Huntsville Mayor Flies on Lakota Helicopter
January 11, 2013
During the 2011 tornadoes that devastated northern Alabama, Tennessee Valley waited in the dark for up to12 hours for daybreak before local authorities and emergency responders could safely and properly assess the damage and deploy rescue teams.
Had the UH-72A Lakota Security & Support Mission Equipment Package light utility helicopter been available, the community and its emergency response teams could have been planning early and have response teams moving through the night.
"If we'd had the infrared technology after the tornadoes hit, we could have flown in the night and spotted where the damages were at least 10 hours earlier and already had response crews on the way or start doing our logistical drills," Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said.
Battle was treated to a flight demonstration and brief classroom instruction on the UH-72A S&S MEP on Dec. 14 at the Madison County Executive Airport in Meridianville, where training for the National Guard takes place. Lakota support contractors from Systems Studies and Simulations Inc. provided the briefing and flight.
The UH-72A Lakota S&S MEP is the newest helicopter to enter service with the Army. Its complex mission equipment package allows the National Guard to support counter drug and Homeland Security missions, the aircraft's primary mission.
The S&S MEP includes an L-3 Wescam MX-15i turreted electro-optical/infrared sensor and laser pointer; EuroAvionics, EuroNav moving map system and two SkyQuest touch-screen displays; a video management system, SkyQuest digital video recorder plus additional avionics and Sierra Nevada Tactilink Eagle data downlink system.
"At night time, we can actually see colored images," Sean Higgins, an S3 support contractor and S&S New Equipment Training instructor, said. The aircraft's EO/IR sensor allows crews members to see just like they would in daylight and operate from extremely long distances and very high altitudes. "With this, you can clear any wires, poles and antenna; and during power outages, you don't have to worry about flying into them even in complete darkness," Higgins said.
One of the capabilities that the product office has demonstrated at trade shows is the camera's sensitivity. "You can see footprints people leave behind as they walk away," Higgins said. "You can also see the heat difference in paint colors. If we know where downed towers are supposed to be for example, we can plot those into the system and fly that route, so you can more easily spot where that downed power line is supposed to be.
"There are all kinds of ways that this system can work it. It's exciting stuff."
Everything in the S&S MEP feeds through the video management system and in any one of the video displays. It allows crew members in the back to look at one of the sensors while the pilots at the front view the moving map while another crew member looks at the other sensor on the ball. "It gives you complete independence throughout," Higgins said.
Pilots and crew members can also conduct complete database searches with the moving maps. The system has all the U.S. city street maps uploaded, aeronautical charts for the entire U.S., nautical charts for all the coastal areas, and Instrument Flight Rules charts for all the U.S. Topographical maps can also be uploaded into the system.
"We can talk to law enforcement agencies, fire departments and EMS even if they have different radio systems," Higgins said. The retransmission capability on the aircraft allows the crew to communicate and support local ground units.
The helicopter is also equipped with a 30-million-candlepower searchlight that is mounted on the aft starboard step and slaved to the camera, which maximizes the systems effectiveness when acquiring objects of interest. The aircraft also has the same rescue hoist that is included in the Lakota's medevac MEP.
Jud McCrary, another S3 support contractor, said he has known at least 10 successful search and rescues across the U.S. using the S&S MEP. "The LUH was deployed recently in Alabama to retrieve a whole family out of the woods after their private aircraft crashed," he said. It has also retrieved hikers who were stuck in the mountains in Washington, and helped to put out fires in Idaho and California. "The aircraft also has a capability to carry a 'Bambi' bucket," McCrary said.
Lt. Col. David Cheney, UH-72 Lakota product manager, said the S&S MEP is a success story of the joint efforts between the National Guard and the LUH Product Office in reviewing lessons learned from the field, building National Guard requirements, and designing a state-of-the-art mission equipment package that meets all those requirements.
"It allows our law enforcement agencies and emergency response services to really conduct their missions in a more effective and efficient manner," Cheney said.
Additionally, the cabin of the aircraft is completely reconfigurable. Within minutes, crew members can pull all the seats to allow room for search and rescue missions.
Huntsville's mayor was impressed with the aircraft's capabilities.
"It's amazing to see the capabilities of some of these helicopters nowadays and how they've integrated sensors and communications ability and geospatial, all together that fits for everybody," Battle said. "The fascinating part about it is all the different applications that you have. Sometimes I think we just touch the tips of the applications that would really fit in the whole realm of what technology could bring to us right now."
The aircraft's unique capabilities have direct applications to Huntsville's law enforcement and emergency service teams, Battle said. "You can see some instant applications off of some of this technology that can affect us as a community to make our community safer and conduct quicker response times. The 2011 tornadoes is a perfect example. We sat for 12 hours literally in the dark when we could have been planning. Instead we had to wait for the sun to come up. If we'd had the IR technology available, we could have flown in the night and spotted the damages at least 10 hours earlier and already had response crews on the way or start doing our logistical drill to start getting our response moving. That's 10 hours without power and 10 hours that the people in the community were frozen.
"In four years, we've been through two or three emergency situations. It is good to know the technologies available, how that technology can relate back to our local government, and how to get in contact with someone who knows how to use that technology."
Battle shook hands with the pilots and crew after the demo and flight and thanked them for their time and service. "It was a great flight, and I appreciate the shared technologies with the local and federal government," he told the team. "Higgins was a great instructor," he added with a smile. "I didn't become an expert on the system, but I was able to figure out how to work the system because of its user-friendliness."
Approximately 45 S&S MEPs have been fielded across the U.S. One hundred S&S MEPs are scheduled to be fielded by 2015.
Conducting all the training in the Huntsville area allows the Lakota Product Office team to consolidate and maximize their resources with instructors and aircraft operating from one place.
The Lakota's service entry in 2007 marked one of the fastest introductions of a new aircraft in the Army's history. Deliveries of the aircraft to National Guard units allowed aging OH-58 and UH-1 rotary-wing aircraft to be retired, while UH-72As assigned to the active component of the Army freed up UH-60 Black Hawks for assignment to support overseas contingency operations.