Menu

Your Financial Support is Critical to the Future of the Hill Aerospace Museum

Sikorsky MH-53M Pave Low IV

History of the MH-53M Pave Low IV

The United States Air Force (USAF) used the Pave Low IV for special operations to enter enemy territory. These aircraft were capable of operating day, night or in bad weather. They conducted long-range, low-level missions to insert, extract and resupply special operations forces.

Sikorsky MH-53 Pave Low

Manufacturer: Sikorsky Aircraft

Crew: Six – two pilots, two flight engineers and two aerial gunners

Engines: Two General Electric T64-GE-100 engines, 4,330 shaft hp each

Wingspan: 72 feet

Length: 88 feet

Height: 25 feet

Weight: 50,000 pounds (emergency, maximum)

Speed: 165 mph (at sea level)

Range: 690 miles

Service Ceiling: 16,000 feet

Armament: Three 7.62 mm mini-guns or three .50-caliber machine guns

Cost: $50,000,000

The MH-53 Pave Low IV at Hill Air Force Base

The MH-53 helicopters were originally HH-53 “Super Jolly Green Giants” and were used by the USAF in the Southeast Asia War. Through the years, the aircraft received upgrades and improvements. After the 1960s, the helicopters were completely re-skinned and had the engines as well as the rotors replaced. In lieu of these improvements, the H (for helicopter) was changed to a M (for multi-mission.) The most significant improvement on the Super Jollies was the Pave Low program. This program modified them for operating at night or during bad weather, as they were equipped with Forward-Looking infrared (FLIR) sensors, inertial global positioning systems (GPS), Doppler radar navigation and terrain-following and terrain-avoidance radar. The MH-53 can fly clandestine, low-level missions day or night regardless of weather.

The Pave Low IV has a system that greatly increases the aircraft’s abilities by giving the crew instant access to the total battlefield situation on a color, digital mat screen that is compatible with night vision goggles. The system uses feeds from satellite links and the system displays nearly real-time information about potential hazards along the flight route such as power lines or enemy electronic threats. The MH-53 at Hill Aerospace Museum was originally manufactured as an HH-53C. The USAF obtained the aircraft in March 1971 when it was first assigned to the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Center, Military Air Transport Service, at Eglin Air Force Base. In May 1971, it was transferred to the 1550th Aircrew Training and Testing Wing, Military Airlift Command at Hill Air Force Base. In June 1974, it was transferred to the 6594th Test Group, AF Systems Command, at Hickam Air Force Base. In July 1986, the aircraft was moved to the 1st Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, where it was converted to a MH-53J configuration. It was then assigned to the 16th Special Operations Wing, AF Special Operation Command, at Hurlburt Field in 1994. While serving there it was upgraded to a MH-53M Pave Low IV.

The aircraft took its final flight in September 2008 to Hill Air Force Base.

Discover answers to the following questions about the MH-53M Pave Low IV.

Why is it called a Pave Low?

Pave Low is actually an acronym for Precision Avionics Vectoring Equipment; in this case, used specifically for special operations and combat search and rescue missions.

How big is a Pave Low?

With a length of 88 feet and a rotor diameter of 72 feet, the MH-53J Pave Low III was the largest helicopter in use by the United States Air Force (USAF).

What replaced MH-53?

Initially produced in the late 1960s, the Pave Low saw continued updates and modifications through 2008. The final flight of MH-53 happened on Sept. 27, 2008, in support of operations in Southwest Asia. It was later replaced by the V-22 Osprey.

What is a Jolly Green Giant helicopter?

The Jolly Green—known as HH-3E—was the predecessor of the MH-53. These helicopters were capable of landing on water, had a rear loading ramp and were predominately used for downed pilot recovery.

Can the MH-53 land on water?

Like its predecessor the HH-3E, the MH-53 was also capable of making water landings.

How many troops can a MH-53 carry?

The Pave Low could carry up to 46,000 pounds, allowing the aircraft between 37 and 55 troops, depending upon the helicopter’s configuration.

What is the biggest US military helicopter?

The MH-53J Pave Low III was the largest, most powerful and technologically advanced transport helicopter in the USAF.