Army Suggester of the Year: improvement 'a team effort'
CW4 James Lemons, F Co., 1st Bn., 212th Avn. Regt. UH-60M maintenance test pilot course track chief, demonstrates the current ballistic armor wing panels sliding mechanism on the UH-60 Black Hawk at Lowe Army Heliport March 28.

FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- Army UH-60 Black Hawk pilots will soon have better protection while flying or on the ground thanks to the Army's Suggesters of the Year.

CW 4s Merle Goodall, TF Eagle Assault Black Hawk standardization instructor pilot at Fort Campbell, Ky., and Fort Rucker's James Lemons, F Company, 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment UH-60M maintenance test pilot course track chief, made the suggestion to redesign the pilot's ballistic armor wing panels on the UH-60 Black Hawk while deployed together in Iraq in 2006.

"The overall design is still the same," Lemons said. "It was brought to my and Goodall's attention that, in a combat zone, pilots weren't flying with the sliding armor panel in the forward position. The problem for them was that sliding mechanism for the panel was jamming."

During a crash scenario, the panel being in the forward position made it harder for the pilots to get out of the helicopter because of the armor panel release mechanism, Lemons continued. Leaving the panel in the back position made pilots more vulnerable to small-arms fire, so something had to be done. The team suggested moving the release handle to the inside of the plate so pilots had an easier time getting to it and moving the panel to the back position.

"It feels rewarding that we identified a problem, that there was a genuine need and that this will help our Black Hawk pilots fly in a more protected manner," he said. "The idea suggestion was really a team effort. Goodall brought the original idea to me and we both got it moving toward being implemented."

The process of implementing the changes throughout Army Aviation began in 2007, when Goodall was invited to Redstone Arsenal, Ala., to help aircraft engineers understand the problem. The suggestion was then picked up by the Department of Defense and is scheduled to begin installation this year.

"The armor panels will be retrofitted on all Black Hawk variants DOD wide," Goodall said in an interview with the Fort Campbell Courier Oct. 8. "It's something that will benefit those that fly long after I get out of the Army," he added in an interview with the Courier March 17.

While the suggestion was made in 2006, the pair didn't learn of their suggestion's impact until 2010.

"We were notified mid-year last year that our selection was picked for the cash prize," Lemons said. "That was really nice. My Family and I got to visit Washington, D.C., including getting a chance to visit the Pentagon. It had been a long time since I'd been able to be there, and my children had never seen it before."

Lemons said once the implementation is made here, it will be up to instructor pilots to make sure Black Hawk pilots are trained on the new panels.

"Flying here will be very different from flying in areas in the Middle East," he said. "There, when a helicopter takes off, it kicks up a lot of sand and dust, which can jam the hinges on the panels very easily. That's something pilots definitely need to be prepared for and know how to deal with."

He added that more people should take advantage of the Army Suggestion Program, as it's open to both Soldiers and civilians who have good ideas for the U.S. Army.

The Army Suggestion Program provides cash incentives up to $25,000 for adopted ideas. Ideas can be submitted online via the Army Suggestion Program Web site at

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16