Monday, November 19, 2007

New Black Hawk Unveils Latest Helo Technology

BY J.D. Leipold
The Army's latest version of the Black Hawk, the UH-60M, in silhouette lands at the Pentagon's helicopter pad. (US Army Photo)

WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 16, 2007) - The Army's latest version of the Black Hawk helicopter, the UH-60M, paid a call on the Pentagon Wednesday to show off its various upgraded technical capabilities.

While this was the "M" model's maiden flight into the Washington area, the newest version was introduced to the Army in late October when a single bird flew from the Sikorsky factory in Connecticut directly to Fort Campbell, Ky., for a preview to the 30 Black Hawks which begin delivery to the 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division next month.

The UH-60M will gradually replace the 25-year old "L" model and become the Army's medium-lift helicopter capable of assault, medevac and cargo missions as well as command and control, aerial sustainment, and search and rescue. It will also be looked at as a follow-on helo to special operations units according to Chief Warrant Officer 4 Gene McNeill, who is presently serving as a test pilot and trainer on the "M" model at Sikorsky.

CWO4 McNeill, with two Iraq tours behind him and a 20-year veteran of the "L" model has made four cross-country trips and logged some 40 hours of cockpit time. He's impressed and a believer in the new technology, particularly the digital avionics suite that makes the bird more user-friendly to crew and passengers regardless of mission.

"The Mike model will do everything the Lima will do... but the "M" will do it so much better," he said. "What I like about this aircraft is the extreme precise accuracy of navigation using imbedded GPS and INS technologies. That translates to increased situational awareness on the battlefield at all times.

"With a digital moving map you know exactly where you are with relationship to the earth; it enables you with ease and comfort to navigate, fly and execute your mission a lot better because you also don't have to do manual calculations; the aircraft's digital suite makes everything faster and they can be done while the aircraft is on-the-fly," Chief McNeill said. "That also allows one pilot to fly the aircraft while the other serves as the mission operator."

Another digital advantage "M" pilots will have at their disposal is the capability of downloading all flight information from an office computer to a two-gigabyte PCMCIA card which can then be inserted into one of four slots for up to eight gigabytes of data, then downloaded to the Black Hawk's computer system.

"What that means is I can walk out to my aircraft with a flight plan and my entire mission loaded onto the card... all my intelligence data, my frequencies, my waypoints, then dump them into my aircraft and load it into the flight management system," CWO4 McNeill said. "You can't do that in the "L" model."

Another element to the new Black Hawk is its "threat intervisibility" system. This system allows for terrain data and known enemy in the field plotted on the map via a grid location. It allows the pilot to keep the aircraft masked below terrain at stand-off distances or threat engagement zones.

"If I climb too high, the system will flash red meaning that I'm within range of various bad-guy weapons systems, so it assists me by telling me to fly lower and keeps me out of harm's way," CWO4 McNeill said. "The classified system contains known capabilities of friendly and enemy weapons systems. That means we can plan our routes and have a decreased probability of being shot at... that's a huge advantage."

The multi-function display can be switched almost as quickly as it takes to press the button - from cautionary advisory pages, to maps, pilot instrumentation, calculator pages - all those screens are interchangeable and compressed into computers without needing to have extra gauges or having to spend valuable time making calculations such as fuel burn-rate.

"I can now determine based on head winds whether I'm going to make it there, which allows me to plan alternate routes on-the-fly; those are things that would have taken several minutes on the "L," but now I can do them in a matter of seconds," CWO4 McNeill said.

Chief McNeill, who is also a maintenance officer, said another major difference between the "L" and "M" models is the onboard Integrated Vehicle Health Management System or IVHMS, a series of sensors throughout the aircraft which constantly collect information crucial to the Black Hawk's health.

"If it rotates, gyrates, vibrates, it's been processed by the IVHMS and can be downloaded and extracted," he said. "To do my routine maintenance balancing adjustments, all I have to do is hit buttons and the computers, come up with vibration diagnostics, so I no longer have to bring ancillary gear; the aircraft will do a self-diagnosis.

"So, if there's a transmission ready to blow, we'll know before it happens. That system in itself will pay for itself down the road as the Army moves toward conditioned maintenance, where we may change something out before they break rather than after," he said.

Comparing the old to the new, the "L" and "M" models look similar, he said. The shape is pretty much the same, though the "M" rotor blades are different. The new helicopter has what are called anhedral blades which generate more lift and hover capability. The rotor system also has a wide-cored composite blade, which can stand up better to enemy gunfire and the antenna configuration is a little different. Each of the two General Electric 701D engines generates 2,000 shaft horsepower versus 1,900 horsepower from the "L." Yet the "M" is lighter.

The "M" model also has new seats for the crew and pilots who sometime suffer from back injuries as a result of hard landings. Crash survivability is also better for the crew, CWO4 McNeil Pilot seats contain variable-load energy attenuators, basically customized shock absorbers which allow the pilots to digitally dial in their weight. The pilot and crew seats will then "stroke" on seat support poles.

"In an unfortunate crash or hard landing sequence, everyone on board is going to be a lot safer because the seats are designed to go up, down, left, right, forward, aft and they swivel," Chief McNeill said. "The seat will actually stroke all the way down to prevent spinal injuries; they work like shock absorbers."

Chief McNeill believes "L" model pilots will find the transition to the "M" to be smooth, easy and that it will take about 15 hours of flight time.