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Air Force Choppers Flown Way Past Prime

There's a plan to replace the 1980s-era copters, but it's not a quick one.

A new report released by the Government Accountability Office has raised some significant concerns about the Air Force’s HH-60G Pave Hawk – a combat search-and-rescue craft manufactured by Sikorsky.

The copters, which first entered service in 1982, are well-used and considered invaluable in military efforts as well as for relief missions, but their utility is actually part of the problem – the report says the copters are being used well beyond their intended lifespan.

The HH-60G was intended to fly about 6,000 hours over its life span but the GAO says that the helicopters currently in service have eclipsed that recommendation by over a thousand hours, on average.

The results of using them beyond their initially designed service life has been a decline in condition and an increase in maintenance time that’s being dedicated to them.

Most at risk for failure seem to be the airframe – or main structure of the craft – as well as flight controls and turboshaft engines. The report says that for each manned flight hour, an average of 25 hours of maintenance is required, compared to 21 hours just a few years back. For more in-depth maintenance issues, there’s been a 40% increase in the time spent.

But according to a report by, there’s a plan to remedy the situation, and it’s two-fold: first, the Air Force will buy 21 of the Army’s UH-60Ls and convert them into Pave Hawks. Secondly, there are “112 new Combat Recovery Helicopters, known as the HH-60W” on order.

Great plan, but the 21 converted aircraft will simply be filling an existing gap, as the report states that only about 68 percent of the HH-60G fleet are combat-capable at any given time. And for those tired copters waiting to be replaced by the HH-60W? Officials expect to see their first model to be delivered in 8 to 10 years.

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