New Video Shows Night Stalker Little Bird Helicopters With Rare Modifications

The novel enhancement gives the Little Bird a critical range extension while still allowing it to execute its core mission unimpeded. 

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The U.S. Army Special Operations Command has posted a new video promoting its famed 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, better known as the Night Stalkers. The short montage of clips includes a backlit shot of four MH-6M Little Birds flying together as is extremely common for the type and the elite unit they fly with as well as a quick close up of a MH-6 approaching the camera. What's different are the large bulges attached to their sides. This is where a plank used to externally airlift special operators is usually fitted or where weapons mounts are attached in the case of the AH-6M attack-configured Little Birds, but that's not the case here. 

What we are seeing in the video seems to be an extremely uncommon sight on the 160th's Little Birds. It is a novel external fuel tank design by Robertson Fuel Systems. 

They are officially called Improved Conformal Equipment, or ICE, and have come in progressively refined form. The tanks carry roughly 30 extra gallons of jet fuel, giving the helicopters about 160 miles of additional range—roughly a 62% increase over the regular MH-6 configuration—when two of the tanks are fitted. 

Robertson Fuel Systems

The ICE tanks weigh 125 pounds and can be fitted in just 10 minutes in true 160th Little Bird fashion. These helicopters are meant to be transported in groups by any U.S. military airlifter and be unloaded and ready to fly within minutes, not hours, even at austere locations. Most importantly, the tanks retain the MH-6's ability to carry three operators externally on the side they are mounted. So, the core mission of the MH-6 isn't impacted by the tanks being fitted.

Robertson Fuel Systems

Little Birds are amazing flying machines and nobody, and I mean nobody, flies them like the 160th SOAR. Citizens in cities around the U.S. have gotten glimpses of just how insanely maneuverable these little helicopters are and how talented the pilots are at their controls. But what they aren't known for is long range. These tanks offer a lot of flexibility without a huge penalty and some missions probably couldn't be accomplished without them, at least not without risking additional forces in the form of setting up a forward arming and refueling point. Being able to eliminate this requirement for some missions is a huge advantage and just giving MH-6 crews more margin for the unknown during missions can be equally beneficial.

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After many decades of operations, and doing some very clandestine work in some really rough neighborhoods, the adaptability of the magnificent Little Bird continues to impress. 

Uncle Sam really gets his money worth with these aircraft and their brave pilots. 

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com