Air force colonel offers tips for army helicopter pilots

Read Armed Forces Journal for an extraordinary article in which a US Air Force colonel attempts to explain to army pilots how they should be flying their helicopters in Iraq.

(That thundering sound you hear right now is the mob of club-wielding army pilots en route to the good air force colonel’s office to register a few of their intellectual objections to his considered opinions.)

The most extraordinary thing about the article is that the air force guy — Colonel Jim Slife — may actually be right. His point is that army helicopters are using the wrong tactics — flying low and fast — to answer the shoulder-fired missile threat in Iraq. Slife says there are four reasons to make helicopters fly at high altitude. They are: MANPADS envelope is reduced by 20% to 30%, helicopter pilot has four more seconds of reaction time, the pilot also has more energy with which to maneuver and using low power at high altitudes reduces infrared signature.

Slife adds: “Some elements of the US military have begun to employ high-altitude helicopter tactics with great success.” Hmmm: I wonder which elements of the US military that the air force colonel is referring to?

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7 Responses to Air force colonel offers tips for army helicopter pilots

  1. HerkEng 1 July, 2007 at 5:30 pm #

    Col. Jim Slife is a career special operations helicopter pilot in the Air Force.

    You have to remember that the USAF has some of the best Helicopter pilots out there. AFSOC plays hard with its MH-53s and if you remember, it was the USAF’s helicopters and crews that allowed the US Army’s helicopters to even get into Iraq in the first gulf war :) The Army did not have that capability or experience at that time.

  2. J. 3 July, 2007 at 6:13 pm #

    Hey when we need a zoomie’s advice, we’ll beat it out of him. What about the more common threat of AK-47 rifles and heavier AA (20mm) guns? Minimize the target profile.

  3. HerkEng 5 July, 2007 at 8:01 pm #

    The Apache wouldn’t have even made it into battle without Air Force helicopter pilots ;)

  4. Brian 4 August, 2008 at 1:26 am #

    I read his article, but it just isn’t useful. When your legs are short, say 20nm (thats about 10 minutes of flight), and you can only average 1000fpm rate of climb to his recommended altitude AGL, and the terrain altitude is already a mile high )which reduces performance further), how does he expect anyone to use his criteria for most of what we must do? And even if a helicopter pilot DID see a missile attack, what makes him think that anything a cargo-burdened helicopter could do (while flying at reduced VNE at high altitude) would confuse a missile travelling at 1500 knots? Plus, all the time it takes to climb to that altitude is time solidly in the threat envelope, flying at reduced speed at Vy. Lastly, I seriously doubt the missile circuitry cares if the exhaust stack gas is 900 Centigrade or 800 Centigrade – the missile will still track the exhaust. Sorry, I don’t know WHO this author really is, and I doubt his veracity as a helicopter pilot. I think he is just a well-read armchair enthusiast sitting comfortably at home….

  5. MH-53 Gunner 16 October, 2009 at 7:03 pm #

    To all of you nay sayer, I personally flew with Col Slife. I have to admit when first posed with high altitude ops it sounded far fetched, but I saw the tactic work as advertised. Flying the MH-53 at 8,000 ft kept us out of the small arms range, as well as RPGs, and it indeed gave us the extra time to counter MANPADS. As for the comment of Col Slife’ verasity as a helo pilot and being a well read airchair enthusiast sitting at home, you are saddly mistaken. While most people were watching the Shock and Awe campaign begin, Col Slife led 12 MH-53s into Iraqi infiling Army SF the night prior in near zero vis while air refueling. Now keep in mind, what works for one airframe, may not be ideal for another. Especially if your airframe doesn’t have the legs for it…

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