Friday, January 11, 2008

'Air Boss' Experiences, Discusses Future of Helicopter Aviation

By Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class (SW/AW) Chris Fahey, Naval Air Forces Public Affairs

Vice Adm. Thomas Kilcline, commander, Naval Air Forces, prepares to pilot the Navy's newest premier combat helicopter, the MH-60R "Seahawk," assigned to the "Raptors" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 71. Kilcline's flight in the MH-60R allowed him to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the airframe's operational capabilities. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Chris Fahey)

NAS NORTH ISLAND, Calif. (NNS) -- The Navy's "Air Boss" experienced firsthand the future of naval helicopter technology and led roundtable discussions with the senior rotary wing leadership stationed at Naval Air Station North Island (NASNI) in December.

Commander, Naval Air Forces, Vice Adm. Thomas Kilcline, flew an MH-60R "Seahawk" – the Navy's newest combat helicopter – with the "Raptors" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 71 to gain a better understanding and appreciation of the airframe's operational capabilities.

While in flight, Kilcline and Lt. Carey Castelein, HSM-71 helicopter aircraft commander, operated above Southern California. They simulated anti-submarine operations, made approach landings and pushed the airframe to its potential.

"The whole aircrew had a great time," said Castelein. "We got to show the Air Boss exactly what we do as combat helicopter pilots, while flying the finest, most capable airframe the Navy has to offer – it was an absolute pleasure."

Developed by Sikorski, the MH-60R was first introduced to the Navy Jan. 23, 2006, as a training platform with NASNI's Fleet Replacement Squadron, the "Seahawks" of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 41.

The Romeo made its first fully operational debut, Oct. 4, when the Raptors stood up as the Navy's first combat-ready squadron comprised solely of MH-60Rs.

Before the MH-60R's development, the Navy employed the SH-60B and SH-60F as the primary means to accomplish the anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare helicopter missions.

The MH-60R features the best of both the SH-60B and SH-60F to include added electronic support measures, airborne low frequency sonar (ALFS), a multi-mission radar upgrade, forward looking infrared (FLIR) and a weapons suite that includes torpedoes and Hellfire missiles.

"The Romeo does a lot for anti-submarine warfare," said Cmdr. Michael Nortier, commanding officer, HSM-71. "It brings the capabilities that were in a couple of different airframes into one."

In all, the MH-60R and its brother, the MH-60S "Knighthawk," will eventually replace the SH-60B, SH-60F and HH-60H helicopters currently employed by the Navy.

According to Kilcline, this initiative complements the Naval Aviation Enterprise's standing commitment to "deliver the right force with the right readiness at the right cost at the right time … now and in the future."

Following Kilcline's Romeo flight, the Air Boss met separately with NASNI's rotary wing senior enlisted advisors followed by a sit-down with senior officers to discuss hot topics affecting their community.

One key issue was the shift from standard helicopter detachment deployments. Now, the entire HSM squadron will deploy together as part of the carrier air wing, as the Helicopter Anti-Submarine squadrons do. However, the HSM squadron will be broken into roughly four-airframe/20-person detachments and these detachments will then be assigned to each ship in the carrier strike group.

This new concept provides more streamlined communication and guarantees greater consistency in training qualifications among all the helicopter assets in a single strike group.

These discussions with the West Coast's helicopter aviation leaders and the Romeo flight fall in line with Kilcline's efforts to meet face-to-face with every branch of naval aviation.

Kilcline took command of Naval Air Forces, June 22, and heads a force that includes 11 aircraft carriers, 17 air wings, more than 3,500 aircraft, 169 active-duty and reserve squadrons and 100,000 plus personnel.