Museum welcomes Seahawk

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Kenny Wilder
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Fri Jul 31, 2009 7:30 pm

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Museum welcomes Seahawk

'Venom 500' SH-60B has served Navy since 1986

Pensacola news Journal
Travis Griggs • tgriggs@pnj.com • July 31, 2009


A Navy helicopter thumped low over Pensacola on Wednesday, making its final flight before landing in the National Naval Aviation Museum's parking lot to take its place in history.

At a ceremony Thursday morning, the museum officially unveiled "Venom 500" an SH-60B Seahawk helicopter that has been in continuous duty with the Navy since 1986.

"This occasion is bittersweet," said Navy Cmdr. Stephen Banta, commander of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 48, the unit that owned the helicopter.

"Today we retire Venom 500 after 23 years of faithful service to the United States Navy. But we are thankful for the opportunity that the museum has provided, and we are honored that our community will now be represented in this museum."

The day before, Banta was aboard the helicopter as it landed in the museum's parking lot, blowing a cloud of dust and sand through a crowd of onlookers.

During its career, the helicopter flew more than 8,700 hours, first as a training aircraft, and later in a counter-submarine mission, flying off Navy destroyers and frigates.

It also did a stint in counter-narcotics, seizing 99 kilograms of cocaine after being deployed on the USS Boone in 1999.

Retired Navy Capt. Gregory Hoffman, director of Navy requirements for Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., which manufactured the helicopter, said the Navy is moving to a new version of the Seahawk with more advanced avionics and combat systems.

"This aircraft being retired today represents the entire community's transition to the MH-60R and where we are going in the future of Naval aviation," Hoffman said.

Hoffman said the SH-60B was a solid performer for the Navy.

"This aircraft was, literally, a game-changer for the United States Navy," Hoffman said. "This aircraft exceeded everyone's expectations, functionally, operationally and particularly from a tactical standpoint."

Hoffman also has a personal connection with the helicopter. According to an old log book entry, he flew the helicopter on Dec. 17, 1998 — an important day in his flying history.

"Not only is an aircraft I flew here in this museum ... but Dec. 17, 1998, just happened to be the 22nd anniversary of the day I got my wings right here in Pensacola," Hoffman said.

Retired Navy Capt. Bob Rasmussen, director of the National Naval Aviation Museum, said he was glad to be able to add the helicopter to the museum's collection.

"It's terrific,'' Rasmussen said. "It's great that this aircraft now is taking its rightful place here in this museum with all of the icons and greats of Naval aviation."
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