Point Mugu Gets 1st of New-Breed Copters

Times Staff Writer

The Point Mugu Naval Air Station became the first in the nation Saturday to get a fancy new helicopter, the first of eight, to replace the Vietnam-era fleet that it had been using.

The morning air was hazy when the Navy's newest strike-rescue helicopter, a modified version of the Navy's SH-60H Seahawk submarine-hunting helicopter, flew to its new home in Ventura County as about 100 members of Helicopter Combat Support Special Squadron 5 watched.

The $10-million helicopter is the first replacement for the squadron's HH1-K Hueys, and is designed to use speed and stealth in combat zones to rescue downed air crews, as well as to drop off and pick up special Navy demolition teams known as Seals.

The Point Mugu squadron hopes to officially nickname the new HH-60H helicopter "Firehawk," the squadron's nickname.

"She's a good-lookin' bird, ain't she," Naval Air Reserve pilot Lt. Jeff Bright said with a grin as the base's newest addition whirred and hovered for the small cluster of media photographers.

"Are we excited? When your mission is to fly and you've been without an aircraft for four months, well, everybody's just biting at the bit, ready to go," he said.

235-Member Squadron Idled

The 235-member squadron has not flown since it retired the last of its Vietnam-era helicopters in early April, said Cmdr. David Johnson. Meantime, its members have been preparing to fly and maintain the HH-60H, built by United Technologies Sikorsky Aircraft of Stratford, Conn.

The Navy said it ordered 16 of the helicopters--eight for the reserves at Point Mugu and eight for a sister squadron in Norfolk, Va.--because its older combat search-and-rescue helicopters were technologically outdated.

Sikorsky spokesman Bill Tuttle said some of the older helicopters date back to the 1950s and '60s. "They just aren't equipped for the high-tech weapons that are in place today," he said.

Besides having twice the range, a third more speed and three times the weight capacity of its combat search-and-rescue predecessors, the HH-60H boasts two M60-D machine guns, an infrared jamming system to confuse heat-seeking missiles, chaff and flare dispensers, and a sophisticated communications and avionics system, Tuttle said.

"It's not an offensive aircraft. It's designed basically to use the cover of night to get in and get out," Tuttle said.

Naval Air Reserve Cmdr. David Grupe, who flew the helicopter in from San Diego, said it can fly 195 m.p.h. and travel about 250 nautical miles before it has to turn around. "It's a great flying machine," he said.

Squeeze Into Tight Places

The HH-60H is so precise that it can land in a space barely larger than itself, he said. He added that while pilots generally do not try to squeeze their "birds" into such a small space, it's not beyond the new chopper's abilities.

"In terms of handling, if it was a stable wind and you could clear it, you could put it down in an area probably about 100 feet square," he said of the helicopter, which, with rotors extended, is 70 feet long and 52 feet wide.

"That's a Testerossa," Grupe said, comparing the little gray chopper to the automobile. He nodded toward the big green Sea King that escorted him to the base: "And that's a '64 Volkswagen bus with one low tire . . . well, maybe a Chevy pickup."

Grupe said the Navy chose Point Mugu for the strike-rescue helicopters because most strike-rescue training is done nearby at the naval air station in Fallon, Nev.

"The Navy wanted to be able to introduce the aircraft where it could get closest proximity to the training that they're going to get, and Point Mugu was the logical place for this helicopter," Grupe said.

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