The US Coast Guard's HH-60 "Jayhawk" is based on the hugely successful Sikorsky Aircraft "S-70" rotary-wing model series that includes the US Army's ubiquitous UH-60 "Black Hawk" and the US Navy's SH-60 "Seahawk" transport helicopters. Categorized as a "medium range recovery platform", the HH-60 has more in common with the navy-minded SH-60 than the battlefield-minded UH-60 due to its inherent maritime capabilities. Such helicopters are called to serve most of their operational lives over unforgiving seas and over long ranges, requiring a certain level of robustness, reliability and ruggedness not found in commercial helicopter types. At least eight flight groups of the USCG make use of the HH-60 as of this writing and these originate from bases found coast to coast - from Alaska, Oregon and California to Massachusetts, North Carolina and Alabama.
For its intended role within the USCG, the HH-60 undertakes various sortie types that include enforcement of US and global maritime laws as well as Search & Rescue (SAR) operations - be they military, civilian or humanitarian in nature. Such USCG forces can also be tasked with counter-drug operations originating from locales in Latin and South America that attempt entry into the United States via the sea. USCG HH-60 helicopters can be launched from land bases or USCG vessels cleared for the accepting and launching of rotary-wing aircraft. External fuel stores help to further increase their operational ranges and loitering times over a target.
Work on a new USCG mount began in 1986 with development culminating in a first-flight being recorded on August 8th, 1989. Naturally, with the American military already having much operational experience with Sikorsky helicopters, Sikorsky Aircraft became the contracting activity. Modification of an existing model - in this case the SH-60 - allowed the USCG to procure new mounts on an economical and logistical basis. The new helicopter, christened the "HH-60J Jayhawk", was formally accepted into the USCG inventory in June of 1990, replacing outmoded HH-3 "Pelican" and CH-3 "Sea King" helicopters then in service. Production wrapped up after forty-two airframes were delivered, each at a unit cost of $17 million dollars. Since then, only two major variants of the HH-60 have existed, these being the original "HH-60J" production models and the follow-up "MH-60T" models. The HH-60J was delivered to the USCG between 1990 and 1996 while the MH-60T is born from these existing airframes, though officially armored and modernized with upgraded systems to help make them more effective platforms. The MH-60T program began in 2007 and is expected to commence in 2015 by which time the original HH-60J designation will be dropped from USCG nomenclature as all 42 existing models are intended for upgrade to MH-60T standard.
Unlike the HH-60J, however, the MH-60T upgrade also features the fitting of 1 x 7.62mm M240H general purpose machine gun along the starboard cabin door. The crew also has access to 1 x 12.7mm (.50 caliber) Barrett heavy sniper rifle, a large caliber weapon capable of semi-automatic repeating fire with armor penetration. Both weapons are suitable in the containment of belligerent vessels if need be and provide an armed presence usually lacking from similar coast guard type platforms. The MH-60T refit also provides existing HH-60 airframes with a modern "all-digital" cockpit as well as additional sensors and systems of greater power, flexibility and capability.
Externally, the Jayhawk mimics the design appearance of the other S-70 helicopter types in service with their forward-fitted, two-man cockpit and mid-set crew cabin. The cockpit is accessible via the main cabin or two automobile-style hinged doors found to either side of the cockpit. Outward visibility is key to the operations involving the HH-60 and the cockpit, therefore, sports large window panes as well as forward viewing ports along the cockpit floor sides. The cabin features large sliding doors for relatively easy entry/exit of crew or rescued personnel. The twin engine arrangement is mounted atop the conventional fuselage and power a four-bladed main rotor fitted to a short rotating mast and a four-bladed tail rotor offset to the starboard side of the aircraft. The nose assembly's design is slightly disrupted by a noticeable radar housing protrusion that is used for searches and a FLIR arrangement is optional. The empennage is set rather low on the fuselage, contouring from the underside and sporting a vertical stalk that houses the tail rotor. Horizontal planes are fitted to the base of the vertical tail fin at the extreme aft of the design. The undercarriage is fixed in place (non-retractable) and consists of a "reverse tricycle" layout featuring two single-wheeled main landing gear legs and a double-wheeled rear-set landing gear leg for a three-point stance. The rescue hoist system needed to pluck persons or debris from the water is fitted to the starboard side of the fuselage and rated up to 600lb. The hoist connects to the aircraft via a mount fitted above the side cabin door so as to not impede entry/exit. The HH-60 series is typically crewed by four personnel that includes two pilots and a pair of operations specialists that manage rescues. The crew must undoubtedly work in conjunction to be successful - particularly when lives are on the line. HH-60J/MH-60T helicopters are painted over in the highly recognizable US Coast Guard black-red-white scheme.
The HH-60J is fitted with a pair of General Electric brand T700-GE-401C series gasoline-fueled turbine engines, each delivering up to 1,890 shaft horsepower. This supplies the helicopter with a top speed of up to 205 miles per hour (lesser for cruising) as well as a range equal to 800 miles. The HH-60 is rated with a service ceiling of approximately 5,000 feet for their general operation will most likely take place as these lower levels. The aircraft measures a running length of 64 feet, 10 inches with a height of 17 feet and a full rotor diameter of 53 feet, 8 inches. Maximum take-off weight is listed at 21,884lb which increases nearly double from the aircraft's empty weight of 14,500lb. Three external fuel tanks - two fitted to port and one to starboard - can be added to the sides of the fuselage, thusly helping to increase the helicopter's inherent operational ranges.