Two US Army Black Hawk helicopters collided mid-air during a training exercise resulting in the death of all nine soldiers aboard the two aircraft. The crew members were part of the US Army’s sole air assault division called the Screaming Eagles based at Fort Campbell on the border between Kentucky and Tennessee, situated 60 miles northwest of Nashville. The cause of the crash is currently under investigation. Debris from the assault choppers with an estimated cost of over $10m each was dispersed across the ground. The HH-60 Black Hawk is a highly modified version of the Army’s original Black Hawk helicopter and is designed to conduct recovery missions in hostile environments, disaster responses, as well as civilian search and rescue, it includes an in-flight refueling probe, two .50 caliber machine guns and an 8,000-pound cargo hook. Variations of the HH-60 are currently in use in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Reports suggest the weather at the time was clear with light to no wind. Local officials described hearing a ‘pop’ and ‘two booms’ just before the incident.
The 101st Airborne Division of the United States Army was established in 1942; it is the only air assault division of its kind that can execute combat and contingency missions across the world employing sophisticated helicopter technology, including the Black Hawk. The Screaming Eagles gained renown during World War II in the D-Day landings and the Battle of the Bulge, while in more recent times, the group has deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, and conducted NATO advise and assist missions as well as US counter-terrorism operations across the world. The Black Hawk was also used following the Hurricane Katrina disaster and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan. In February this year, a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter flew for the first time entirely unmanned, controlled from Fort Campbell.
A $5m helicopter training facility was opened at Fort Campbell earlier this year and includes a flight deck used to facilitate safe and realistic training for aircrews and ground operators before operating in overwater environments, in which the Black Hawk is often employed. The loss of personnel and equipment is a severe blow to the Screaming Eagles and the US military, one that will undoubtedly be felt throughout the armed forces. The incident also comes at a time when the military is under pressure to upgrade its ageing aircraft, especially its helicopters, some of which have been in operation since the 1970s. However, many senior military officials have previously reported that budget constraints are hampering the purchase and modernization of new aircraft, and the endless wars the US has been involved in since 2001 has resulted in many ageing aircraft needing urgent and expensive upgrades.