Jolly Green II completes extreme climate trials

A Sikorsky HH-60W Jolly Green II – the US Air Force’s (USAF’s) newest combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter – has completed a month-long trial, pushing the platform through extreme weather conditions.

The test – which concluded on April 2 – took place inside the McKinley Climatic Laboratory at Eglin Air Force Base (AFB), Florida. During which, the Sikorsky test aircraft endured temperatures ranging from 120°F to -60°F, along with 45mph winds coupled with heavy rainfall. The purpose of these extreme tests were to prove that the USAF’s new helicopter can sustain any operational environment.

Lt Col Ryan Coates, a pilot with the 88th Test and Evaluation Squadron (88th TES), said: “Operating the HH-60W in the extreme conditions was a truly unique experience as a pilot and a tester… Checking system performance under the stress of heat, cold, heavy wind and rain will give us real-world data regarding the helicopter’s capability to perform the rescue mission worldwide in various environments, which is exactly what the operator needs to make solid employment decisions.”

HH-60W Climatic Tests [USAF/Samuel King Jr] #1
The HH-60W endures freezing temperatures of up to -60°F at the McKinley Climatic Laboratory on March 19. USAF/Samuel King Jr

During the tests, lab technicians created extreme weather environments, and the aircrew would enter the aircraft and perform various tests. For example, the helicopter’s crew would execute their pre-flight checks and additional tasks to see if the platform’s avionics, electronics, engine and other systems were affected by the extreme conditions. The aircrew themselves were also tested, with their movements and reactions being evaluated in these generated environments. As pilot gear is different depending on the environment, such as thicker cold-weather gear, ensuring that pilots could easily reach all of the controls was also evaluated.

As part of the test, laboratory technicians created a system specifically for the HH-60W to remove the helicopter’s exhaust – a removal process which is a critical part of maintaining the controlled temperature conditions needed for chamber testing. The Jolly Green II’s rotor blades were also removed for the duration of the testing and the laboratory’s in-house fabrication shop also produced specially designed brackets for the aircraft’s weapons and other items.

Lt Col Wayne Dirkes, 413th Flight Test Squadron (413th FLTS) operations officer, said: “Testing on the combat rescue helicopter continued amidst the chaos of COVID-19… While the situation could change at any moment, we have not lost any test schedule thus far. That is a testament to the entire team’s attitude and willingness to work through challenges.”

After concluding the test, the HH-60W was returned to Sikorsky’s test facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, for further evaluation.