OTC tests new horizons for military aviation

This may not be your father’s era in aviation, but he would be proud.

Two test teams from the West Fort Hood-based U.S. Army Operational Test Command traveled to Fort Campbell, Ky., and to Barstow, Calif., to test the wings of two new military birds this spring.

At Fort Campbell, the test team linked up with local pilots to perform more than 60 hours of flight tests on the Army’s new F model Chinook, the CH-47F, a helicopter recognizable by its long fuselage and two rotors.

Chinooks are used to transport cargo and troops in-theater, and until now, have relied on hand-held maps and a panel of analog gauges to do so.

CWO 4 Tom Miskowiec, a pilot with B. Co., 7th Battalion, 101st Airborne Division, who flew the older D model Chinook in Iraq in 2005, said the upgrade in the cockpit from analog to digital — namely, the newCH-47F Helicopter multifunctional display computer screens with tactical Internet capability — have changed everything.

“It was like giving a kid a computer that had never had one,” Miskowiec said.

The new onboard equipment with moving maps and satellite imagery coordinates with a tracking system on the ground.

“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,” Miskowiec said.

A squall of blinding dust contrasted with the storm cell on the horizon in western Kentucky as the tan colored Chinook Miskowiec piloted lifted off the ground.

It was a test flight after engine maintenance, and members of the test team looked on as the massive blades of the Chinook, each weighing more than 300 pounds, slammed the air.

Avengers, which provide mobile short-range missile protection systems mounted onto humvees were in place nearby to test whether a programmed signal from the aircraft would be read as friend, foe or unknown.

The mission for later in the evening was to transport a humvee to a remote location using night-vision goggles.

Though the temperature was warm outside, a data collector standing by to board the aircraft wore an extra long-sleeved shirt underneath his flight suit; the temperature inside the Chinook would drop noticeably on the night mission.

Tents buzzed with briefings as crews made up of Soldiers, civilians and contractors scurried from test site to the remote drop zone to chart progress.

Miskowiec explained that thanks to the digital age, the crew inside the F model is more situationally aware. They determine from the display units the positions of other players on the battlefield, including ground force units, other air elements, geographical elements and infrastructures, such as hospitals, from which they can get support.

Miskowiec was with the test from its beginning phase when the flat panel display first became functional. Whether it’s moving external or internal loads, mass casualties or combat assaults, every mission is about people, he said.

“We always kept that in the forefront that there’s a people element to what we’re doing. When we move those critical items, those are people who are more comfortable, more able to do their missions without having to get in a truck and face an IED. Less people are at risk,” Miskowiec said.

In the high desert of California, another OTC test team rehearsed in advance of the test mission. Lines of tape and string mapped out the scenario on the floor with aerial photos of landmarks enroute to the remote site.

Their mission would involve lifting a container using the “new Huey” — the UH-72A Lakota. The question was how this helicopter, known to the civilian world as the EC-145 (EuroCopter), translates into military terms for medical evacuation and transport missions.

For medical evacuation purposes, the Lakota accommodates two litters arranged side by side and is equipped with a side-mounted hoist apparatus.

The Lakota can also be used to carry six passengers.

CWO 4 Michael Chaiko, a standardization instructor pilot with the New Jersey National Guard, said he welcomes the light utility helicopter to the ranks.

“This is a fantastic helicopter compared to what I’m used to flying, a 35-year-old legacy aircraft from Vietnam, the OH 58 A-C. This has really a lot more power, a lot more versatility. I’m doing things I’ve never done before because I haven’t had the capability of the hoist and the sling. With the helicopter I’ve been flying for the last 12 years, we’re lucky if we can get three people off the ground,” Chaiko said.

One of its advantages is its ability to hover.

“This aircraft has a unique rotor system that is very responsive. The technology allows you to actually take your feet off the pedals. It will provide you directional control; it flies better than the pilot in a lot of cases,” Chaiko said.

Crew chief Spc. Donald Williams, whose job is to control loading and unloading of patients and cargo, said he is required to be hoisted up and down the hoist cable so he understands his role from his team member’s (flight medic) perspective.

The Army’s acquisition of this aircraft would free up Black Hawk helicopters for use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The intent is for the Lakota to aid in homeland security, disaster relief and law enforcement support, including drug stings.

“It’s taking a civilian off-the-shelf product and trying to tailor it to the Army’s needs,” Williams said. “It’s exciting to be part of something new and see where it goes.”

Source:  Fort Hood Sentinel, May 10, 2007 

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