This past week I stayed in touch with American Helicopter Museum and I cannot wait to visit next weekend. This coming Sunday I am also going up to visit Worcester Polytechnic Institute for accepted students revisit day. I plan to attend WPI next fall and study aerospace engineering which is one reason I am researching this project currently. I plan to visit the aerospace engineering lab and ask questions related to the current situation with helicopter technology and its advances.
This week I am looking in depth at the role of the helicopter in the Iraq/Afghanistan War. The helicopter played a significant role in the Afghanistan war for many reasons involving the terrain that surrounded the warzones along with the strategies used on the ground by the enemies. There are minimal roads in Afghanistan making it easy to defend as the insurgent groups only needed to keep an eye on a few roads. A senior Army logistics officer commented on this situation stating, “We’re resupplying between 30% and 40% of our forward operating bases by air because we just can’t’ get to them on the ground.” It was also nearly impossible to try and conduct a surprise attack because it takes so long for the convoy to travel around on the few barren roads. The enemies would also set explosives along the roads as well making it even more hazardous. Because of this the helicopter is more than not the chosen way of approaching enemy territory and conducting missions or transporting troops. However, flying helicopters in Afghanistan was no easy task for the pilots. The insurgent did not have any substantial technology in terms of antiaircraft firepower so they could only aim using line of sight and hope to hit the United States helicopters. So the biggest problem for the pilots was the conditions they were flying in and terrain.
Some of the problems caused by the environment there was the high altitude flying wore down the engines a lot faster while the temperature difference in the mountains versus the towns caused damage to the gaskets and seals, and lastly the sand and other particles in the air slowly wear down the propellers and the engines while the dust also stops up the hydraulic lines that transport fuel from the gas tank to the main engine. All this sand and dust and dirt weigh down the helicopter as well reducing gas mileage and efficiency. Despite these deficiencies and issues, the helicopter played a versatile role in Afghanistan. Chinook helicopters were used to transport soldiers from base to the towns and other battle locations, while Black Hawks and Kiowa helicopters were used for searching for improvised explosive devices (IED) while also being a part of battle operations and delivering Special Forces troops.
The United States relied heavily on the helicopter and it was a risk because of the conditions. Between 2008 and 2009 the U.S. doubled the amount of helicopters stationed in Afghanistan. They were used often in the war and they were used 24/7 rotating different vehicles in and out all day and night. Despite its effectiveness against the enemy and its easy maneuverability, because of the terrain and conditions, crashes were inevitable.
Thanks for reading,