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Loach Driver

Special Operations Hughes/MD500s - Not 160th SOAR!

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Here is another photo that might just be as significant as the photo in Post #1 of this thread!

I was lucky enough to receive this image some time ago but when I saw the aircraft featured in it, I had no idea who the operator was. I was pretty sure it wasn't an aircraft operated by the El Salvador armed forces and yet it carries an El Sal roundel. Given the information we now know about certain Hughes 500Ds operated in El Salvador in the 1980’s, this is probably another one of that batch of “special” 500s. The previous photos from that now-defunct webpage indicated that those helicopters were CIA ships but I am not sure that this is actually the case. Prior to Operation Honeybadger, the CIA did have their own aviation unit but it is difficult to say what ability this unit had to undertake special ops aviation-type flight operations. Maybe they had just a few surplus Hueys for general transportation duties and the capabilities of the CIA to carry out heliborne special ops had diminished in the period since the end of the Viet Nam War. From what I've read, it appears that the CIA relied heavily on Seaspray and the 160th SOAR for pilots (post-1980), certainly for special ops flying on helicopters like the 500.

The single best source of information on Operation Seaspray is Stephen Emerson’s book, "Secret Warriors" on the history of American Special Operations under the Reagan Administration. Two significant bits of information in that book may relate to this helicopter.

1. Seapsray and the CIA used helicopters for SIGINT operations in Italy in the search for General Dozier when he was kidnapped by the Red Brigade in 1981. ISA manned the sensors on these missions.

2. At the very end of the book, reference is made to a section in the Iran/Contra Investigation to the use of Army Seaspray helicopters by the CIA for operations in South America. It appears that Army/Seaspray pilots transferred (either temporarily or permanently) onto the CIA roster while flying in El Salvador. The investigation found it odd that one particular pilot had the official timing of his transfer from the Army to the Agency occur while he was airborne flying an armed helicopter in which he carried out strafing runs on the Sandinistas! This chapter in the history of Seaspray lead to a reduction in operations for some time but the unit appears to still exist today, under the guise of Echo Squadron.

My guess is that this helicopter is a Seaspray helicopter outfitted for SIGINT operations crewed by a “CIA” pilot and specialist operators from the ISA/Yellow Fruit on a CIA mission in El Salvador or Nicaragua.

The location and aircraft depicted in the photo are certainly quite interesting. The antenna behind the doghouse appears to be an ARC-182 aerial while the large whip aerial under the belly looks like a high-frequency VHF aerial(?). There is a large blade aerial and a smaller aerial under the forward nose area while a small portion of a further aerial might just be visible in front of the forward-most skid leg in the photo. There appears to be another antenna under the tailboom as well as a towel rail antenna on the tailboom/rear fuselage area. There also appears to be something attached to the rear cabin floor and protruding outside the airframe. Could this be a mount for further SIGINT equipment? The rear cabin appears to be filled with a lot of equipment that is strapped down. Perhaps this is electronic equipment used to record data from the various antennae and radios fitted. I don’t think this helicopter is one of the mythical EH-6 series of the 160th SOAR. I believe the EH-6E had a broader role than just SIGINT and it looks like the EH-6 role was taken up by FLIR-equipped MH-6Es by the mid-1980’s onwards (for example, Bob Fladry’s bird on the Iran Ajr mission during “Operation Earnest Will” in 1987). It looks like this is a 500D converted for dedicated SIGINT operations. As for the rest of the photo, is it possible this heli is flying from a secret CIA base in the jungle in El Salvador? The double concertina wire and specially-constructed landing pad would seem to indicate as much. I doubt the location depicted in the photo is Ilopango Air Base.

Finally, I just want to clarify a few points that this photo may raise:

• I don’t believe there is anything in this photo that breaches OPSEC at this point in time.

• No classified equipment can be identified in this photo, as far as I can tell.

• The use of these aircraft in South America is also now a well-known fact.

• The photo has come into the public domain in a lawful manner. The photo has not been “leaked”.

• I cannot divulge the source of this photo but thanks to the person who forwarded it to me!

• I have no further photos of this helicopter (sadly).

