Why Helicopter Missions in Afghanistan are Unusually Dangerous

Operation Champion Sword, in Khowst province, Afghanistan, Aug. 2, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Freire/ Released)

Operation Champion Sword, in Khowst province, Afghanistan, Aug. 2, 2009. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Freire/ Released)

Popular Mechaincs: A deadly day of helicopter accidents in Afghanistan highlights the risks rotorcraft crews face in and out of combat. Is the ride worth the risks?

Helicopters are powerful, fragile machines. They are used heavily every day in Afghanistan, and they stay in the war zone when troops rotate home. Mechanics do their best to keep them in good shape, but the tempo of operations and the conditions make crashes nearly inevitable. In a place like Afghanistan, the terrain is as deadly a foe as the armed enemy.

Helicopters provide some great advantages, but they are vulnerable. I’ve written before about The danger of helicopters:

The same vulnerabilities that attack choppers face make support choppers vulnerable. But despite these problems, the advantages that helicopters provide far outweigh the danger. Air transport has cut down on enemy opportunities to bomb roadways, making our supply lines far more secure. The ability to patrol (and pursue) from the air has undoubtedly contributed to our effort to limit insurgent attacks.

But helicopters remain fragile. And their operating environment and the severity of consequence that mishaps bring make them more than a little dangerous at times.

On that post, a commenter added:

I hate to point this out, but Murdoc, you need to stress one word in this article with a little more emphasis. That word is FRAGILE.

In Afghanistan, many of the risks helicopters bring are accentuated due to the environment.


  1. Flying in by a fixed wing aircraft that has rough airfield capability on a true rough field is even more dangerous. It’s an inevitable cost we need to pay – we have to fly helicopters – there really is no other choice.

    A tad of a silly article from popular mechanics to be fair – normally they suggest solutions. This is not a solution, just finger pointing for no reason.

  2. Fixed wing pilots sail through the air. Helicopter pilots beat the air into submission. Sometimes the air wins the fight, and that’s just the way it is. The more fights helicopters start with the air, the more the air will win.

  3. Hey to be fair everything’s delicate to some degree. Look even at tanks. It’s not so terrifically hard to throw a track, and then where are you.

    Walking that’s where.

  4. I think it was a special ops guy who once said “A helicopter is not an aircraft; it’s a bunch of parts that happen to be flying in close proximity.

    At least for the moment.”

  5. I’m surprised nobody else so far has mentioned that rotorcraft perform poorly at high altitudes, and that ALL of Afghanistan is at a very high altitude.

    It’s obvious that helicopters would be dangerous to fly in A-stan — does ANYBODY bother to study the flying conditions in the places we have to fight?

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