blackhawk it is missing the V shaped cut out that the horizontal stabilizer sits in.

  27. is it a packastani helicopter?

  28. I am absolutely sick of the dumb questions that's being asked; i.e. Who flew the helicopters? What kind of bullets were used? Did Bin Laden put up a fight? Why was this mission so secret? Please!! If you really want to know, join the Military!! You don't have a need to know. Just know that we in the military (past & present) are/have done the best job we can to keep our way of life comfortable. And yet all you nay sayers still questions the very method we use to uphold this. it high time that you curious nobodies find something to do with your idle time like go look for gophers, or listen to the grass grow. Better yet, go start a Unicorn & Pegasus ranch!!

  29. Doesnt appear to be Blackhawk, if I'm looking at it right the horizonal stabilator is above and forward of the transition from vertical stabilator and tail boom transition.

  30. There is NO WAY the Pakistanis were in on this op. This raid was the culmination of years of intelligence gathering, and the objective could not have been more high-consequence. The US would not risk the real possibility of a high level Pakistani mole warning OBL and blowing American cover. This op was as black as it gets.

  31. Not a Genius | May 4, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Reply

    The aircraft involved has a forward swept synchronized elevator. That alone very clearly marks it as NOT any of the aforementioned aircraft. Misinformation? Stupidity? It's definitely stealth – you can easily tell from the sharp angles. You can also tell from the "hub cap" on the rotor that it's designed to be quiet (reduce buffeting).

  32. MH-53M IV are retired, but so are OH-6 (little birds) which spec ops currently use.
    Just because it (MH53) is retired does not mean they are out of the inventory.This is not a MH60 or variant it is to large. Probably a modded MH53
    (retired military helicopter pilot)

  33. Hope This Helps | May 5, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Reply

    Skunkworks (designed all US stealth aircraft) said in an interview with a show on Discovery Channel that they have been designing a new stealth capable helicopter for the US army for at over a year now (that was at least 6 months ago I saw this).

    They even said the radar profile wouldn't be any bigger than a large bird.
    They also said it has deployable "wings" which deploy the weapons and that they fold in for a low radar profile.

  34. SoilsEngineer | May 11, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Reply

    This was no planned operation to ditch a helicopter into that walled compound. Period.

    Anyone who believes the US would willingly and deliberately expose a technology edge to donate to Pakistan and China is a little behind the curve. Also, this was no "low and fast pilot error". These pilots had plenty of before-hand knowledge of the strike and have certainly practiced this approach and landing option.

    There is no sane way that US tacticians would plan end execute this outcome. This was not "the pilot misjudged a little and hit the wall" it was the best he could do with a big problem. More than most likely this is what you call "lead in the engine" the engines and drivetrain are the weaknesses in these machines.

    This is either the result of "lead in the engine" or a known helicopter peculiarity called "hot and high" which is exacerbated in ground-effect over obstructions and flowbreaks like walls. These are clearly the the only reasonable potential causes for the outcome here.

    Also, one of the most revealing aspects I'm not sure anyone has noticed came from the photos of the wreckage IN the yard on the other side of the wall. Study of the rotorhead wreckage and the yokes in the visible taildrive train shows it's clearly a blackhawk or derivative but there are some other very interesting and telling clues in even just these few pictures!

    Also notable are some of the things that are "missing"! Note the station cross-sections at the 'break' and compare with known examples of Blackhawk prototypes or fitted with "hush-Kits".

    Also, there is a question of that helicopter being operated by a DoD element OTHER than the US navy. But what do I know? Heh.

  35. Retired Helomech | May 20, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Reply

    I doubt it's a UH-60 variant. The T/R is mounted on the left. All H-60's i have ever seen have the T/R mounted on the right side.

  36. i've heard it was a 160 th soar stealth mh 60 and that the pilot was attemptimg a hard landing and that might have contributed to loss of lift so the sucker dropped like a rock

  37. The aircraft that crashed in the raid was a Comanche, not a Hawk!

  38. The aircraft is a Comanche, not a Hawk.

  39. Jay, are you becoming a conspiracy theorist? Like those 9/11'ers?????

  40. Let's not lose sight of the main issue – the brave men achieved their mission and the world is a safer place

  41. Vortex ring state caused the crash, bs. He came in heavy and fast and hit the wall. Not the first time this has happened. But cover it up and blame it on mechanical problem, bs. Retired rw pilot.

  42. To prevent other countries like China from copying (knowing) the technical specs of the helicopter or drone, technicians should cover the computer chips with epoxy. This will prevent them from knowing the part number. easily.

    The covered part should also be tested if it could over heat the area causing a crash.

    You could also use a small grinder to erase the part number of the chips.

  43. The claim may be correct, but military aviation pilots (especially rotor-craft) are probably the best trained in the world. These pilots trained extensively at mock ups at US bases perfecting the insertion of two Seal Teams.
    The claim that they were felled wind vortex or pressure altitude in an enclosed area is absolute silliness. Rotor craft pilots are fully aware of obstacles, terrain, and how weather effects the flight envelope.
    This controlled crash was either equipment failure, or ground fire – not altitude, wind vortex, or pilot error. To accept otherwise is foolishness.

  44. Did they really use pilots that were veterns from the vietnam war

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