The "Fighting Eagles" are in the process of completely replacing their older CH-47 Chinook aircrafts with newer, advanced models that will save the Army time and money while also making it easier to build readiness throughout the 1st Combat Aviation Brigade and the 1st Infantry Division.
The 2nd General Support Aviation Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, 1st CAB, 1st Inf. Div., is the recipient of the 12 new aircraft at Fort Riley, Kansas. A new radio communications system is a major change in the CH-47 Model Year 2 compared to all previous Chinook helicopters. The Fighting Eagles also received a software upgrade as the MY2s arrived.
The new radio system will make communication between pilot and another aircraft or person on the ground significantly faster.
"We have upgraded radios that have any frequency we use all in one radio, and have multiple of those," said 1st Lt. Tyler Westrick, 2nd GSAB, 1st Avn. Regt., pilot. "Before you would be limited on who you could talk to on specific frequencies. It opens up more options for us in how we want to use our radios."
According to Chief Warrant Officer 3 Eric Simpson, 2nd GSAB, 1st Avn. Regt., company standardization instructor pilot, the new communications system will now allow a pilot to change radios and frequencies in a matter of seconds. In the past, that process could take up to two minutes.
While a more efficient communications system and larger rear access panels will make it easier for pilots and crews to operate and conduct preflight checks, a software upgrade may save the Army the most time and money and help in building readiness, Simpson said.
The software upgrade was made possible now that the Federal Aviation Administration allows GPS systems to be used while Chinooks are flying in cloudy skies.
"We could use the GPS before but it wasn't certified with (instrument flight rules) flight," Simpson said. "If you are flying along in a cloud, how do you know where you are at? We couldn't use the GPS according to the FAA. I promise the GPS works great in Afghanistan, but we don't fly around in clouds in Afghanistan."
Utilizing GPS in cloudy conditions will make flights shorter, which Simpson said will save the Army money on fuel and even maintenance costs.
"There are a lot of things we save just by saving time," Simpson said. "Everything we do on maintenance cost on the aircraft is time related. How often we are flying that aircraft ends up being a cost in maintenance later because every 25 hours you have to do certain checks, every 50 hours you have to have to do a few more checks. As you take away that time, there is less maintenance cost."
In the past, a five-hour flight may have taken more than seven hours because the crew would have to fly to navigation aids that are placed on the ground as a way to travel. One navigation aid could take the crew 20 miles out of a direct flight path. Then, the next navigation aid could take the crew another 15 miles out of flight path, Simpson said.
Those longer flight times add up in fuel costs and make for a higher rate of maintenance checks on the aircraft, according to Simpson. Due to the extra flying, a flight may take two days instead of one day. This leads to the aircraft and crew not being as available to the local ground force commander.
"We are the aviation side, but we don't have a job without the ground force," Simpson said. "We work for the ground force commander. That is more time he has available to him to execute his missions because we are now flying less time because we can go a direct route."