Marines board a CH-53E Super Stallion on the USS Essex at sea in 2015. Source: Courtesy U.S. Marine Corps
Paul M. Barrett, Bloomberg: The U.S. Military’s Most Powerful Helicopters Keep Killing Troops in Fiery Crashes
An investigation into a tragic consequence of the U.S. government budget sequester.
On the frigid morning of Jan. 8, 2014, an MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopter, call sign Vulcan 543, rose from the tarmac at Naval Station Norfolk, its two massive rotors biting the cold air as it left on a training mission over the slate-gray Atlantic. The largest, most powerful chopper in the Pentagon’s fleet, the Sea Dragon transports personnel and supplies and performs minesweeping operations. Its three turbo-shaft engines allow it to drag mine-detection gear the size of a Humvee through ocean waves.
Lieutenant J Wesley Van Dorn piloted Vulcan 543. He and his co-pilot, Lieutenant Sean Snyder, were joined in Virginia that morning by a crew of three, including Petty Officer Second Class Dylan Boone. A day earlier, the aircraft hadn’t been cleared to fly, because its instruments had frozen solid after it was left outdoors. Vulcan 543 had spent the night defrosting in a hangar. The air was still frigid when the men climbed aboard, with wind chill pushing temperatures down into the single digits, and their breath steaming inside the cockpit. When the crew turned on the cabin heater, Boone recalls, it began “spitting out small fireballs.” Unfazed, they fiddled with the device and got it cranking. Crew members tended to have a fatalistic view of the 53E. “Eventually the horse will have to be taken out and shot,” Boone says. Meanwhile, he adds, “you are constantly making things work for you because you [have] to get those flight hours in.”
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WNU editor: Years of warfare and not enough money to build and replenish existing military platforms has now "come home to roost". This is a sobering read on the state of America's military today.