On May 2, four helicopters carrying two-dozen U.S. Navy SEALs snuck into Pakistan bound for Abottabad, flying low to avoid detection by radar (that was switched off anyway). Leading the way were a pair of Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks modified for extra stealth, including radar-absorbent coatings on their skin and tail rotors with extra blades, dampening the noise. These and other features were borrowed, analysts would later speculate, from the RAH 66 Comanche—a stealth helicopter prototype canceled by the Pentagon in 2004.
You know what happened next: The commandos landed inside Osama bin Laden’s compound before the occupants knew they were there. (Neighbors later reported they didn’t hear the choppers until they were on top of them.) But one of the Black Hawks lost lift upong take off, and clipped its tail on the wall of the compound. The SEALs blew it up before escaping, preventing the top-secret technology from falling into Pakistan’s hands. Or so they thought.
How a split-second stall in a top-secret chopper could lead to a new-and-improved Chinese stealth fighter and greatly alter the international arms race—in four easy steps.