I hope this photo is of interest to people here. Happy Christmas. :thumbsup:

El%20Sal%2031_zpsetw7hnnr.jpg

LD.

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Awesome picture LD, thanks for the Christmas present. I think I have a good idea who your source might be but no need to speculate. Please thank him for the pic.

Hard to disagree with any of your conclusions, they seem to make sense. I still think the helo on post number 1 has the greatest cool factor but this one isn't bad at all.

Might want to reach out to the mods and see if they can pin this thread. I had forgotten all about this and it's got some outstanding (and rare pics in it).

John

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Hi John. I'm glad you like this photo. You are right, N1111U is probably more exotic than "31" but it is still great to have a photo of this ship.

I don't know what other versions of the 500 were flown by Seaspray/Echo Squadron but we must have identified most of them and indeed uncovered photos of quite a few now. I think NOTARs were mentioned in the past as being parked up at Fort Eustis as well as "pointy-nosed" 500s, which might mean MD530Fs. These are the next two types we need to look out for and try to identify! :thumbsup:

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Did I mention that decals for N1111 are in the new Werner's Wings Night Stalker-Late Additions sheets? We thought it was cool enough to add to the sheet

Floyd

Edited by Floyd S. Werner, Jr.

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LD, what an awesome photo. That bird belongs to El Salvador Air Forces with serial FAS-31. What i didnt know it had low skids, all D models from El Savador ive seen have the high skids. That bird might have been used by CIA for covert ops in Central America. This is the only D model that i dont have the seria number of it. El Salvador received 6 D models and 11 E models during the early and mid 80s.

Again, what a great photo. If you have more please share them.

Rod.

Edited by salvador001

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Did I mention that decals for N1111 are in the new Werner's Wings Night Stalker-Late Additions sheets? We thought it was cool enough to add to the sheet

Floyd

Floyd, I went to check those decals out, got a "404" error when I clicked the link.

Guys, what's the consensus on building N1111 Uniform? Is it doable with the available aftermarket sets and H-6 kits that are out there? Looking for an "interesting" subject for my next project. Nothing really lighting my fires so far.

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While you're on this topic, you all might enjoy reading "Relentless Strike, The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command." Even after having lived this life, I was amazed at some of the stories that time has faded in my memory. It's an absolute must read if you want to know about the formation of USSOCOM and JSOC. Sometimes some of these books tend to embellish, but I can absolutely vouch for the authenticity of the book so far. I'm up to the mid-80's right now in the book.

One review I really concur with:

Enthralling read. I am very surprised at some of the details Naylor mentions in this book. As I read through the book I repeatedly found myself thinking, "Is this really supposed to be public information?" If you want to know more about the history of JSOC and the missions that have defined this organization this book is for you.

Good reading! GT

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While you're on this topic, you all might enjoy reading "Relentless Strike, The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command." Even after having lived this life, I was amazed at some of the stories that time has faded in my memory. It's an absolute must read if you want to know about the formation of USSOCOM and JSOC. Sometimes some of these books tend to embellish, but I can absolutely vouch for the authenticity of the book so far. I'm up to the mid-80's right now in the book.

One review I really concur with:

Enthralling read. I am very surprised at some of the details Naylor mentions in this book. As I read through the book I repeatedly found myself thinking, "Is this really supposed to be public information?" If you want to know more about the history of JSOC and the missions that have defined this organization this book is for you.

Good reading! GT

Quite the good read.

Now where are all the pics from the guys that were there? Post 'em if you got them!

So far only GT has stepped forward.

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According to a post on Facebook from a former 160th and Blackwater pilot, one of Blackwater's MD530Fs, referred to as "139" (presumably construction number 139, N974BW) was previously flown by "E Squadron". He states that it was one of the all-blue 530s and had a "Little Bird" instrument panel. I had a look through my Blackwater photos and could find none of the all-blue ships with the narrow instrument panel. Maybe it was fitted with a standard panel during overhaul. There are a few photos of a low-skid 530F on the back of the boat that Blackwater proposed for counter-piracy ops a few years ago. Maybe that is the helicopter in question.

It is interesting to read that the Echo Squadron 530Fs were modified with the Little Bird instrument panel.

LD.

