By Erich B. Smith, National Guard BureauMarch 18, 2019
FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. -- For Sgt. 1st Class Kyle Moyer's maintenance students at the Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, making mistakes is unofficially part of the training curriculum.
"There are no lives at risk here at the schoolhouse, which is why I tell the students 'here is where you need to make the mistakes and ask all of your questions,'" he said. "Making them here is a lot cheaper than in real life."
As a way to make and learn from those mistakes, students have access to UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook Hardware Maintenance Trainers -- stationary, non-flyable airframes that allow hands-on experience with maintenance and repair procedures.
"It would be a lot more of a steeper learning curve without having the trainer opportunities here," said Sgt. 1st Class Greg Woods, the course manager for the EAATS's Chinook maintenance transition course.
The trainers, key elements of the maintenance and repair courses taught at the site, augment traditional classroom instruction.
"When it comes to maintenance, it's really hard to duplicate learning just by discussing it," said Woods.
Moyer said by mixing traditional classroom instruction with the tactile experiences of the trainers -- such as the ability to power up and test helicopter systems that vibrate -- is an added benefit for the students.
"The helicopter [trainer] actually shakes and you can feel the test happening," he said. "It adds that extra level of realism."
Prior to the trainers, Woods said, Soldiers in need of additional training would learn on their unit's flyable aircraft while the helicopters were in for annual inspections. At that point, he said, training was based on aircraft availability, instead of the Soldiers' needs.
"It was all timing," he said. "One [Soldier] may get to remove rotor blades, but the next [Soldier] would just work on fuel cells."
Because the hardware maintenance trainers are once-flyable aircraft -- now grounded with auxiliary equipment to allow for activation of hydraulic and electrical components -- students get full access to all aircraft systems.
This said Woods, allows for running a variety of scenarios maintainers may encounter.
"There's a list of faults we can interject into the training," he said.
Once students are able to recognize a mechanical or electrical problem, they can then troubleshoot and fix the problem, said Woods. Working on the trainer, he added, lets them get visual verification -- such as seeing hydraulic fluid is no longer leaking from a fitting -- of successfully completing the task.
That, said Moyer, gives students further confidence in both their abilities and in following the maintenance manuals.
"They [the trainers] can actually be a morale and confidence booster when the students actually see the product of their work playing out," he said.
Moyer added the maintenance section of the EAATS takes pride in having trainers that reflect the latest helicopter models, even if the students' units don't have the latest versions.
"Our courses go over the old version and the new version of [the] airframes," he said. "So we are setting up a lot of units for success in the future."
Part of that success added Woods, comes from having training sites, like the EAATS, that won't disrupt an aviation unit's operations.
"These trainers allow for realistic training to occur in a controlled environment without affecting the readiness of aircraft," Woods said.