HUNTSVILLE, Ala., Sept. 29, 2011 -- Army National Guard pilots from four states are now training on the new Security and Support variant of the Lakota helicopter.The UH-72A S&S Mission Equipment Package, or MEP, is the newest helicopter to enter service with the Army.The S&S MEP includes a turreted electro-optical/infrared sensor and laser pointer; EuroAvionics, EuroNav moving map system and two SkyQuest touch-screen displays; a video management system, SkyQuest digital video recorder plus additional avionics and Sierra Nevada Tactilink Eagle data downlink system.The helicopter is also equipped with a 30-million-candlepower searchlight that is mounted on the aft starboard step and slaved to the MX-15, and the sames rescue hoist that is included in the Lakota's medevac MEP."I'm excited about the enhanced capabilities that it offers," said Lt. Col. Dallas Jones, a pilot with the Louisiana National Guard who is participating in a two-week course now at Madison County Executive Airport near Huntsville, Ala.Four states including Mississippi, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Florida are participating in this two-week training, which consists of academic and day and night flight training. The aircraft provides long-range electro-optical sensors and the ability to record and downlink data, which will aid the Army National Guard in its homeland security, counter drug, and border patrol missions."This is a success story of the joint efforts between the National Guard and the LUH Product Office in reviewing the lessons learned from the field, building the National Guard's requirements, and designing a state-of-the-art mission equipment package that meets all those requirements," said Lt. Col. Dave Bristol, product manager for Light Utility Helicopters on Redstone Arsenal. "It is a success story of team work."Jones said using the improved camera versus what he was flying with before puts him and his crew a good five miles away from a target instead of a mile away. "They can't hear me or see me.""It allows them to really conduct drug missions in a different manner," said Maj. Jay Maher, Assistant Product Manager for the LUH Product Office. "They can go operate at higher altitudes. Utilize maximum stand-off ranges while slewing the search light and sight system together, effectively maximing the system when acquiring objects of interest. It's a very powerful sighting system, with both thermal and day time capability."There are many "firsts" with the UH-72A S&S MEP including touch screens and soft keyboards. Jack Johnston, Director of Flight Operations for the NET with the LUH Product Office said that the S&S MEP is "the only Army aircraft with these capabilities. It's completely unique.""Everything in this aircraft feeds through the video management system and in any one of the video displays," said Johnston. "So the guy in the back could be looking at one of the sensors while these guys up front could be looking at the map while the other guy could be looking at the other sensor on the ball. It gives you complete independence throughout."Another great capability of the aircraft is being able to conduct database searches with the moving map."We have all the city street maps, aeronautical charts for the entire US, nautical charts for all the coastal areas and IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) charts for all of the US," said Johnston. "We can also host topographical maps for the U.S."Conducting all of the training in Huntsville allowed the team to consolidate and maximize all of their resources with instructors and aircraft operating from one place. "It allows us to put more crew members back at home station qualified on the aircraft faster," said Maher.Madison County Executive Airport was chosen since it had all the facilities and the right amount of airspace available to conduct training in the area. Maher added that the team adheres to the Fly Friendly policy and will stay away from populated areas, so residents will not notice or hear the aircraft flying at night.Four aircraft will be used during the two-week training. Forty-nine National Guard pilots from seven states are scheduled to train by December. Alabama, Texas and Arkansas will be the next three states trained in November/December timeframe. All LUH S&S training will occur at the Madison County Executive Airport.In addition to the class, the Light Utility Helicopter Product Office showed off its new S&S variant of the Lakota to the news media at the airport Sept. 28.One hundred UH-72A S&S MEP are currently on contract for production. The first 16 were retrofitted with the MEP, and the next 84 will roll off the production line at the EADS facility in Columbus, Miss.The rapid acquisition, production and fielding of the UH-72A Lakota aircraft over the last three and a half years has allowed the Army to transfer 23 UH-60 Black Hawk aircraft to other missions that support overseas contingency operations. It also allowed the Army to retire the aging UH-1 and divest the OH-58A/C by replacing them with modern, capable aircraft, officials said.They said the Army plans to acquire 345 Lakotas through 2015, and the service has ordered 232 of the helicopters so far, along with five UH-72A versions for the U.S. Navy. Since 2007, 178 UH-72 helicopters have flown over 76,000 hours across the United States, Puerto Rico, Kwajalein Atoll, and Germany at operational readiness rate of more than 90 percent.