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NEWS | May 14, 2014

Arizona Black Hawk pilot flies to make a difference

By Sgt. Crystal Reidy Arizona National Guard

PHOENIX - When 17 year-old Amanda Birch told her mother she wanted to be a pilot, her mom had a practical question, "How do you even know you like to fly?"

Her answer was to go to the local airport during her junior year of high school, find a flight instructor and start flying fixed-winged airplanes. Now a UH-60 Black Hawk pilot, Army 1st Lt. Amanda Birch can honestly tell her mom, "Yes, I like to fly."

Not every pilot joins the Arizona Army National Guard with flight experience but Birch, a platoon leader for the 2/285th Air Assault Helicopter Battalion, Alpha Company, was already a licensed commercial pilot and flight instructor.

After earning her Bachelor of Science in Aeronautics from the University of North Dakota, she moved to Arizona and began working as a flight instructor.

In 2009, she decided to fly for the Army National Guard.

"I wanted to fly and make a difference. I wanted to fly Soldiers back home to their families," Birch said.

She said she also enjoys flying for the Guard because of the opportunities to fly places others cannot. For example, she can fly low, and land off site in the desert or on pinnacles in the Four Peaks Wilderness area.

"Piloting in the Army is an exciting and dynamic environment to adapt to, I love the unique challenge," she said.

One major challenge was the journey to finish flight school.

Birch said civilian flight school was a typical college experience with a lot of math and science classes with added flight hours at the end of a school day.

"Army pilot school was a lot more difficult because you have to memorize a lot more information in a much shorter period of time," Birch said.

The 15-month training pipeline included the basic officer leadership course; flight training; survive, evade, resist, escape (SERE) training; and "dunker" training which trains aircrews to escape a helicopter turned upside-down under water.

Birch said as soon as formal training ended, her on-the-job training began. Her unit taught her to fly with Bambi buckets used to fight wild fires, with sling loads and other mission-specific training.

"We have to meet training hours as well as pass our annual proficiency and readiness test exam," Birch said. "So basically the training and testing never ends for pilots. We are always learning."

Army pilots are trained to fly specific aircraft. Birch explained all pilots start on a basic helicopter similar to a news helicopter before moving on to a scout-type helicopter. Finally, pilots begin training on tactical aircraft such as Black Hawks, Apaches, Chinooks and Kiowas.

The Army National Guard assigns pilots based on mission requirements. Birch said she is happy she was selected for Black Hawk training.

"Black Hawks can be used for civilian missions like natural disasters and with SWAT missions with the local police," Birch said.

"Birch has developed into a fantastic organizational leader and makes a great officer," said Capt. Caleb Grandy, Alpha Company commander.