FR0811-UH-72A for US ArmyEADS delivers UH-72A Lakota to the US Army
By Karl Schwarz/Ted Carlson
Between Los Angeles and Las Vegas lies the "Box", the 2,600km2 National Training Center at which the US Army trains its soldiers for foreign missions. To deal with emergencies in the hot Mojave desert, the Air Ambulance Detachment is on standby in Fort Irwin. This is the first unit to be flying the latest army helicopter, the UH-72 Lakota. "We have achieved all our objectives regarding the changeover (from the UH-60A) and quickly adapted to the new helicopter," said the unit commander, Lieutenant Colonel Jose Bonilla, during a visit from FLUG REVUE. "Compared with the Black Hawk, the UH-72A's technology and cockpit equipment are superior, and with the aid of GPS we are now able to navigate more accurately. The autopilot reduces the pilot's workload considerably."
For Chief Warrant Officer 3 (CW3) Daron Hankins, the Lakota is even "the best IFR-capable helicopter in the Army. It offers an excellent situation display." But, "You have to be careful when you programme the navigation systems, otherwise there can be problems," adds CW3 Michael McKinney, the most experienced Lakota pilot, who already has 350 hours under his belt on this type. McKinney has also flown over 2,000 hours on the UH-60, which continued to be flown during the transition phase at the Air Ambulance Detachment to maintain the rescue service.
"We are on standby here the whole week, round-the-clock, and we have to be airborne within ten to 15 minutes of an alarm," explains Lieutenant Colonel Bonilla. As well as military missions, the unit also conducts civil emergency flights. "Once I had to follow a Ford Mustang, after the police had lost it in a chase," McKinney recalls. Another special task of the AAD is to provide two helicopters at Edwards AFB for shuttle landings. These are on hand with running engines so that they can respond rapidly to any possible incidents.
Last year the crews of the Air Ambulance Detachment also took part in the first field trials with the UH-72A. These were not as extensive as would be the case with a newly designed aircraft. After all, the Lakota is just a slightly modified, military version of the Eurocopter EC145 which has an established track record of some years serving as a rescue and police helicopter (for example, with the French Sécurité Civile).
Despite this, a few problems did surface during the flights in the hot desert. For example at a temperature of 35ºC and a density altitude of 1220m, the UH-72A did not manage the required payload of 570kg (or a 1,000kg underslung load). The very high temperatures in the cabin caused by the large transparencies and the heat given off by the avionics were also criticised. For safety reasons, the avionics equipment is not supposed to be operated for extended periods above 41ºC. Again, difficulties were encountered with patient care when two stretchers were taken along. Generally, there were complaints about the accommodation and layout of the medical equipment.
But overall, the test report completed in July 2007 was very positive about the UH-72A. 14 out of 18 defined utility missions were successfully demonstrated and on three out of the five rescue scenarios there were no problems. The report also praised the reliability, maintainability and availability of the Lakota, which exceeded requirements. Again, the compatibility of the radio systems with both military and civil standards was demonstrated.
The US Army therefore saw no reason to go back on its choice for the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH). In fact, the test team went on to recommend certain modifications, which have since been included in the programme. The UH-72A's will now be equipped with air conditioning, as is normal for the EC145 in civil applications. One extra military radio set is to be installed to enable parallel communication with several parties at once. There will also be some changes as regards the medical equipment. Finally, a particle separator for the engines has also been approved for some Lakotas. This should pay for itself by prolonging the service life of the Arriel 1E2. As a result of the changes, according to the GAO, the average programme unit helicopter price has risen from $5.02 million to $5.57 million (3.93 million).
According to the latest plans, the Army intends to acquire 345 Lakotas by 2017. They are part of the helicopter upgrade programme that was launched after the RAH-66 Comanche programme was cancelled in 2004. The plan is to use the Light Utility Helicopter to replace the old UH-1 and OH-58. At the same time they would like to free up more UH-60 Black Hawks from support tasks in the USA for deployment to the front in Iraq and Afghanistan. The UH-72A, which won the competition over its rivals, the Bell 412EP, the MD Helicopters MD 902 Explorer and the AgustaWestland (AW139), will take over homeland security tasks, medevac flights, passenger and material transportation and anti-drug enforcement missions.
The Lakotas are supplied from the Eurocopter plant at the "Golden Triangle" regional airport in Columbus, Mississippi. However, the first nine came from the German production line in Donauwörth. In a three-stage process, first the final assembly and then part of the component production are to be relocated to Columbus, where the workforce is due to be increased to around 330.
Up to four Lakotas per month will be delivered to the Army. About 200 aircraft are earmarked for the National Guard, which will use them to equip its six Aviation Security and Support Battalions. The first unit began its refurbishment in June. Meanwhile the training unit in Fort Indiantown has also received a few helicopters. A cockpit simulator from CAE is available there to assist with the conversion training. At the start of the programme, Eurocopter had taken over the task of training the pilots and mechanics in Grand Prairie, Texas.
Logistics support will continue to be provided by industry. To this end, Sikorsky subsidiary HSI has joined the team, which is headed up by EADS North America Defence Co. as prime contractor. For the European manufacturer, the LUH order was an important breakthrough into the American military market.
From FLUG REVUE 11/2008