Black Hawks to Ukraine

Popular Mechanics
  • Ukraine’s intelligence service is operating at least two American-made UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters.
  • GUR has operated one Black Hawk for a year, but a second recently made an appearance in a social media video.
  • Western governments have not directly supplied NATO helicopters to Ukraine, meaning Kyiv acquired them privately.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

The shadowy agency that controls Ukraine’s spies now flies at least two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. In response to rumors that one of the GUR intelligence service’s UH-60s had been shot down, the agency released a new video that showed not one but two of the American-made helocopters. How Ukraine got its hands on any Black Hawks at all is not clear.

Proof of Life

ukrainian mi 8 helicopters are waiting for a combat sortie in donetsk oblast
Global Images Ukraine//Getty Images
Most of Ukraine’s helicopters, such as this Mi-8 armed with S-5 rocket pods, are more than thirty years old, built by the Soviet Union.

The story started last week on Telegram, when Russian military blogger Yevgeniy Poddubniy posted a video of what he described as a Ukrainian Armed Forces helicopter that had been shot down on the border between the two countries. Poddubniy described the helicopter as a “American-made UH-60 or (Soviet-made) Mi-24.”


RELATED STORY

At the time, only one UH-60 was known to fly in Ukrainian service—one flown by GUR, the national intelligence service. In response, GUR posted the following video showing not only one, but two working Black Hawk helicopters. Each has a blue and yellow Ukrainian aviation roundel and a large Ukrainian flag on the side sliding doors.

MORE FROM POPULAR MECHANICS
U.S. Army Corps Dredge Mississippi Saltwater Wedge
 
 
Current Time 0:08
Loaded32.96%
 
 
Remaining Time -2:27
 
 
preview for Military Section Watch Next Playlist
This content is imported from x. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.
Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

As a spy agency, GUR is notoriously clever in their use of social media. The video not only refuted the allegation the UH-60 was shot down, but shows two helicopters without explanation. This prompts all sorts of uneasy questions for Russia, such as: what are the helicopters used for? How did they get to Ukraine? And, maybe most importantly, exactly just how many Black Hawks does Ukraine have?

Sourcing Black Hawks

helicopters depart grenada
Historical//Getty Images
The Black Hawk made its combat debut in the invasion of Grenada, October 1983.

In February of 2023, GUR revealed that it operated a Black Hawk helicopter by placing it in the background of a photo without explanation. The United States and other donors have not supplied any Black Hawks to Ukraine, so the question was: how did it get there?

The helicopter’s registration code, N60FW, tracked back to Alabama-based Ace Aeronautics. In April of 2023, ABC News reported Ukraine had raised $6 million to purchase the plane “from a private seller”, which was apparently Ace Aeronautics or an intermediary between the company and the Ukrainian government.

In 2022, the company posted a video of the actual helicopter below.

This content is imported from x. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

The aircraft is listed in the Federal Aviation Administration’s registry as a UH-60A, the original Black Hawk variant flown by the U.S. Army. The UH-60A medium lift helicopter began replacing the Vietnam-era UH-1 “Huey” helicopter in the early 1980s and first saw action in the 1983 invasion of Grenada. The -A model had a crew of four, carried 11 troops or two tons of cargo internally, had a top speed of 184 miles an hour, and a range of 368 miles.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

RELATED STORY

The Army began divesting itself of UH-60A helicopters in the early 2010s, replaced them with newer UH-60M and refurbished older models brought to the UH-60V standard. Since 2012, U.S. Army Redstone Arsenal’s Black Hawk Exchange and Sales Team has released nearly 550 UH-60s from Army service. Those helicopters not snapped up by other government agencies are put on the commercial aircraft market, with the proceeds of the sales going to fund the purchase of new Army helicopters.

Two or…?

czech ukraine russia war fundraising
MICHAL CIZEK//Getty Images
"Cestmir" parked at Letna Park during the presentation of the "Gift for Putin" project in Prague, Czech Republic on November 17, 2023. The fundraising for the helicopter fell short of the target and it is unclear if it was ultimately procured.

Where did Ukraine’s second Black Hawk come from? Florida’s JetLease is advertising five UH-60s for sale, including new UH-60Ls, while Helitrader advertises another five. The helicopters are out there, if Ukraine can find the money to purchase them.

There are also private efforts outside Ukraine meant to source a Black Hawk for the country’s military. Weapons to Ukraine, Czechia’s largest fundraiser for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, has raised more than $1.6 million to purchase a used Black Hawk it has named “Cestmir”. The nonprofit claims that it needs $4.5 million. According to Key Aero, the helicopters typically sell for $500,000 to $1 million, but total acquisition costs can reach $3.5 million.

The question everyone wants to know is: just how many Black Hawks does Ukraine have? GUR has revealed it has two, but it is distinctly possible it operates more. As #2’s reveal makes clear, Ukraine’s spies will likely keep additional helicopters—if they exist—in the shadows until it can gain some advantage by revealing them.

Headshot of Kyle Mizokami

Kyle Mizokami is a writer on defense and security issues and has been at Popular Mechanics since 2015. If it involves explosions or projectiles, he's generally in favor of it. Kyle’s articles have appeared at The Daily Beast, U.S. Naval Institute News, The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, Combat Aircraft Monthly, VICE News, and others. He lives in San Francisco