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MH-53J Pavelow III / MH-53M Pavelow IV

The MH-53 Pavelow series are advanced helicopters operated by USAF Special Operations Squadrons. The MH-53 Pavelow is based around the HH-53 Jolly Green Giant airframe, with improved armor, avionics, weapons and aerial refueling capabilities.

MH-53 Pavelows are operated by:

  • 20th Special Operations Squadron - Hurlburt Field, Florida
  • 21st Special Operations Squadron - RAF Mildenhall, England

MH-53J/M Pavelow - Roles

USAF Special Ops use the MH-53J/M helicopter:

  • insertion/extraction/resupply of special operations forces
  • combat search and rescue
  • humanitarian relief operations

Pavelow crews train extensively with USAF Special Tactics Squadrons such as Combat Controllers and Pararescuemen as well as exercising regularly with other Special Operations Forces.

ac-130 gunship

MH-53 Variants

  • MH-53J Pavelow III
    The older version of the Pavelow, still in service, saw action in Operation Desert Storm, 1991. In the opening salvo of the air war, USAF Pavelow IIIs acted as path finders for a fleet of AH-64A Apache helicopters on a mission to destroy Iraqi air defence radars. The Pavelows used their (then) advanced navigation systems to guide the Apaches over the featureless desert.
  • MH-53M Pavelow IV
    The Pavelow IV is an upgraded III, with a number of improved features:
      improved defensive aids and sensors package allows the Pavelow IV to detect threats from over the horizon, using data other assets supplied over a secure network
    • digital map display
    The Pavelow IV has seen action in Afghanistan and Iraq. It proved its capability as a CSAR bird in Kosovo, 1999, when it participated in the rescue of a USAF pilot who's Stealth Fighter was shot down during NATO operations.

MH-53 Features

All variants feature a rear hydraulic ramp for loading/off-loading troops, vehicles and supplies. FRIES Fast rope rigs allow for rapid deployment of troops via the rear ramp and a hatch in the helicopter's belly. Rope ladders can be fitted for extraction from rough ground or water

A telescopic refueling probe on the starboard fuselage enable the MH-53 to refuel in-flight from the MC-130E/H/P/W series of airborne tankers. 2 450 gallon jettisonable external fuel tanks, one fitted to each side of the fuselage, extend the Pavelow's range out to 900km.

As with MH-60/HH-60 Black Hawks tasked with CSAR operations, Pavelows carry Personnel Location Systems (PLS), which home in on beacons carried by downed pilots.

MH-53 Avionics

Pavelows carry an array os advanced sensors, management systems and defensive aids, notably:

  • Doppler terrain following/avoidance radar - allows for ground-hugging, low-level flying
  • Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR) pod - allows for all-weather, day/night flying
  • GPS/Inertial navigation systems - pinpoints the helicopter precise location, anywhere on the globe

MH-53 Weapons

Pavelows are typically fitted with 3 firing points at port, starboard and on the rear hydraulic ramp, where various machine guns can be mounted.

MH-53 minigun
Port and starboard firing ports have mounts for machine guns such as these 7.62mm miniguns. The minigun can fire up to 4000rpm, putting down withering suppressing fire.
MH-53 - ramp gunner
The MH-53's rear ramp typically features a mount for a belt-fed machine gun. Here, a USAF gunner manning a M2 HB 0.50

MH-53J Pavelow III Specifications

Crew Pilot, Co-pilot + 2 flight engineers + 2 gunners
Engines 2x4,380hp GE T63-GE-415 Turboshafts
Dimensions L - 20.47m
W (rotor diameter) - 24.08m
H - 7.6m
Weights 10,690 kg (empty)
19,051 kg (max loadout)
Max Speed 315 kph
Range 900 km - with external fuel pods
Armament 3 gun ports (port/starboard and rear) :
m134 7.62mm miniguns and/or .50 M2 HB machine guns
Avionics APR-39 Radar Hazard Warning Set
ALE-39 Chaff and Flare Dispenser
ALQ-157 Infrared Jammer
AAR-47 Missile Warning System
Doppler terrain following/avoidance radar
Inertial GPS navigation
Forward Looking Infra Red (FLIR)
Secure radio communications

MC-130H Combat Talon II
A USAF MH-53M Pavelow IV of the 21st Special Operations Squadron in action over the Iraqi Desert, April 2003.

MH-53 Pavelow Resources

« Special Ops Aircraft

Featured MH-53 PAVELOW Photo
MH-53M Pavelow IV
A MH-53M Pavelow IV helicopter operated by the 352nd Special Operations Group
(click photo for fullsize image)
more USAF Special Operations Aircraft photos

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