Helicopter Evacuation: 1990s & Later

Rapid evacuation of the wounded from Vietnam's battlefields by helicopters (MedEvac), followed by jet transport Aeromedical Evacuation (AE), saved many lives. This lesson, and others from air assault and transport, consolidated the role of vertical lift helicopters in the Army and Marine Corps.

A US Army OH-58A Kiowa helicopter receives a South Carolina Army National Guard soldier, during a training evacuation scenario by members of the 20th Emergency Medical Evacuation Dental Squadron, Shaw AFB, SC, 31 January 2002
A US Army OH-58A Kiowa helicopter receives a South Carolina Army National Guard soldier, during a training evacuation scenario by members of the 20th Emergency Medical Evacuation Dental Squadron, Shaw AFB, SC, 31 January 2002.

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Evolution of Ground Support Aviation and MedEvac

Following the Vietnam War, new or radically modified aircraft were adopted from the late 1970s into the mid-1980s. These included the UH-60 Blackhawk, AH-64 Apache, the CH-47D Chinook, and the OH-58D Kiowa. The increasing importance of aviation to ground combat was recognized by the establishment of Army Aviation as a separate branch on 12 April 1983 and the opening of Aviation Officer courses at Fort Rucker in 1984 with NCO courses and other training added in the following years.

Navy Corpsmen transporting wounded from an Army Medical Evacuation UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to waiting M997 HMMWV Ambulance during Seabee and Marine medical evacuation training, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, Camp 93, Kuwait, 22 April 2003
Navy Corpsmen transporting wounded from an Army Medical Evacuation UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to waiting M997 HMMWV Ambulance during Seabee and Marine medical evacuation training, Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 5, Camp 93, Kuwait, 22 April 2003.

In 1988, the Army Aviation Modernization Plan was given final approval and implemented, a plan that called for a gradual reduction in the number of Army aircraft as older models were replaced by modern ones. Aircraft that appeared during the late 1980s and early 1990s included the armed OH-58D Kiowa Warrior and the new TH-67 Creek training helicopter.

Army Aviation's role of providing the indispensable vertical dimension to the modern battlefield has become universally recognized. For example, during operations in Grenada, Panama, and the Persian Gulf region, Army Aviation played major and decisive roles.

The decreased military budgets following the end of the Cold War forced Army Aviation to downsize with the rest of the Army while operations from Desert Storm to Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom showed the versatility and flexibility of Army Aviation. From peacekeeping operations in the Balkans to Afghanistan and Iraq, the qualities that caused the creation of organic Army Aviation in 1942 have been reaffirmed. These qualities included the responsiveness to the needs of the ground commander and commitment to the soldier in the ground fight. At the same time, Army Aviation - including Army Special Operations Aviation - has played vital and ever-expanding roles across the spectrum of Joint and Combined operations.

Use of MedEvac Helicopters in the 1990s and Later

The U.S. military evolved from having relatively many platform and models in inventory to standardizing on a small number of airframes for all purposes. Advanced MedEvac helicopters have been developed as variants of the basic utility helicopter, the UH-60 Blackhawk.

By the early 1990s the UH-60A Blackhawk was standard platform for use as a MedEvac helicopter and it was used in that capacity in Operation Desert Storm. However, about 75 percent of the MedEvac helicopters serving in Desert Storm were still the Vietnam-era UH-1 Iroquois (Huey). The UH-1 Huey's were gradually phased out of the regular Army during the 1990s but even in the early 2000s many Reserve and National Guard units were still flying UH-1V MedEvac Hueys while waiting to be upgraded to UH-60 Blackhawks.

The UH-60 Blackhawk has spawned a number of specialized variants, tailored to MedEvac purposes with life-sustaining medical equipment installed in the cabin and performance upgrades to increase capacity while reducing transit time. The UH-60 Blackhawk page provides more details of the MedEvac variants with photos.

Recommended Book about Military Helicopters

Find More Information on the Internet

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