RONKONKOMA, N.Y. – New York Army National Guard helicopter pilots, crews and Soldiers assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation Regiment, welcomed the arrival of the first two of 20 new UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters at their flight facilities at Islip MacArthur and Albany International Airports Aug. 18.
“For us, this fielding puts us on par with the rest of the Army,” said Army Maj. Gen. Ray Shields, the adjutant general of New York. “This finally moves us from 1980s generation aircraft up to the modern era.”
The fielding is part of the upgrade of the New York fleet of UH-60 helicopters from the L-model to the M-model, frequently referred to by their military designations, Lima model to the newer Mike model, said New York Army National Guard Lt. Col. Jason Lefton, commander of the assault aviation battalion.
An additional 10 aircraft will be fielded to detachments of the battalion serving in the Connecticut and Maine Army National Guard.
The aircraft will improve the unit’s efficiency and effectiveness, noted Chief Warrant Officer 4 Robert Hansen, the senior instructor pilot in the battalion.
“The Mike model UH-60 Black Hawks are new, fresh from the factory upgrades to our current fleet, providing aircrews with the latest in the Army’s inventory of aviation,” Hansen said.
The UH-60M is the latest design for the Black Hawk helicopter and incorporates upgraded T700-GE-701D engines, improved rotor blades, a fly-by-wire glass cockpit, and better flight controls and aircraft navigation. The aircraft provides 500 pounds more lift capability from prior versions.
“These 20 aircraft will provide significant improvements in the Army National Guard’s ability to safely execute missions both here in New York and around the world,” Hansen said, “with improved lift capabilities, auto-pilot, ergonomic technology and state of the art digital cockpits.”
While the flight characteristics of the new aircraft are similar to previous Black Hawks, the new digital cockpit provides a learning curve for pilots, said Chief Warrant Officer 4 Thomas Scott, a standardization pilot in the 3rd Battalion, 142nd Aviation Headquarters Company.
“There is an entirely new set of visual cues and available information,” Scott said after his flight from Lakehurst, New Jersey, to the flight facility in Latham. “So many calculations made by pilots in previous models is now presented to us in the Mike model. It makes crew work much easier and efficient.”
More than 2,000 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter variants are in service with the U.S. military. The Army is fielding Mike models out through 2026, purchasing more than 950 airframes.
Each aircraft is about $21.3 million, Hansen said.
For the New York, Connecticut and Maine aircrews, the fielding improves flight operations and mission support across the force, said Col. Michael Charnley, commander of the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade.
“This is about interoperability with other forces across the Army,” Charnley said. “We’re quickly getting to the point where only Mike model Black Hawks will be deployed overseas.”
The fielding is a welcome upgrade to the battalion pilots. Newer aviators qualify on the Mike model aircraft during flight school, Scott said.
“Our current fleet is a lot older than most of our pilots,” Scott said. “A lot older.”
A significant improvement in the new aircraft will be its communications capabilities, Hansen said.
“One of the biggest upgrades is going to a fully digital cockpit,” he said. “It will greatly enhance our ability to safely operate the aircraft in any environment. The situational awareness gained from digital moving maps, threat overlays and aircraft systems pages will help decrease some of the workload we have while operating the aircraft.”
“Flying Army aircraft, especially on real-world missions, is a high-intensity activity. Downstate New York is the busiest airspace in the world,” Hansen noted. “The addition of two multiband radios will allow us to monitor and transmit on more than one air traffic control frequency at a time, giving us a greater situational awareness. That was one of the biggest hindrances we have with the Lima model.”
The battalion began preparations and training for the aircraft upgrade in 2018, Lefton said, sending pilots and crew chiefs for training on the new aircraft, qualifying a third of its crews even before the first airframe arrived in New York.
“The Mike model aircraft has been something we have been training for, and our pilots, crew chiefs and maintainers have been working on this over the last two-plus years,” he said.
Hansen said all 30 aircraft will be delivered by December 2021 on a staggered schedule to allow for a sustainable maintenance flow for the work required for each aircraft.
Qualification training for pilots includes a six-week transition course at either Fort Rucker, Alabama, or the Eastern Army Aviation Training Site at Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania.
“Many of our newer aviators were qualified on the UH-60M during flight school and will require refresher training at our facilities,” Hansen said. “Our enlisted crew chiefs and maintainers have the opportunity to attend formal Army training but can conduct the training ‘in house.’”
The UH-60M aircraft are manufactured at the Sikorsky manufacturing plant in Stratford, Connecticut, and completed the Army’s test flights prior to acceptance and delivery at the U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center Flight Activity on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J.