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"The Ghost of Abbottabad" Tail
Analysis by Ryan Pearce, Michael Durao, and Arnold Lewis
May 4, 2011

Before we begin, I want to issue a disclaimer that Beowulf does not engage in flights of fancy. We very much like to deal with tangible facts and figures. However in the past few days, the rumor mills across the world have run rampant with speculation surrounding four pictures of the wreckage of one of the destroyed helicopter used in the raid to capture Osama Bin Laden. So allow us to apologize first and foremost for letting our imaginations run wild here. This is purely theoretical, as with most analysis of “Black” projects, and we may either be spot on with our conclusions — or we may have swung for a home run and instead struck out big time. Only time will tell. At the least, we can provide an entertaining idea for you, the reader, to ponder.

So, — disclaimers aside — let’s start from the beginning. It should be very obvious that this is not the run-of-the-mill Blackhawk derivative used by the US Armed Forces. A quick comparison of the types in use by other members of NATO only serves to increase the aura of mystery around what’s quickly becoming the “Ghost of Abbottabad”. Some experts, such as Aviation Week’s Bill Sweetman claim it is a modification of the MH-60 Pavehawk — currently in use by the United States fitted with an experimental “Hush Kit”. This is not without merit — the MH-60 is currently the primary helicopter used to support Special Forces missions such as this. Others have gone a step further and claimed that this is a new type, never before seen except to the few privy to information about the classified program.

We side with the latter.    

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U.S. Air Force MH-60 Pavehawk
Anyone with a modicum of expertise in military aviation can readily see that the empennage bears no resemblance to that of the H-60 family of aircraft. And it seems due to how completely the wreckage was consumed, that the airframe and fuselage may have a high composite content—the Blackhawk has an aluminum skin—even the remains would’ve shared a marked resemblance. Furthermore, the sizing and shape of the empennage shows little relation to that of a Blackhawk. Finally, we have to look at the colors in use. The Army’s 160th SOAR—the primary users of the MH-60—fly darkly painted aircraft. The wreckage of the aircraft used in the raid is a lighter shade of gray, remarkably similar to that of the IR/Laser-Suppressive coating used on the V-22 Osprey and F-22 Raptor. From these points, it’s very evident that this is in no way a Blackhawk.
     

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U.S. Army RAH-66 Comanche Prototype
As stated previously, there is the “Modified Blackhawk” camp, and the “New Aircraft” camp. Many of us who believe that this is an unknown type immediately think of the (cancelled) RAH-66 Comanche—and with good reason. The Comanche is (or at least, was) the only known Stealth Helicopter in the world. Conceived by a joint venture with Boeing and Sikorsky, the low observable Comanche was intended to provide the U.S. Army with a low observable armed reconnaissance helicopter that using its small size, very low acoustic signature, and near invisibility on radar would be able to monitor the movements of Warsaw pact forces in a cold-war-gone-hot scenario. After the end of the cold war, the Comanche program was revised to increase its effectiveness in a low-intensity conflict environment. In fact, this became a major marketing point—one of the promotional videos shows the Comanche being used in this environment to great effectiveness. In February of 2004, the Army   cancelled the Comanche abruptly citing increasing costs and that most of goals of the program could be accomplished through the use of UAVs such as the RQ-1 Predator and modernized variants of the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior that it was intended to replace. The Army also stated that technology developed for the program would trickle into legacy aircraft such as the AH-64 Apache, and H-60 Family. The Comanche’s cancellation came without much outcry — the rationale was valid — however many find it curious that the RAH-66 was cancelled so near the end of its development cycle. However, many forget that the originator of the Comanche — the LHX program — also included a requirement for a utility variant that was supposedly scrapped. Perhaps it wasn’t? 

More recently, the Air Force cancelled the MH-53M Pavelow — arguably the most advanced and most capable special operations aircraft to have ever taken to the air. While the CV-22 is the official replacement, and the MH-60 is clearly still in service, neither aircraft possess the Pavelow’s awesome avionics suite or capabilities.

Clearly, we’re preparing to make gigantic leap here, so please bear with us — after all, there is one common element here. Sikorsky. It's clear that the Ghost of Abbottabad is different from a production H-60, or S-92, or any other airframe in US or World Service and this analysis is--as we said before--an educated guess based on very few photos we have availible. But even from this small start, we can make a number of assumptions as to how it may differ.

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CH-148 Cyclone Prototype
Sikorsky has more experience than any other manufacturer in both stealth helicopter design, as well as special operations helicopters. Furthermore, they have very recent experience with a penetrating helicopter — their entrant for the CSAR-X program — the HH-92 Superhawk. First and foremost, the overall design of the tail is by far the most similar to that of the Ghost of Abbottabad.. Clearly the horizontal stabilizers differ, but the design and dimensions of the vertical stabilizer and tail boom match. This was the first “Ah Ha!” moment for us here at Beowulf. After discussion, we realized that while it may seem outlandish on the surface, it is a distinct possibility.

Consider, the HH-92 Superhawk CSAR-X proposal set a very capable baseline for a helicopter designed to penetrate behind enemy lines in all weather conditions. Furthermore, Sikorsky’s experience with low observability would make them a prime contractor for an aircraft of this type. In addition, Sikorsky’s S-92 is a contender for the VXX competition in order to replace the VH-3 helicopters currently in use by HMX-1. This contract would entail the hardening of communications equipment for the proposed helicopter; these hardened communications systems could be also applied for special operations missions around the world. Beyond even this, the commonality with the H-60 Family of aircraft allow for streamlined logistics and a limited need to retrain air crews for the new platform (H-60 and H-92 share a common cockpit), further speeding the type's acceptance in to service.

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Judging by how completely the aircraft was consumed by fire after being destroyed, it is evident that a large composite content went into the fuselage. The H-60 Family has an aluminum skin and construction. The newer H-92 shares a composite fuselage and structure with it's civilian sibling, the S-92. Next, as we've stated before, the basic contours of the empenage match that of the S-92 with it's thin tail boom much better than the H-60's large tail. While the S-92 only features a single horizontal stabilator mounted on the port side of the aircraft, it is unknown if other aerodynamic changes may've necessitated the change, or if it was merely for performance reasons. However, current artist impressions of a H-60 based modification all show the horizontal stabilator fitted to the rear of the vertical stabilator. Photos of the Ghost show them mounted under and slightly ahead of the vertical stabilator. This is very similar to that of the S-92.

There have been a few comments made about the recovery of the personnel involved in the raid. It’s been stated that only two aircraft were used in the raid, consisting of about 25 men. What hasn’t been stated is whether the passengers and crew of the downed aircraft were recovered with another aircraft or by the other helicopter used in the raid. Assuming the latter, there is no conceivable way a Blackhawk could fly home with twenty five special forces operators, the crew from the other helicopter (of at least 3), and the corpse of Osama Bin Laden — along with their gathered intelligence data. They would have been unable to fit into the rather small cabin of the MH-60. The S-92’s larger cabin can seat more than twenty regularly — an additional few persons seated in the aisles for an emergency extraction is not an unlikely solution. This also makes sense from another regard — the introduction of this type of helicopter as a successor to the MH-53M is ideal. The Pavelow, for all of its capabilities (and currently, the MH-60 and CV-22) is still very visible on radar, limiting its ability to provide a covert insertion of Special Forces teams.

A stealthy, long ranged, penetrating helicopter opens up a world of capabilities for America’s secret warriors, and fills the niche left empty by the Pavelow's retirement in AFSOC's inventory. 

 


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