Black Hawk Helicopters for the Philippine Air Force?

Front view of a Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk Helicopter. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In January 2019, the Philippine Secretary of Defense Delfin Lorenzana revealed that the government will be buying Black Hawk helicopters from Sikorsky’s plant in Poland1 which makes the S-70i version of the aircraft. A month earlier in December 2018, Lorenzana revealed details of the acquisition which was for 16 aircraft worth USD 240 million (PHP 12.67 billion), or approximately USD 15 million (PHP 792 million) each.2

’The Black Hawk’
The S-70 is a medium Transport and Utility helicopter built by the company Sikorsky Aircraft. It first flew in 1974 and entered service with the United States (US) Army in 1978 which designated it as the UH-60.3

It was then named as the “Black Hawk” after a Native American Tribe as is the tradition with US Army Helicopters.4 Since then the Black Hawk has become one of the most commercially successful military helicopters ever with over 4,000 units sold all over the world in 28 countries.5

The US Army is the single largest operator of the aircraft with over 2,000 units or around half of all the Black Hawk helicopters that were sold. As a result, the aircraft has seen combat in almost all of the wars that the US has participated in since the late 1970s.

The aircraft is perhaps best known for its participation in “Operation Restore Hope” in Somalia where two of it were shot down, resulting in a number of rescue attempts that caused a lot casualties between the American and Somali Militia forces.6 The story of those rescues was published in a book and then later turned into a movie titled “Black Hawk Down”, both of which became quite popular.

The S-70i is the latest version of the S-70, which is roughly equivalent to the latest UH-60M version that the US armed forces are using, except for some minor differences such as a simpler Engine Inlet and Exhaust, different Radio Systems, etc.7

I will be comparing the S-70i to two other helicopters we are currently using as our main Combat Transport Utility Helicopter, the UH-1H Huey and Bell 412EP.8 9 10

PILOTS AND TROOPS: One of the S-70i’s best qualities is that it can substantially carry more load than either the Huey or the Bell 412EP. The S-70i with two (2) Pilots and two (2) Gunners can still carry 11 Troops which is more than twice the number of troops that the Huey (approximately three to five Troops) or 412EP (five Troops) can carry while in similar configuration.

CRUISING SPEED: This is another area that S-70i excels at as it is 92 kph faster than the Huey and 70 kph faster than the 412EP in terms of Cruising Speed. This allows the S-70i to arrive and deliver its Troops much faster, or to retrieve them from the battlefield as necessary.

WEIGHTS: The S-70i is a much heavier aircraft, being more than twice that of the Huey in terms of Empty Weight (EW) and Maximum Take-Off Weight (MTOW). It is also at least 2,200 kg heavier in terms of EW and 4,500 kg heavier in terms of MTOW than the 412EP.

DISC LOADING (DL): Also due being a much heavier aircraft, the S-70i ends up having the highest DL compared to the Huey and the 412EP, indicating less maneuverability at full load.

’Range Estimates’
The S-70i has a lower Internal Fuel Fraction (IFF) than the Huey or the 412EP, meaning it doesn’t carry as much fuel as those aircraft for its given MTOW which in turn indicates less range at Full Load. However, its T-700 engines are more fuel efficient at Cruising Speed, which helps improve its range estimate compared to the other two helicopters.

The S-70i has 27% less IFF than the Huey, but its engines are 13% more efficient than that of the Huey so that narrows down the difference in terms of estimated range to around 14% less than the Huey. On the other hand, the S-70i has an IFF of 42% less than the 412EP, but its engines is 23% more efficient, narrowing down its estimated range to be 19% less than the 412EP.

The S-70i though can be fitted with two 605 kg External Fuel Tanks (EFT) if necessary thereby extending its range as needed.

’Operating Costs’
Data from the Conklin & deDecker website shows that the S-70i has an Operating Cost or Cost per Flight Hour (CPFH) of USD 2,49211 compared to only USD 1,405 for the Huey12 and the USD 1,586 for the 412EP.13

This makes it around 77% more expensive to operate than the Huey and 57% more than the 412EP. But this is expected as the S-70i is a much heavier aircraft with more powerful engines than the Huey or the 412EP.

’Separate Space for the Gunners’
One issue that bedeviled the W-3 Sokol Helicopters was that the Machine Gunners ended up competing for the Door Space with the disembarking or embarking Troops.14 This was not a problem with the Huey or the 412EP since they have the widest doors in any helicopter, but the doors on the W-3 were much smaller.

