88th TES welcomes new HH-60Ws as operational testing kicks off

The US Air Force (USAF) announced on March 30 that the 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron (TES) at Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), Nevada, has launched the sustainment operational test process for the Sikorsky HH-60W Jolly Green II Combat Rescue Helicopter (CRH).

According to the USAF, the departure of the last HH-60W from Duke Field in Florida on March 22 signalled the end of the new CRH’s initial developmental test phase with the 413th Flight Test Squadron (FLTS) and marked the start of the type’s sustainment operational test series with the 88th TES at Nellis. The 88th has been involved in the USAF’s CRH programme since its inception and has supported developmental testing and operational evaluations while the Jolly Green IIs were stationed at Duke Field.

HH-60W departs Duke Field 22-03-22 [USAF/Dave Shelikoff]
This HH-60W Jolly Green II (serial 14-14480) prepares to depart Duke Field, Florida, for Nellis AFB, Nevada, on March 22, 2022. The new Jolly Green II will replace the HH-60G Pave Hawks currently operated by the 88th TES, whose mission is to provide battlefield-ready solutions to maximise the capabilities of the USAF’s Combat Search and Rescue force. USAF/Dave Shelikoff

Lt Col Andy Burns, an operations officer with the 413th FLTS, said: “The departure of the last HH-60W from Duke Field is a significant milestone for the 413th FLTS and the entire [CRH] programme… While it is bittersweet to see the helicopter depart, I am really excited to see the HH-60W programme transition to the Combat Search and Rescue Combined Test Force for the next phase in its development.”

In this new test phase, the first step for the 88th TES following the Jolly Green II’s arrival at Nellis will be to build further proficiency in the helicopter. By gaining a greater understanding of the platform, the unit will be able to develop specific tactics that take advantage of the HH-60W’s capability set.

Lt Col Keith Craine, commander of the 88th TES, added: “One of the most important new capabilities – and the thing that we will be developing the most tactics, techniques and procedures towards – is the ability to integrate on a digital level in a way we previously have not. It allows us to more effectively use the capabilities of other USAF assets to collect information on isolated personnel and penetrate more heavily defended areas.”

The first operational test event that the HH-60W is scheduled to participate in is Exercise Black Flag. During this event, the rotorcraft will be evaluated on its ability to integrate with Combat Air Forces (CAFs), which it will be responsible for supporting when fully operational. “The lessons learned and tactics developed in Black Flag will go a long way towards realising the increased combat capability offered by the HH-60W,” the USAF concluded.