Warplanes: Blackwaters Little Birds


March 7, 2007: Last month, Blackwater, the U.S. security firm, lost its first helicopter in Iraq. Blackwater flies the civilian version of the military OH-6 scout helicopter. There is also a MH-6 version used by SOCOM (Special Operations Command). The MD-369 weighs 1.6 tons and can carry four people. Blackwater 369s are painted black, with no markings, and normally go into action with a crew of four (pilot, copilot and two gunners who hang out the door, armed with assault rifles and secured with a harness.). The Blackwater "Little Birds" operate as top cover on security missions, and as the airborne part of rapid reaction forces. They will also go to the aid of military personnel in trouble, but normally just look after their own clients (which include American diplomatic personnel and senior Iraqi officials.) The 369s are quiet, have a top speed of 280 kilometers an hour, and usually stay in the air about 100 minutes per sortie.

Blackwater won't say how many 369s they have in Iraq, but it appears to be more than a dozen, because they are seen in the air often over the city. The crews and maintenance personnel are mostly former military, and work 60 days in Iraq, then 30 days off. Pay is good, with the flight crews making over $100,000 a year. The MD-369 is part of the MD-500 family of helicopters, and it's military nickname is "little bird."


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