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Any way you could inquire as to how the echo squadron LB's were configured? FLIR? Planks? Armament? Or just a civil spec 530?

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I just sent a Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) request to US Special Operations command asking for any available pictures that show the FLIR unit that would have been used on early Littlebirds.   This would (I assume) be similar to what was mounted on N1111U.   If I get any response, I'll certainly share them on this and on the dedicated LB thread.

 

 

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Reply on the FOIA was that there are no records found.   Ok then.....

 

On another note, found this article that provides an update on some of the current military aviation units that might be considered to be on the "black" side of the spectrum:

 

http://www.thedrive.com/the-war-zone/8125/shedding-some-light-on-the-pentagons-most-shadowy-aviation-units

 

 

 

 

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Hello Gentlemen,

 

Thought you might be interested in this - I picked up on this over on FighterSweep.com.

 

Being from the U.K., I wasn't previously aware of these programmes, but this article concerns what could be loosely called a Littlebird. It's N593C, which is listed on FAA Registry as a 369E registered to K&S Helicopters Inc.  Not Spec Ops. per se, but look at these "planks"! Have never seen these on a Littlebird before, but have seen a larger version of them on FBI Bell 407's.

 

https://fightersweep.com/7835/aerial-target-interdiction-hog-hunting-helicopters-episode-6-sofrep-tvs-training-cell/

 

There are also two short videos on Youtube showing some more footage of N593C:- 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Fagll5BbtU


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7wR-s-2qz0

 

IIRC K&S have some D.o.D. contracts.

 

I don't know who manufactures these planks, but I'm wondering if they have made them for other "agencies"? The last photos (possibly quite old ones) I saw of FBI Littlebirds showed them with what appeared to be the normal planks we all know and love.

 

Hope you find them of interest.

 

All the best,

Michael.

 

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Hello again Gents, 

 

 Re. the above post, a dig of internet digging revealed that the planks fitted to N593C were produced by Tyler Technologies. They call them the Tyler Special Operations Platforms (TSOP) external helicopter benches. Here is a link to the TSOP for the MD500:-

 

http://www.tylertech.net/md-500.html

 

An interesting and informative website, with plenty of PDF's re. fittings etc., both for the benches and fast rope fittings. The benches are produced for the MD500, the AS350 and the Bell 206 & 407.

 

They also list the customers they have supplied, which are many; mostly Police departments and energy companies. While the F.B.I. and U.S. Army (with its ALH Project) feature,  the only really interesting user listed was Blackwater Aviation. I was surprised by this; firstly that they were still referred to as Blackwater, and secondly the only airframe in Blackwater's fleet (that I know off) that could be fitted with these is the MD500.

 

I've never seen any pic's of Blackwater Littlebirds with any sort of plank/bench, usually just a footrest. Does anyone out there have any photos?

 

Hope you can help,

Michael.

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A puzzling photo showing two mysterious MD530Fs(?) in Somalia in 1993.

 

index.php?app=core&module=attach&section

 

LD.

Edited by Loach Driver

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Very interesting find LD.  I know little about the 530F, assume it's pretty much identical to the MH-6J, with exception of those tail fins?    Will have to check out all those other sites that have Gothic Serpent pics to see if there are better shots available of those two birds.

 

Looks like Delta might have had their own rides...

 

 

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Apologies for the confusion caused by my cryptic introduction to that photo. 

 

First off, I reckon the two helicopters in the photo are Hughes/MDHC 530Fs. They are not 160th airframes, as best as I can tell. Which raises the question; who is operating them?

 

I thought it might be FBI HRT, given that the helicopters have a slight blue tinge to them (to my eye, but that might just be the filter etc in that particular photo). I did a quick google search for any reference to FBI involvement in the Mogadishu operation in 1993 and can find none. No mention of the FBI lending any assistance in the capture operation, no mention of FBI HRT and no mention of FBI air assets being present there. While the FBI had been involved with JSOC operations in Panama 1989 and have been post-9/11, there is nothing to suggest they were in Somalia in October 1993. Unless new information comes to light, I don't believe these are FBI HRT helicopters. 

