BOISE, Idaho — With the arrival of its final two new UH-60M Black Hawks Jan. 17, the Idaho Army National Guard’s 1-183rd Assault Helicopter Battalion has completely modernized its fleet to the Army’s most technologically advanced multirole helicopter.
“It’s a reflection of the quality and relevancy of the Idaho Army National Guard,” said Brig. Gen. Farin Schwartz, commander of the Idaho Army National Guard. “Combined with the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team’s modernized armor equipment, the Idaho Army National Guard is one of the most modernized states in the Army National Guard. Modernized equipment enhances our capability to be interoperable with our active-duty peers.”
The unit began transitioning to the new model in 2019 and is the fourth airframe unit pilots have flown since 2012. The UH-60M is an upgraded version of the legacy UH-60, designed to execute missions under all weather conditions. Its improvements allow commanders to move Soldiers and equipment faster on the battlespace.
“It’s an exciting and unprecedented opportunity to have access to the newest airframe in the U.S. Army’s fleet,” said Lt. Col. Nicole Washington, 1-183rd AHB commander. “It’s exciting being on the leading and cutting edge of aviation. The M model has really set us up as a state and a National Guard entity to continue to lead the way and be on par with active-duty counterparts.”
Improvements include a new airframe and propulsion system, more powerful engines and advanced digital avionics inside the cockpit. The glass cockpit is larger to give pilots more situational awareness of what is happening outside the aircraft, and four multifunction display screens give pilots access to multiple systems in real-time.
Pilots can track their location on a moving map and friendly and enemy positions in the battlespace while communicating securely with other aircraft and ground personnel. Washington said pilots can also map out an air route while in the cockpit to account for a change in mission mid-flight.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 John Jacobs, a maintenance test pilot and maintenance test pilot evaluator, said most of the helicopter’s upgrades reduce pilot workload and fatigue.
The aircraft physically vibrates less, which Jacobs said makes pilots less tired after flying all day and features an automated flight director system that functions similarly to a vehicle’s cruise control system. Jacobs said the equipment aids in low visual environments, such as dust and snow conditions, which improves the safety and efficiency of inserting ground forces on the battlefield.
“It’s easier to fly long days,” Jacobs said. “It’s amazing just feeling better when you get out of the cockpit. It’s the difference between driving 500 miles in a 1976 pickup truck versus a 2022 pickup truck.”
Jacobs said the helicopters’ stiffer blades handle sling loads better. The improved blades came in handy when the 1-183rd AHB participated in Idaho’s wildland firefighting efforts last summer. Crews dumped more than 200,000 gallons of water on multiple fires in northern Idaho using the new aircraft.
Pilots began attending a six-week transition course in 2019 to prepare for the new aircraft. The unit received its first UH-60M on Gowen Field in June 2020 and flew the remaining 19 airframes back from New Jersey to Boise over the past 18 months.
The 1-183rd AHB flew the AH-64A Apache for almost 20 years before transitioning to the AH-64D Longbow model in 2012 and to the UH-60A/L Black Hawk through 2016-2018.
Washington said the multiple transitions caused pilots to go from gauges and dials in the legacy Apache to the technologically advanced Longbows, back to gauges and dials in the UH-60A/Ls before transitioning back to flying digitally. In addition, the transition to Black Hawks required the pilots to integrate crew chiefs into operations, something that wasn’t required in the Apache.
“Now we’ll work to become experts in this airframe, increase our competency and our ability to focus on air assault tasks and combat operations,” Washington said.