A new breed of helicopters will be taking over White Sands Missile Range’s Army Air before the end of the year. Six Blackhawk UH-60s, which have larger engines and can hold a larger payload, have already replaced the UH-1 Huey and the UH-72 Lakota and are projected to be in the air by November. The transition is as a result of the recent Aviation Restructure Initiative that was signed into effect in April 2014 Army wide.
“We’re looking forward to the challenges of the transition,” said WSMR Army Air Director J.D. Edwards. “We’re taking a disciplined approach and we’re not going to do anything until we’re ready to.”
The Blackhawks serve as an ideal flight tool for pilots with diverse missions throughout WSMR. With missions that sometimes consist of carrying heavy and lengthy payloads, WSMR Instructor Pilot Dan Kirby said the Blackhawk will serve as a great benefit to the installation. WSMR Instructor Pilot Todd Larson said the new vehicle will also provide more room for personnel for missions like range tours.
“The Blackhawk will allow us to operate those missions safely,” Kirby said.
“We want to exploit its strengths,” Edwards added.
Edwards said the pilots will take their time to train on the new helicopters in order to gain familiarity with the new helicopters. Most pilots have extensive experience with the Huey’s and minimal experience with the Blackhawks. Kirby and Larson will be conducting training sessions for the new aircraft. Larson has six years of experience flying the Blackhawk and Kirby has 10 years of experience.
“We’re taking the crawl, walk, run approach. We’ll start from the simple things and progress from there,” Kirby said. “The longer we use it, the better we’ll get at it.”
Kirby said training will consist of individual tasks. Once the individual tasks are complete the pilots can begin operation missions.
Some of the missions Army Air conducts include search and recovery, range sweeps, captive flight tests, GPS airborne jamming, sling load missions, and range tours.
WSMR Flight Engineer Randy Gillespie said the transition will be a major learning experience for him as he has been flying the Huey since he arrived at WSMR in 1988. Though Gillespie said he appreciates the new strength in capabilities, he knows it will take some time to adjust.
“This is all a learning experience for me,” Gillespie said. “This is going to take a lot of learning.”
Currently, WSMR is still home to four Lakotas and four Hueys. The Lakotas will be transferred to Fort Rucker, Alabama, where they will be used as a training platform, once the WSMR pilots are comfortable enough to use the Blackhawk for day-to-day missions. A new home for the Huey is yet to be determined.
Edwards said it will be difficult to say goodbye to the Hueys as WSMR is one of the homes to the few remaining Hueys. WSMR owns four of the remaining 19 Hueys throughout the entire Army.
“I have never seen so many grown men cry,” Edwards said of the idea of retiring Hueys.
Some pitfalls the pilots will have to work around is that with the ability to carry more, the vehicle is then much larger than a Huey. Gillespie said one of the issues they are trying to find a solution for is not being able to fit in their usual landing areas. Another issue is Blackhawks are much noisier than Hueys and provide more “rotor wash” or dust when they land. Kirby said a major component of the training, due to the desert terrain, will be to teach the pilots how to reduce the amount of “rotor wash” when landing and increase visibility.
“Out here in the desert it’s a major hazard. Minimizing the impact will be an important part of the training,” Kirby said.