Lakotas mark transition in Army aviation
By Lindy Dinklage/Fort Eustis Public Affairs
FORT EUSTIS, Va. (TRADOC News Service, Oct. 15, 2007) -- The Training and Doctrine Command Flight Detachment became the second Army unit to receive the new UH-72 “Lakota” July 10. A replacement for the UH-60 Black Hawk for continental United States missions, the Lakota marks a major development in Army avionics as the first civilian-made helicopter to be used by the Army.
“The Black Hawks are needed in our deployable units,” said Chief Warrant Officer Greg Lloyd. “They’re being taken out of the units that aren’t deploying and are going directly to our warfighting units. The Lakota then steps in to complete the missions that were done by the Black Hawk.”
After two months of instruction and orientation, the Lakotas will step into full-time service within the coming weeks, with the unit’s Black Hawk helicopters making a quick exit to assist deploying units. The decision to replace the hard working military chopper with a lighter, smaller civilian aircraft was based on a combination of unit needs and fiscal conservatism.
“General [Richard] Cody was the force behind the effort to find an aircraft more suitable for homeland security efforts, something tailored more specifically to Medical Department Activity, National Guard response and the variety of homeland, CONUS based missions,” said Lloyd. “They tested out a number of different aircraft and then selected the civilian aircraft that best met their requirements.”
The UH-72 Lakota marks the first Army helicopter to be procured from the civilian assembly line, rather than being produced specifically for military means. Being able to purchase the new helicopters “off the shelf” rather than waiting through the lengthy design and production stages has greatly expedited the ability of the aircraft to get directly to the unit. Lloyd foresees other benefits from the civilian procurement.
“They’re much more versatile, because when the Army is done using them they can be sold commercially, unlike the Black Hawks which don’t have that same option of being sold back into the civilian market.”
In addition, the Lakota brings a huge savings in operational costs. The Lakota uses half as much gas as the Black Hawk, but goes farther. In addition, the aircraft are maintained by a civilian contract.
“We ensure that the contract is maintained and facilitate the relationship between the civilian contractors and pilots,” said Chief Warrant Officer Steve Yatkowski, former Blackhawk maintainer and now a contracting officer representative for the UH-72. “The contract provides full contracted logistical support, making this a turn-key operation for us. It’s almost like having a rental car, which is obviously very handy for the pilot.”
Four maintainers are included in the contract for the aircraft, which includes parts, repair and ensuring the aircraft is up to standards. Because it is a civilian rather than a military aircraft, it must remain up to all civilian and FAA aviation standards. According to Yatkowski, not having to worry about maintenance means the unit no longer needs to provide manpower for production control, quality control and maintenance, freeing up Soldiers for other missions and decreasing the burden on the unit.
The Lakota’s ability to save resources, money and manpower may prove to be a model for future procurement efforts, paving the way for other uses of civilian machinery to complete Army missions.
“It’s a different philosophy for the Army to procure aircraft in this way,” said Lloyd. The Comache was a decade long effort, and by the time the aircraft was designed and ready for production, it was already outdated, and the program was cancelled after a cost of millions of dollars. This new effort, looking commercially, has the Army functioning the way a civilian operation would when they needed a new product to accomplish a job.”
The lighter, newer Lakota offers a number of advantages to assist the TRADOC flight detachment, whose primary mission includes flying TRADOC leadership to meetings at the Pentagon and other official military functions. According to Lloyd, the ease of operation is a great asset when flying back and forth through Washington, D.C.’s congested and highly restricted airspace.
The Lakota is equipped with a modern glass cockpit including fully automated navigation, communication and GPS, as well as autopilot and night vision capabilities. When comparing the cockpit of the Lakota and Black Hawk it is easy to see the streamlined effect of the Lakota’s modern capabilities. Much smaller in size, the Lakota’s cockpit puts updated technology in a tight package. In order to learn the ins and outs of the aircraft, the instructors of TFD spent several weeks training on the Lakota in order to pass along that knowledge to the other pilots of the detachment.“I’m a Black Hawk pilot, but now I’m dual track, along with everyone else in the unit,” said Chief Warrant Officer Jason Luker, who has been training on the Lakota since it arrived. “The auto pilot takes a lot of the work load off of the pilot, but in the initial stages it can be harder, too. There’s more stuff, which can be distracting if you’re new to it. It’s like going from an older model car to a newer, fancier model. You’re used to all of the simple gauges, and now they’re digitalized. But, once you learn it, it’s definitely easier and nicer to fly.”