US State Department abandons seven CH-46Es in Kabul

Seven Boeing Vertol CH-46E Sea Knight helicopters operated by the US Department of State Air Wing (DoSAW) have been abandoned in Afghanistan. They had most recently been used on August 15 to ferry personnel evacuating the US Embassy in Kabul out to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport to board outbound flights.

Following a request on their status, a background statement provided to Key.Aero by a State Department official on August 25 said: “We can confirm that the Department left seven CH-46 helicopters behind in Afghanistan which were rendered inoperable. These helicopters were already being phased out of the Department’s inventory and were slated for eventual destruction due to age and supportability issues. As of August 15, 2021, the Department no longer operates any aircraft in Afghanistan.”

US State Dept CH-46E Sea Knight at US Embassy in Kabul 23-03-20 [US State Department/Ronny Przysucha]
US Department of State Air Wing CH-46E Sea Knight N431WR in the US Embassy compound in Kabul, Afghanistan, during then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit on March 23, 2020. Note the 7.62mm M240D machine gun in the forward cabin door and the decoy flare dispensers. This is most likely one of seven left behind after evacuating Embassy staff from that very same compound on August 15. US State Department/Ronny Przysucha

The elderly CH-46s are all former US Marine Corps (USMC) examples, which were extensively refurbished before entering DoSAW service from 2012. In 2018, there were 23 in the DoSAW inventory, but by August this year, only 11 were still officially registered to the Department of State, including those now left to their fate in Afghanistan. It is not known whether any of the other CH-46s remain operational, but it seems most likely that the majority are now out of service and the Kabul embassy evacuation could well have been their swansong.

The Sea Knight is the same type used by the USMC in the evacuation of the US Embassy following the fall of Saigon in South Vietnam in 1975. Coincidentally, one of the DoSAW CH-46Es used in the recent Kabul evacuation was N38TU, which was formerly BuAer 154038 with the USMC. This was one of the helicopters deployed on the USS Hancock (CV-19) in 1975 to support evacuation of Saigon in Operation Frequent Wind.

By Dave Allport