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Pave low sits high at MOA

This Sikorsky MH-53M Super Jolly was assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron and one of its last combat missions was in Iraq in 2008. The aircraft flew to Robins in 2008 for retirement and display at the Museum of Aviation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ed Aspera)

This Sikorsky MH-53M Super Jolly was assigned to the 20th Expeditionary Special Operations Squadron and one of its last combat missions was in Iraq in 2008. The aircraft flew to Robins in 2008 for retirement and display at the Museum of Aviation. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ed Aspera)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BAE, Ga. -- Up on a pedestal, the aircraft looks like it could be hovering just as it did during missions. 

Visitors can walk beneath the 88-foot long aircraft or go up to the second floor in the Century of Flight Hangar at the Museum of Aviation to get a glimpse inside.

This helicopter, the Sikorsky MH-53M, most commonly known as the "Super Jolly" is the descendant of the HH-53 flown during the Vietnam War.

Used primarily as a search-and-rescue vehicle, the Pave Low's technology was "leading edge at the time," said retired Tech. Sgt. Eric Hudnall, a former flight engineer for the aircraft from 1995 to 2002.

Hudnall, who was stationed at Camp Eagle in Bosnia during the 1999 rescue of a downed F-117 pilot in Yugoslavia, flew with pararescuemen, Navy Seals and British Special Air Service members during his time with the Pave Low program. The helicopter could also drop people from 5 feet above the water, hovering at 5 knots, onto dingies known as "rubber ducks."

The aircraft flew in Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom before being retired at the museum in 2008.

Warner Robins Air Logistics Center was the maintenance depot for the Pave Low project while the aircraft was stationed at Hurlburt Field, Fla., with Air Force Special Operations Forces.

According to the book "That Others May Live, Pave Low III" by engineer Leo Anthony Gambone, with the Aeronautical Systems Division history office at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, the Pave Low program finished eight aircraft while staying within its original budget.

The Pave Low was designed to be flown in mountainous terrain, in all types of weather and at night in a contested environment, said Hudnall who currently serves as a program manager with the C-130 SOF program. It was equipped with forward-looking infrared sensors, GPS, Doppler radar navigation, terrain following and terrain-avoidance radar.

Because it was designed to go into areas not easily accessible, the Pave Low was able to be refueled in flight by an MC-130 tanker.

During missions, there were usually two pilots, a flight engineer and two gunners. The engineer sat between the pilots in the front.

Those who were interested in being a part of Pave Low were given numerous tests. The program was selective as to who was chosen.

"I'm very, very proud to have been a part of it," Hudnall said.


This is a recurring series featuring exhibits, aviation and other interesting items at the Museum of Aviation. The displays can be seen during a lunch break or after work and showcase the history of aviation. The Museum of Aviation tries to capture the Air Force legacy by incorporating each airplane's story into its displays.