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."