By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneFebruary 14, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Black Hawks are a hot commodity.
While the Army is the UH-60 Black Hawk's number one customer, there are many other government agencies realizing the valuable utility of this airframe - the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Air Force, to name a few. And current program execution strategies guarantee that this popular utility helicopter will continue to provide the capability to enhance security, reconnaissance, search and rescue, border patrol, and other military and civilian policing activities.
"We are moving at 100 miles an hour," said Lt. Col. Heyward Wright, product manager for the UH-60A/L/M. "Everybody is screaming for the latest version of Black Hawk - the Mike model Black Hawk. The Mike model initiated its first fielding in late 2007 and everyone wants this enhanced capability."
Managed by the Utility Helicopter Project Office under the direction of Col Neil Thurgood, the UH-60A, UH-60L and the new UH-60M (Mike model) make up the fleet of Black Hawk helicopters currently being utilized to execute vital missions around the world.
The UH-60M relies on the most modern technology in navigation, communication and operation systems. The new airframes are gradually replacing the 25-year-old A models in the military's fleet of helicopters. For the Army, the M model provides a full range of capabilities for assault, medical and cargo missions as well as command and control, aerial sustainment, and search and rescue.
Black Hawk manufacturer Sikorsky Aircraft builds 125 UH-60Ms a year, with 95 of those built at its Stratford, Conn., facility and 30 per year at its West Palm Beach, Fla., facility. Part of Program Executive Office for Aviation, under the Utility Helicopter Project Office, the UH-60 A/L/M Product Office employees manage production, recapitalization (involving upgrading older model Black Hawks with new technology), special projects (focusing on providing new and recapped Black Hawks to non-military government agencies) and new equipment training in connection with the popular aircraft.
"Right now, we are fielding our first full combat aviation brigade at the 82nd at Fort Bragg, N.C., with the UH-60M Black Hawk," Wright said. "By March of this year, the UH-60A/L/M new equipment training team will have fielded the 82nd CAB with 45 new UH/HH-60M helicopters, and will have trained 144 aviators, 24 maintenance test pilots, 230 crew chiefs, 36 avionics technicians and 36 aircraft electricians.
"This is the first full Army combat aviation brigade that we have fielded. By fielding and training the 82nd CAB at their home station, we will be able to keep Soldiers with their families longer before deploying for the third, fourth, five or sixth time overseas."
Each area of expertise within the UH-60A/L/M Product Office is vital to the continued success of aircraft fielding and sustainment. While production and new equipment training are associated with putting new birds in the air, recapitalization works to save the government money by rebuilding older Black Hawks.
Army Black Hawks are recapitalized at Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas, while other non-Army Black Hawks are recapitalized at Sikorsky's Chase Field in Beeville, Texas, which is the UH-60 center of excellence for non-standard recapitalization. In 2010, the UH-60A/L/M product office managed the recapitalization of 38 Black Hawks. In 2011, 48 will be recapitalized at Corpus Christi Army Depot.
"Some of the UH-60A aircraft are 30 years old and we have the capability to rebuild them, adding years to their useful life and upgrading them to a more capable aircraft," Wright said. "To recapitalize them, we take them completely apart, replace all dynamic components with new or overhauled components, repair and strengthen the airframe, and upgrade it to a UH-60L. This saves us about half the cost of a new helicopter and gives us about 10 more years of life."
The special projects office is one area where both UH-60M and recapitalized Black Hawks are given new missions thanks to the Arsenal's engineering and production expertise. The product office works closely with the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center's Prototype Integration Facility and Logistics Support Facility to custom equip these aircraft to meet specific and unique requirements.
Because of the popularity of the Black Hawk for its patrol, lift and reconnaissance capabilities, it's not unusual to receive procurement requests from various U.S. and international government agencies.
One such agency is the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection agency. Due to evolving mission requirements, the Customs and Border Patrol identified the need to enhance their fleet. Teaming with PEO Aviation and the Utility Helicopter Project Office, the agency is recapitalizing its 16 UH-60A aircraft and procuring four UH-60M aircraft.
Additionally, the Customs and Border Patrol identified specific capabilities now required to execute their mission. The project office turned to the PIF to design, fabricate and integrate about 25 unique mission equipment kits into the base UH-60 platform. Some of the mission components being added to the airframe include a custom navigation system, FLIR and high definition video recorder, which captures images the FLIR sees on the ground.
"UH-60 aircraft is a proven platform to support the Customs and Border Patrol's critical mission. Integration of these key components will only enhance this already highly capable platform," Curt Ezell, PIF UH-60 team lead, said.
Upon completion of the modification efforts, the aircraft are tested at the Redstone Test Center and Aviation Flight Test Directorate, both at the Arsenal.
"It will take five to six months to complete testing," Ezell said. "The aircraft will undergo ground and flight testing to ensure all aircraft systems are working properly and the aircraft meets mission requirements."
The UH-60A/L/M Product Office is also providing Customs and Border Patrol pilots, crew chiefs and maintenance crews with new equipment training to ensure they are well-trained and qualified in aircraft operation and enhancements.
"We are bringing safety, current equipment, special requests and new technologies together in these helicopters, and they will all meet the Army standard," Wright said. "We plan to deliver the first UH-60M to the Customs and Border Patrol by September 2011.
"When the aircraft leaves us, we are giving them Army-standard equipment that has completed all testing, ensuring that all the systems work together."
Currently, there are 47 ongoing special projects involving Black Hawk models.
"With each modification that we do through the PIF, we are providing a one-stop shop for customer equipping Black Hawks," Wright said. "We can provide quicker service that saves money, and that develops technology that we own and can use on other systems."
By coming to the Army for assistance, the Customs and Border Patrol is ensured of receiving the types of equipment they require based on Army standards.
"Any modification done to this airframe must be approved by the Aviation and Engineering Directorate," Wright said. "The Customs and Border Patrol and other customers can come to the UH-60 product management office and know they are getting a safe and qualified aircraft."