FORT HOOD, Texas (Army News Service, May 25, 2007) - Two teams from the Army Operational Test Command here traveled to Fort Campbell, Ky., and Barstow, Calif., to test two new helicopters.
At Fort Campbell, a test team of Soldiers, Army Civilians and Contractors linked up with local Army pilots to perform more than 60 hours of flight tests on the Army's CH-47F Chinook, a cargo helicopter recognizable by its long fuselage and twin tandem rotors.
"It was like giving a kid a computer for the first time," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Tom Miskowiec, Company B, 7th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment. He said the upgrade in the cockpit from an analog to digital, multifunctional display computer with tactical Internet capability has changed almost everything with regard to how chopper pilots see their world.
The new onboard equipment with digital maps and imagery coordinates with a tracking system on the ground, according to Chief Miskowiec, who flew the older model CH-47D Chinook in Iraq in 2005. "You can literally look at a satellite photo of where you are over the ground, and where you need to go in relation to the flight plan," he said.
After performing engine maintenance, Chief Warrant Officer Miskowiec took the Chinook on a test flight in preparation for the mission later in the evening - transporting a Humvee while using night-vision goggles.
Following the flight, Chief Warrant Officer Miskowiec said the crew inside the new Chinook has more situational awareness than ever before. "The crew can determine from the display units the positions of other players on the battlefield, including ground forces, air elements, geography and other structures," he said.
He also emphasized that while the Chinook is all about moving external or internal loads and mass casualties, as well as conducting combat assaults, in the end every mission is about people.
As the Chinook was being put to the test, at Barstow in the Mohave Desert, another OTC team rehearsed in advance of its test mission on the Army's latest newest Huey, the UH-72A Lakota, a light utility helicopter.
The Army's acquisition of this new version Lakota could free up the UH-60 Blackhawk for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The intent is for the Lakota to aid in homeland security, disaster relief and law enforcement support, including counter drug operations.
Capable of carrying six passengers or two medical litters side-by-side, the Lakota is equipped with a side-mounted hoist apparatus and has the ability to maintain a stabilized hover. Its use will be mostly for medical evacuation and other transport missions.
"This is a fantastic helicopter compared to what I'm used to flying, that 35 year old legacy from Vietnam, the OH 58-A-C," said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Michael Chaiko, a New Jersey Army National Guard instructor pilot. "I'm doing things I've never done before because I didn't have the capabilities that a hoist and sling offer. The helicopter I've been flying for the last 12 years could barely lift off with three people aboard."
After flying a test mission, Chief Chaiko said he was impressed with the new technology and responsiveness of the Lakota. "The unique rotor system provides directional control," he explained. "It flies better than the pilot in a lot of cases."
(Kelly Patrice Pate serves with the Operational Test Command Public Affairs Office.)