Earlier this month a critical rotor malfunction sent a National Guard Black Hawk helicopter plunging 6,000 feet to the ground in under a minute — an accident all three pilots miraculously walked away from.
After the main rotor failed on their UH-60 Black Hawk more than a mile in the air during a flight on Dec. 3 in South Carolina, two pilots and a passenger — also a pilot — managed to set the plummeting helicopter down in a field a couple miles southeast of Columbia near Fort Jackson.
National Guard state aviation officer Lt. Col. Andrew Batten told Army Times that the pilots experienced a loud bang and a heavy vibration mid-flight, which alerted them to the failed motor. They immediately set about using a process known as “autorotation” to glide the aircraft down.
To achieve autorotation, the pilots shifted the angle of the helicopter to push wind direction through the rotor blades instead of against them, preserving their existing momentum during descent. Upon reaching the ground the pilots pitched the Black Hawk up, maximizing air resistance and stalling the blades to drop the copter just above ground for a controlled crash.
“The nature of the emergency required them to take emergency action steps,” Batten said in the Army Times report. “In certain emergencies they are required to respond without hesitation. The steps are kind of beaten into us in our training, from flight school to advanced training on particular aircraft.”
The Black Hawk’s improvised, muddy, cornfield-landing site reportedly helped spare greater damage to the aircraft or serious injury to the pilots.
Batten said they suspect the aircraft failed as a result of a “mechanical issue,” and the Black Hawk was towed to McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, S.C., on Dec. 7 underneath a CH-47 Chinook helicopter.
The investigation into what caused the failure is ongoing and could take up to six months. In accordance with National Guard policy, the names of the pilots have not been released.