Near the end of the Cold War, in an operation that seems made for a major Hollywood movie, a U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy transport plane discreetly flew U.S. Army special operators (Night Stalkers) and a pair of MH-47D Chinooks from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment to the African country of Chad in order to steal one of the big attack choppers.
In the 1980s, the USSR Mil Mi-25 Hind-D, the export variant of the Mi-24 Hind helicopter was one of the most advanced helicopters in the world. Western intelligence desperately needed to get hands-on it.
An opportunity for such a look finally presented itself in the form of the discovery of a Libyan Mi-25 left behind in Chadian territory in 1987. In April 1987, a retreating, fully armed Libyan Air Force Mi-25 was captured by French and Chadian military troops after the crew abandoned the helicopter. The Hind was put in storage in Ouadi Doum.
The CIA, after confirming that such a helicopter did indeed exist at that particular location, quickly set its sights on recovering the helicopter. They decided to do it through covert operations.
After negotiating with the Chadian government through diplomatic channels, the CIA enlisted the Department of Defense’s help, and both began planning the extraction of the abandoned helicopter to American-controlled facilities, where it would be taken apart and analyzed in details.
On May 21, 1988, the U.S. military had ordered the start of the mission, known as Operation Mount Hope III, with the relatively simple objective of having the elite Army aviators get to northern Chad and extract a Mi-25 Hind D – the export designation for Mi-24. Libyan forces had abandoned the aircraft, and a host of other equipment, as they retreated after suffering a major defeat at the hands of the Chadian military under the leadership of then-President Hissen Habré.
The preparation phase began in in New Mexico. The dry, desert conditions would add a layer of realism to the training. CH-47 Chinooks from the 160th’s Echo Company were modified to bear the weight of the Hind-D
Practice commenced in dark, low-light conditions. Six large blivets of water weighing roughly the same as the Hind were strapped to the underside of a Chinook. The Night Stalkers flying the Chinook were then supposed to fly to a “Forward Support Base” after stopping twice to refuel. The first dry run went off without a hitch, so the next test was to strap an actual airframe similar to that of the Hind in terms of size and weight and perform the test run once again under the same conditions. The Night Stalkers once again proved themselves and their aircraft and in good time
On May 21, the order to execute Mount Hope III was handed down from the Oval Office, and the Night Stalkers immediately geared up, loading two Chinooks aboard a C-5 Galaxy heavy airlift jet, departing for Germany first, and later on to the Ndjamena airfield in southern Chad.
The Army was to temporarily deploy an ADVON (advanced echelon) scouting and reconnaissance team to the location for around two weeks to keep an eye out for enemy forces, who weren’t all that far away from the airfield.
The French government added their support to the mission by sending over a contingent of soldiers to cover the operation on the ground and a set of Mirage F.1 fighter jets to provide top cover for all aircraft involved. A C-130 Hercules tactical airlifter would land at one of the Forward Arming and Refueling Points (FARPs) to provide fuel for the Chinooks on their way back to the FSB during the mission.
After arriving at Ndjamena on June 10, Night Stalker pilots and crew unloaded their Chinooks from the gargantuan Galaxy.
On June 11th, they proceeded with the mission as they had previously planned. The mission would see the Night Stalkers fly over 500 nautical miles under the cover of darkness, and would then pick up the abandoned Hind right at daybreak. An advance team (Chalk 1) flew to Ouadi Doum to ensure that the site was relatively secured for the incoming Chalk 2 Chinook and to prep the Hind for removal.
Chalk 1, having been inserted at Ouadi Doum, cleared the location and quickly rigged the Hind for extraction while the Chalk 2 Chinook hovered close above, allowing for the team to sling-load the airframe to the waiting helicopter. Chalk 2 then left the area to return to Ndjamena. After covering Chalk 2’s extraction, Chalk 1 loaded up and got the hell out of Dodge.
Chalk 2 stopped twice to refuel, at one point on a French Foreign Legion airfield, rendezvousing with the Air Force C-130s at each location.
However, not long after stopping at FARP 2, the mission hit a slight snag in the form of an unanticipated 3000 ft sand storm. The Chinook bearing the weight of the Hind was now only 45 minutes out of home base.
Hauling ass, Chalk 2 reached Ndjamena just ahead of the storm, flying through near-zero visibility and setting down with little time to spare. Waiting for a little over 20 minutes in their helicopters for the storm to move onward, the Night Stalkers finally loaded their aircraft and their newly-acquired prize into the Galaxy they arrived in, and within 36 hours were back on American soil.
After 67 hours in-country, the mission was completed; an unmitigated success. Mount Hope III was also the very first major operation where the Night Stalkers used their CH-47s.
Unfortunately, we don’t know if any of 160th’s MH-47s have grabbed any more foreign aircraft covertly. Chinooks have certainly shown off their ability to carry helicopters and aircraft since the mission in Chad.
If the U.S. military needs to go out and snatch a helicopter again, the 160th is probably still up for the job. But if it needs more Hinds, it’d be much easier to just call up private firms in the United States now to get them.