GROTON, Conn. – The Connecticut National Guard’s 1109th Theater Aviation Support Maintenance Group (TASMG) has a unique mission as one of only four Army units designated for large-scale rotary-wing maintenance.
The unit’s state-of-the-art maintenance facility allows it to repair and test just about every component in the UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters covering a 14-state region. While these Soldiers, technicians and contractors mostly keep the military’s operational fleet in the air, they recently took on a new project: rebuilding two Chinooks grounded after being classified as battle-damaged due to hard landings in Iraq.
The idea for the project came during the 1109th’s deployment to Kuwait in 2018. While providing theater-level maintenance for U.S. helicopters flying missions in the region, the team learned about one of the Chinooks they would later revitalize.
Staff Sgt. Daniel Cavanna, the work lead on the restoration project, said some repairs can be difficult to conduct overseas because of the time it can take for special tooling to arrive, affecting readiness.
As these CH-47s sat in Kuwait, inoperable, Cavanna and his team saw an opportunity to return these aircraft to the fleet and save millions of dollars. They worked with colleagues back home to calculate the costs and logistics of getting the helicopter back to Connecticut.
In early 2019, the first helicopter was delivered via a C-17 Globemaster to Westover Air Force Base in Massachusetts then trucked to the facility in Groton. Once there, the team stripped the aircraft to its core, leaving just the wiring intact.
Cavanna said the project was a collaboration of the aviation maintenance community. Boeing, the manufacturer of the CH-47, sent their mechanics to help educate the TASMG team about the intricacies of the aircraft and answer questions. Bill Humes, the Army Aviation and Missile Command engineer at the TASMG, worked on repair scenarios of the structural damage and reached out to other TASMGs and maintenance facilities around the country to acquire parts.
“It’s a big learning experience for all of us,” Cavanna said. “We’re getting the chance to really dig into these aircraft in a way we’ve never done before.”
On June 2, after more than a year of repairs, the CH-47 hovered independently for the first time in more than two years. The achievement was a significant first for the unit and was completed under the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the unit begins work on the second helicopter, members hope to take the lessons learned on the first restoration and create a standard operating procedure they can share with other maintenance groups.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Edward Pelletier, the state Army aviation operations officer and CH-47 maintenance test pilot, said this kind of maintenance project is the way of the future for the Connecticut TASMG. Although a complete rebuild of a helicopter is expensive, it is much cheaper than a new aircraft.
Once the helicopters are thoroughly tested, they will be sent to aviation units in need of additional aircraft.