The doors of the S-70i is also not as big as those of the Huey or 412EP, but the S-70i does have separate Seats and Windows for the Machine Gunners, which means that the Troops will have the doors all to themselves when going in or out of the helicopter. So the S-70i will not have the same door issue as the Sokols.

’Soft Ground Performance’
The S-70i is well above the estimated 3,600 kg EW limit for helicopters to be able to use Skids, hence it uses Wheels instead.15 But wheels have a much smaller Surface Area than Skids, thus it has a higher Weight per Square Area of the ground or Ground Pressure. The S-70i is also much heavier than the Huey or 412EP, so this means that it will likely sink more over soft ground compared to either aircraft.

But this issue is not limited to just the S-70i but for all helicopters with more than 3,600 kg EW and have to use wheels, and can be managed by better planning such as sending scouts and mapping the areas in advance where the helicopter can land.

’Survivability Features’16 17 18 19
The Black Hawk has better survivability features compared to the Huey since that was one of the things the US armed forces considered when they replaced the Huey. Among these features are:
– Armored Pilot and Co-Pilot Seats with Side Panels, able to resist up to 23 mm caliber rounds
– Blade and Tail Rotors have Titanium Cores enabling them to resist up to 23 mm caliber rounds
– Self-Sealing Fuel Tanks and Fuel Lines
– Fuel Tanks and Troop Cabin resistant to up to 7.62 mm caliber rounds
– Aircraft Structure resistant to up to 14.5 mm caliber rounds

The standard configuration of the S-70i though doesn’t include other survivability features like Radar/Laser/Missile Warning Receivers, Infra-Red (IR) Suppressed Exhaust, Chaff/IR Countermeasures, etc., but provisions for these are available for installation at a later date if needed.

There seems to be no serious issues with the Black Hawk Helicopters, at least not recently. There was an incident in the US where a UH-60 crashed due to Tail Rotor failure, killing one person and injuring the two Pilots. The finding was that the binding of the Laminate Skin of the Tail Rotor System had failed, causing the whole assembly to disintegrate while in operation.

But the incident happened two years ago in 2017, and since then no other Black Hawk helicopter out of the thousands in service has crashed due to the same problem, hence this could only be considered as an isolated issue at best despite the claim that the problem was an inherent material defect.

’Parting Shot’
On the downside, compared to our existing aircraft, the S-70i is more expensive to operate, won’t be able to land in as soft a ground, less maneuverable and seems to have slightly less range at full load.

On the plus side, the S-70i is faster, allowing it to reach combat areas sooner, which is important in time critical situations. It can carry more troops, enabling it to deliver more firepower on the ground per trip and per helicopter. It has better survivability features, providing better safety for its occupants, and seems to be relatively trouble free recently.

Despite some issues, overall I think the S-70i will be a welcome addition to our fleet if ever our planned procurement for it pushes thru. And I hope it does, and soon.

Rear view of a Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk Helicopter. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


  1. PAF eyes purchase of Blackhawk Helicopters from Poland – DND,
  2. PH to buy US Helicopters, not Russian, due to Sanctions: Lorenzana,
  3. UH-60 Black Hawk – Federation of American Scientists (FAS) website,
  4. Everyone Relax—The Army’s Native American Helicopter Names are not Racist,
  5. Black Hawk Helicopter, Best-in-Class Multi-Mission Performer,
  6. The Legacy of Black Hawk Down,
  7. Meet the iHawk: We fly the Sikorsky S-70i,
  8. UH-1 Iroquois,
  9. Bell 412EP,
  10. Lockheed Martin Sikorsky S-70i Black Hawk Helicopter,
  11. Conklin and de Decker S-70i CPFH,
  12. Conklin and de Decker UH-1H Huey CPFH,
  13. Conklin and de Decker Bell 412EP CPFH,
  14. Defense Chief says Purchase of 8 Sokol Choppers from Poland is last,
  15. Skids or Wheels?
  16. S-70i Helicopter Technical Information,
  17. 7 Facts of the UH-60 Black Hawk Helicopter,
  18. UH-60M Black Hawk Helicopter (UH-60M Black Hawk) Selected Acquisition Report (SAR),
  19. Lockheed Martin Sikorsky S-70i … 
  20. Lockheed Martin sued in connection with fatal Black Hawk Helicopter crash,

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