Army aviation begins at Fort Rucker, Alabama, and the aircraft used to train pilots are pivotal to the success of the program.
U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command’s Aviation Center Logistics Command assets play an integral role in the process.
From 1993 through 2020, more than 25,000 Army aviators were trained on the TH-67 Creek helicopter in about 1.9 million flying hours.
In 2006, Airbus Helicopter’s UH-72 Lakota was selected as the replacement for the TH-67 Creek helicopter. The Army’s transition to the Lakota didn’t begin until a decade later in 2016. Now, the fleet boasts more than 200 aircraft.
“When the [Lakotas] started to take over the [Creeks], there were manpower issues trying to get everybody onboard to manage the fleet at the same time as you’re divesting [the other],” said Jeffrey Runion, ACLC Quality, Standards and Analytics Division fleet integrator.
“We had the TH-67 [Creek helicopter], which the UH-72s replaced,” said Runion, who is also a retired Army Kiowa maintainer. “We worked from the infancy of the fleet – which was nothing.”
There is a direct correlation between the not mission-capable supply, the flying hour program and the health of Army aviation.
“When your NMCS rate goes up, your [fully mission capable] rate goes down,” Runion said. “You really want your FMC rate up as high as possible. It ultimately gets pilots in seats … training in the mission that the Army wants them to train for – which ultimately gets pilots in the [Forces Command] units.”
“Flying hours have been consistently going up since last year, after the initial slowdown from COVID,” said AMCOM Aviation Branch Maintenance Officer Chief Warrant Officer 5 Patrick O’Neill. “With an increased flying hour program, we’re still maintaining the readiness rates and they are all above the Army standards.”
“Not mission capable sustainment is what AMCOM is primarily concerned with,” said O’Neill. “We’re concerned with all aviation performances, but our niche is sustainment.”
The newest update to Army Regulation 700-138, Army Logistics Readiness and Sustainability, lists a goal of 5% not mission capable supply rate – it used to be 10%. NMCS is defined as NMC time caused by a lack of supplies – such as repair parts – needed to restore the aviation system to an FMC condition.
“[Maj.] Gen. Royar’s goal is 5% or less and that is now the new Army standard,” O’Neill explained. “We are currently, for the last year, at 2.6% aggregate over all airframes for not mission capable sustainment.”
He attributes the successes to the Soldiers at the combat aviation brigades, emphasis on proper maintenance by brigade aviation maintenance officers and support AMCOM provides.
“Speaking from my past experience as a BAMO, it's always a positive and pleasant experience whenever I contact individuals related to AMCOM for parts,” O’Neill said. “They were always extremely responsive and willing to listen. So I have to attribute it to the emphasis that Maj. Gen. Royar has made during his tenure here.”
And now, O’Neill is at AMCOM helping to ensure others have positive interactions when they reach out to AMCOM for assistance.
O’Neill said nothing is perfect and there's always going to be a processing time between the time parts are ordered and when they are received. Still, despite that normal delay, Fort Rucker has seen remarkable changes.
“The FMC rates for Apache at Rucker have greatly improved over the last 18 months to a year – probably being the best that they've been in a long time. So that does attribute to availability of aircraft for the students,” he said. “Maj. Gen. Royar was very proud of that maintenance team at ACLC down at Rucker and their hard work.”
Runion said he views the Lakota and its associated training as the most important element in aviation training. Maintenance and readiness of the fleet goes hand in hand with training of the pilots.
“Students have to get their initial training and then they move to whatever airframe they are going to be in for the rest of their career, whether it be Black Hawk, Chinook, Apache or now fixed-wing,” O’Neill explained. “Every single student must touch a Lakota, whereas every a student is not going to touch a 64 – only those who are on that track to be an Apache pilot.”
“They can't move on unless they get trained on [the Lakota] properly,” Runion said.
“If the Lakota goes down, 100% of the new students are affected, whereas if an Apache, Black Hawk or Chinook experiences issues, you're only looking at 33% impacted,” O’Neill said.