Pave Low Know
For someone who loves aviation and military history, I basically have a dream job. I get to immerse myself in a world that I have been immersing myself in for years, only now I get paid to do it. You really can’t beat that. Working in a field that you love is truly a blessing. It is also a learning experience. When you take on something such as aviation or military history as a personal hobby, you are free to be as broad or as specific as you choose. Being involved in that same field on a professional level is another experience all together, albeit a positive one in my case.
With that in mind, if given the choice of an airframe to research and write about, the MH-53 would more than likely not have been my initial choice. My first love as a child was the F-15 Eagle. If asked now, I still prefer the Eagle, only in the E Strike model. The B-1B is also a favorite of mine. Simply put, I like jets and the noises they make. There is nothing wrong with helicopters. They are however, the anti-thesis of airplanes. There are two sayings that always come to my mind: “Helicopters don’t fly, they just beat the air into submission” and “A helicopter is a system of 10,000 moving parts all trying to move in opposite directions at the same time.” Now, I do have a running theory that the uglier an aircraft gets; the more bumps, bulges, protrusions and gizmos an aircraft has hanging off of or attached to it the more interesting its stories, history and purpose will be. This also seems to relate to age and use. The longer an airframe is in service the more bumps are added. Let’s be honest, what looks more interesting: a sleek and shiny, brand new out of the box F-15C or a pods hanging off every single nook, painted “ominous storm cloud gray”, ready to get down and dirty F-15E. The answer for me is obvious.
If this theory holds true, and I think it does, then the MH-53 Pave Low has to be one of the most interesting aircraft out there. I would shy from calling it ugly, simply because the functionality of all those bumps and bulges is nothing short of incredible. However, to call it beautiful in anything other than a respectful or ironic way would also be quite the stretch. Regardless of what you think of the looks, the MH-53 is a remarkable helicopter. The Pave Low at the Museum of Aviation is a MH-53M Pave Low IV, tail number 70-1626. The airframe itself has a unique history, being involved in Air Force Special Operations from the Mayaguez Incident up until Operation Iraqi Freedom. However impressive you find this history, the real story behind 626 is of the people who flew, crewed and maintained it.
Sadly the first thing that comes to mind for many people now when they hear “Pave Low” is either the movie Transformers or the game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. One thing we want to do here as we develop an exhibit around 626 is tell the personal stories that bring her history to life and separate her from those fictional representations. The collections team and I have been researching for the exhibit based around 626 for about two months now and we have already heard some great stories from former crew members. As research on this project progresses I look forward to sharing more about our plans for the exhibit, and some of the stories that we collect. If you know of anyone who spent time with 626, Air Force Special Operations or has any connections to the Pave Low community, we would love to hear from you or them. Until next time, here are some photos of 626 at various stages of her years of service.
626 as a CH-53C in Germany, 1980. This was before her conversion to a Pave Low. Photo by Manfred Faber.
626 as she now rests, 15 feet in the air in the Century of Flight Hangar at the Museum of Aviation.