By Ms. Jennifer M Caprioli (Drum)June 21, 2012
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- That noise heard in the sky, day or night, is not meant to alarm North Country residents -- it's the sound of reassurance that Fort Drum aviators are training to be all they can be.
Earlier this year, a couple of new "birds" -- the UH-60M and HH-60M helicopters -- landed at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield. Since then, 10th Combat Aviation Bri-gade pilots have been learning to fly the new helicopters, training and preparing to rapidly deploy anywhere in the world in support of civil and military operations. The UH-60M are utility helicopters, while the HH-60M helicopters are used in medevac situations.
"Fielding the new helicopters requires a pretty extensive training program for our aviators, (which) requires them to train and show efficiency in day and night tasks in the aircraft," explained Lt. Col. Michael McFadden, 10th CAB executive officer.
The new "Mike" models replace the older UH-60 Black Hawk "Lima" model.
"We strive to provide a safe, challenging (and) realistic training environment to all of our aviators," McFadden said.
Although aviators do their best to have as minimal an impact on the community as possible, there are a few factors -- when fielding the new helicopter -- that will affect the community, he added.
The "community" he refers to is the area that 10th CAB pilots fly and train in -- as far west as Buffalo; south to Scranton, Pa.; north to the Canadian border; and as far east as Burlington, Vt.
"Right now we're in a reset (and) retrain atmosphere, where we reset all of our equipment in preparation for our next deployment, as well as train all of our aviators, (including) many of the new aviators who just arrived (at) the brigade," McFadden continued. "Several hundred aviators will be trained (to fly the helicopters), to include the crew members who fly in the back."
When learning to fly the UH-60M, pilots and crew members normally attend courses at Fort Rucker, Ala., or Fort Eustis, Va.
However, 10th CAB representatives from Program Executive Office-Aviation and Science and Engineering Services Inc. have been providing all of the academic and hands-on training required at Fort Drum.
"In order for us to minimize time away from our Families during our short dwell times in between deployments, we conduct the training (here)," explained Chief Warrant Officer 3 David Van Vechten, who has been flying the UH-60A/L models for 10 years. "It saves the Army and taxpayers' money … and it minimizes our time away from Family."
Van Vechten serves as a company standardization pilot with Task Force Six Shooter.
Much of the aviators' training requires crew members to practice approaches, takeoffs and landings -- all of those things that require use of an airfield.
"We fly as friendly as we can, according to our regulations. We try to maintain at least 1,000 feet above the ground level when flying over any populated area and at least 500 feet above the ground level when we're flying in the local area," McFadden said. "We do everything we can to try and avoid populated areas; unfortunately, sometimes we just can't avoid it if we're going into the airport."
Takeoff and landing the "Mike" models is not the only skill aviators are learning; the new helicopters also are a significant upgrade from the "Lima" models, Van Vechten explained.
"(The 'Mike' models have an) autopilot system that allows the pilots to focus on other mission parameters, such as calculating fuel (and identifying) restricted operating zones, while not having to worry about maintaining aircraft control because the aircraft will do that for us," he said. "We always verify what the aircraft is doing, but it is a fully integrated autopilot system."
The 10th CAB is the fourth combat aviation brigade to receive the UH-60M since the Army began fielding it in 2007.
Van Vechten, who was one of the first aviators to go through the training, noted that the biggest difference between the "Mike" and "Lima" models is the actual computer and flight controls.
"It looks like a Black Hawk from the outside and still feels like a Black Hawk when I fly it, but it's the computer inside that's different," he explained.
The new aircraft are safer and quieter, and they allow aviators to manage the flight better, he added.
"The situational awareness (the 'Mike' models) provides is unparalleled," Van Vechten said. "With the multifunctional displays, we now have full, color movie map displays that have icons of the other aircraft so (pilots) can track who's around (them)."
In addition, if a restricted operating zone pops up, pilots can easily avoid the area because they can identify the aircraft's position in reference to the earth.
"The aviators of the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade are some of the most proficient aviators in the Army. We fly according to both local and federal aviation regulations," McFadden said. "Most of the small airfields here have population built up directly around the airfields, but the aviators are very professional. They do everything they can to mitigate the noise and any intrusion on our neighbors."