Flight Training Begins for First Class of Lakota Pilots

 - January 28, 2016, 8:35 AM

The U.S. Army has begun primary training for helicopter pilots using the Airbus UH-72A at the 110th Aviation Brigade, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Rucker, Ala. Forty students began academic work on December 10 and air work on January 11 in what will be a 22-week course that sees them graduate with an instrument rating. The Army is transitioning its basic training and basic combat skills training flying from a combination of the Bell TH-67 Creek and OH-58A/C Kiowa Warrior to the UH-72A over the course of the next four years. This year, 25 percent of students will train in the Airbus and the number will climb by 25 percent annually as the fleet grows to 204 from the current 61 and the Bells are retired.

The Army’s switch to the UH-72 in the primary training mission was not without controversy or its critics. Col. Kelly E. Hines, commander of the 110th, explained how training on the new helicopter is organized and what advantages it presents, what remains the same and what is different. 

The ground school remains the same save some of the content. “It’s the same type of classes as when we were flying TH-67s, with the same time frames for basic and advanced instruments,” Hines said. “A lot of the systems are much more modern than what we had in the TH-67s or the OH-58s so the students are learning more of what this generation is meant to learn. Today’s students are much more computer savvy than us ‘old guys,’” but otherwise, he said, “nothing is different save that as a dual engine it is safer. We don’t have the single-engine type failure thing to worry about.”

Practice on the Ground

Simulators are also part of the mix early on, and that wasn’t the case with the TH-67. “Currently with primary training on the TH-67, the first time you do anything is when you sit in the aircraft, take off and go fly around. You get no simulation before getting in the aircraft,” Hines said. With the UH-72, students get simulator time first. Right now students have access to three level-B simulators. That number will soon grow to five and there is a plan to switch over the level-D simulators in the near future. During the course of their training students will receive 37 hours in simulators. “The way the LUH [UH-72] works is that you do the simulations a little bit before flying so the students see how it works and know how to start it without having the added stress of taking it up into a hover and taking off,” Hines said. “They don’t practice hovering in the simulator but they practice traffic patterns. Hovering in a simulator helps, but it’s not as realistic.” He added that students do take it off from the ground in a simulator. In addition, they do emergency procedures training in the sim before they sit in the aircraft. They learn how to operate systems, how to tune radios, how to load flight plans and so on.

Learning in a twin-engine machine provides an added margin of safety, Hines said, and provides a smoother transition to the Army’s war-fighting machines. “They’re not having to do autorotations all the way to the ground as we did in TH-67s or a lot of the run-on landing stuff that we had to teach with the older aircraft. We still teach the EPs [emergency procedures] as far as autorotations from altitude but they recover before they touch the ground. It prepares them better for the advanced aircraft they go to after initial training. The Black Hawk, Chinook and Apache are all dual engine. A lot of the instrumentation crosses over and systems management is much better this way, as is habit transfer when they go to war-fighting helicopters.”

Training in the UH-72 improves continuity, Hines said. It allows students to stay with the same airframe and the same instructor longer, instilling confidence and ensuring the quality of instruction.

“What has changed is that the student will continue to fly the LUH all the way through what we call basic combat skills. Before that we were flying TH-67s until the students were finished with instruments, and then they would have to learn how to fly an OH-58A/C, a post-Vietnam-era aircraft, with basic combat skills–mostly low level and operating in remote fields,” Hines said. 

Students also receive NVG training in the UH-72 as opposed to in their advanced aircraft, which is how it used to be done, and the new way is safer and saves money, Hines said. “The current plan now is when they go into basic combat in an LUH they will actually get to fly NVGs at that point so that they will be NVG qualified. It will reduce the advanced-helicopter hourly requirement, which saves a little bit of money and time because it transfers over.”

Students also get to stay with the same instructor longer. “The student will begin with an IP [instructor pilot] on day one and he can keep that IP all the way through advanced instruments,” Hines noted. “We used to fly the student with one IP for contact and another for instruments. The reason I like this is that the IP who knows his students better, their weaknesses and their strengths, and can either tailor the package or techniques or, if a kid is doing better, advance him a little faster. Previously a TH-67 contact IP couldn’t teach instruments at all. Now if an IP sees his students are progressing at a better pace he can start introducing more advanced stuff earlier. Conversely, if a student needs more help on something he’ll know that and be able to work it in.”

Hines said he and his staff will be monitoring these first training classes closely and will not hesitate to make any necessary course adjustments. He said the four-year transition plan gives them ample time to tune the program. “We began looking at how we were going to do this a couple of years ago. It made sense not to try and do the transition all at once, so we would have time to look at the first class and see if there were bugs and make whatever adjustments we need to. We’re watching this class closely to see where efficiencies are gained, or where there are places we may need to add hours. We really won’t know that until we have had a couple of classes go through.”