 

That points to them being US Army helicopters, probably attached to Seaspray/Echo Squadron/Flight Concepts Division. And if they are, who were they flying around and what was their mission? Delta had the use of six MH-6H Little Birds so it would appear it wasn't for them. There were OH-58Ds in Somalia so presumably it wasn't for surveillance, unless the spooks wanted a separate rotary-wing surveillance capability. Was there another black ops unit deployed to Somalia, independent of the known Rangers/Delta personnel who are fairly well documented at this stage? The CIA's Special Activities Division/Special Operations Group (SAD/SOG) were in Somalia and apparently were pivotal in tracking many of the targets captured by TF Ranger in September and October 1993. Maybe the 530Fs were assigned to operations in support of the SAD/SOG personnel as they carried out their intel gathering and tracking operations? That photo certainly raises some interesting questions and at least we now know that there were other Special Ops 500s in Somalia, along with the 160th's Little Birds. :thumbsup:

 

LD.  

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31 minutes ago, Floyd S. Werner, Jr. said:

MH-6H or MH-6Js?

 

I reckon they were MH-6Hs in Somalia. The A/MH-6J fleet consolidation didn't happen until the mid-1990's, as far as I can tell. 

 

The MH-6H was the same basic airframe as the MH-6J. The MH-6H fleet was varied in that there were small avionics differences between much of the fleet. The 160th decided they wanted all airframes to be of the same standard and so they made some small improvements to the avionics suite and fitted it to all H's, making them J's. Same engine (C-30), airframe and rotor systems on the H's and J's. The AH-6G got the same treatment and became the AH-6J. It looks like the IR Exhaust was discarded in the G-to-J upgrade.

 

Externally, the H had the bat-wing antenna while the J had the X-antenna above the tailboom.

 

LD.

Edited by Loach Driver

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4 minutes ago, Loach Driver said:

I reckon they were MH-6Hs in Somalia. The A/MH-6J fleet consolidation didn't happen until the mid-1990's, as far as I can tell. 

 

The MH-6H was the same basic airframe as the MH-6J. The MH-6H fleet was varied in that there were small avionics differences between much of the fleet. The 160th decided they wanted all airframes to be of the same standard and so they made some small improvements to the avionics suite and fitted it to all H's, making them J's. Same engine (C-30), airframe and rotor systems on the H's and J's. The AH-6G got the same treatment and became the AH-6J. It looks like the IR Exhaust was discarded in the G-to-J upgrade.

 

Externally, the H had the bat-wing antenna while the J had the X-antenna above the tailboom.

 

LD.

I think I disagree here on the exhausts.  I have pics and video from Somalia with J's with the IR exhaust and the bat antennas and no X antenna, which came later.  Still not sure on the MH-6J but my sources say they were in Somalia as well without the downward exhausts.

Floyd

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7 hours ago, Floyd S. Werner, Jr. said:

I think I disagree here on the exhausts.  I have pics and video from Somalia with J's with the IR exhaust and the bat antennas and no X antenna, which came later.  Still not sure on the MH-6J but my sources say they were in Somalia as well without the downward exhausts.

Floyd

 

I'd love to see some photos of those! :thumbsup: Is the video that you have seen on the internet or is it in private hands?

 

LD.

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5 hours ago, Loach Driver said:

 

I'd love to see some photos of those! :thumbsup: Is the video that you have seen on the internet or is it in private hands?

 

LD.

I posted the video from Somalia in the other thread.  It was taken by the Somalias during the battle.  You can see the AH Little Birds with the downturned exhausts.  The photos I can't share.

Floyd

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Further to the mysterious 530Fs in Somalia, this photo was posted here some time back. At the time, I think it was reckoned these 530Fs were FBI HRT machines. Can anyone identify the equipment on the group in the foreground. Are they US Miliatry Special Operators or could they be FBI HRT personnel? If they are US Spec Ops operators, then maybe the 530Fs in the background belong to the Army and are the same helicopters as seen in Somalia. It looks like the 530F on the left might also have the Batwing antenna on the tailboom which is something no FBI HRT 530F has been seen with, which to me points to these being Army Spec Ops helicopters. 

 

6PHreMA_zps9eaa3f1c.jpg.7e90c3311f28ffd018ffaa817d16d3f8.jpg

 

LD.

Edited by Loach Driver

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