Blackhawk pilot's quick thinking credited in raid

THE PENTAGON - Surprise was a key element in the raid that brought Navy SEALs to kill Osama bin Laden's at his compound in Pakistan. Stealth helicopters helped the Americans get in undetected.

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The SEALs did the shooting inside bin Laden's compound, but an elite Army unit called Task Force 160 flew them there and back, and the pilot of one of the Blackhawk helicopters may have been the difference between success and failure, CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports.

The SEALs were about to fast rope into the courtyard in front of bin Laden's house when the Blackhawk lost lift. Imagine what would have happened if it had crashed into the courtyard with all its SEALs still aboard.

Chris Marvin doesn't have to imagine. It happened to him in Afghanistan.

"How close did he come? As close as any helicopter pilot can, maybe closer," said Marvin, "but he had or she had the talent and skill level to land the aircraft safely and let everybody off without injuries."

During the mission early Monday morning in Pakistan, the pilot nudged the Blackhawk forward into a controlled crash but sheered off its tail section. The SEALs were able to continue with their mission and, before they left, blew up as much of the Blackhawk as they could but had to leave the tail section intact.

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That gave aviation expert Bill Sweetman his first good look at a stealth helicopter.

"I think nobody outside the classified community really knew these existed," Sweetman said.

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Sweetman points out some of the features that make it stealthy, like the cover over the tail rotor hub.

"What that is there for is to reduce the radar signature, the radar reflections from the hub," he said.

The tail rotor has more than the usual number of blades, which evens out the distinctive wop-wop sound of a helicopter.

"So a range of a couple hundred feet, even if you've got a bit of urban background noise, you're not going to hear it," Sweetman said.

The Pakistanis hauled the tail section away, so now the secret of the stealth helicopter is blown.

"We lost one aircraft," said Marvin. "That's better than one life for sure."

Still, the Pentagon wants what's left of its helicopter back and has asked Pakistan to return it.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News' National Security Correspondent.

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