White Sands Missile Range Army Air’s newly arrived helicopter, the Blackhawk UH-60, was recently christened with its first test recovery mission Dec. 5. The Blackhawk was used to recover the sounding rocket from the Dec. 4 Black Brant mission that took place at WSMR.
Art McKinney, WSMR aircraft dispatcher, said the use of the larger helicopter as opposed to the Huey UH-1 saved time and money by being able to carry larger loads, therefore reducing the number of trips.
A day after a mission is completed, Army aircrafts are sent out to collect the rocket debris to recover data for the test. John Young, program manager for the Black Brant mission, said this was the largest payload they’ve ever asked Army Air to recover. The Blackhawk was able to recover all of the pieces of the sounding rocket in three trips.
“This thing was so big that we had to break it down into three pieces. If we would have used a Huey we would have to break it down a lot more,” McKinney said.
The Blackhawks arrived at WSMR in August of this year and will replace the Hueys. The Hueys have been used by WSMR Army Air since the mid-60s. Overall, Young said he was pleased with how the Blackhawk performed during the mission. There is a price difference when flying a Blackhawk compared to a Huey. The cost for a Huey is $277 per hour versus the Blackhawk at $440 per hour. That’s $170 more per hour due to the fact that the Blackhawk has two engines instead of one, and that the Blackhawk requires two pilots fly at all times. However, the Blackhawk has the capability to carry more and reach higher speeds.
“There is a cost difference, but there are also some benefits. It’s bigger and can handle more weight. The Blackhawk was a real help in the recovery. This mission that we launched was the heaviest ever. It’s a bigger helicopter and it travels faster. It made up some of the costs in the speed of the aircraft,” Young said.
The Blackhawk also provided recovery assistance during the Dec. 10 Juno mission in Gallup. WSMR Pilot Todd Larson said it was truly beneficial to have a heavier aircraft like the Blackhawk rather than the smaller Huey because the winds were high the day of the recovery and they were flying at a higher altitude of 8,500 feet.
“The winds were pretty strong that day…it would have been quite interesting in a Huey. It did real well,” Larson said.
Larson also said the Blackhawk was able to get the job done quicker due to its size. He said the recovery piece would have been broken down into at least two pieces in a Huey. The Blackhawk was able to carry and recover in one trip.
“It worked as advertised during the mission,” Larson said.
McKinney said another downside to using a Blackhawk is that it is harder to land the Blackhawk in smaller or confined areas due to its larger size.
Specifically, McKinney said there are some mountain landing areas that were commonly used as landing spots for Hueys that can no longer be used with a Blackhawk.
“You need more room for a Blackhawk. There are only a couple of spots where they don’t fit. Space wise it’s not beneficial, but it can lift more and haul more,” McKinney said.
Currently WSMR Army Air has received three Blackhawks. McKinney said they need a total of six Blackhawks and more trained pilots for the Blackhawks in order to officially retire the Hueys. Retirement of the Huey could come at any time.
“We’re hoping to be the last unit in the Army with Hueys,” McKinney said.