USA — Lakota helicopter flies strong now in National Capitol Region

WASHINGTON — The Army extend­ed the pres­ence of the UH-72A Lako­ta Heli­copter into the Mil­i­tary Dis­trict of Wash­ing­ton, Aug. 11, as it replaced the UH‑1 Iro­quois Heli­copter, or Huey, at Fort Belvoir’s Davi­son Army Air­field.

UH-72A Lakota helicopter
The UH-72A Lako­ta heli­copter replaced the Huey at Fort Belvoir, Va., Aug. 11, and is set to be field­ed at Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground, Md., and var­i­ous Army Nation­al Guard sites around the coun­try in the next year.
Pho­to cred­it Jodie Whit­ting­ton at Amer­i­can Euro­copter
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The Lako­ta light util­i­ty heli­copter, a com­mer­cial air­craft pro­duced in Colum­bus, Miss., is used by the Army to con­duct home­land secu­ri­ty and give admin­is­tra­tive and logis­tic sup­port to train­ing cen­ters. It began replac­ing the UH-60 Black Hawks in med­ical evac­u­a­tion mis­sions when they were sent to Fort Irwin, Calif., in 2007. 

The heli­copter has since been field­ed at Fort Eustis, Va., Fort Polk, La., the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Mary­land and the U.S. Mil­i­tary Acad­e­my in New York. It’s also being used out­side of the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States in Puer­to Rico, the Mar­shall Islands and by the Joint Multi­na­tion­al Readi­ness Cen­ter in Germany. 

“We’re in the process of set­ting stan­dards in how quick­ly we can get crit­i­cal pro­grams to our Sol­diers in the field,” said Col. Neil Thur­good, the project man­ag­er for the Lako­ta helicopter. 

One hun­dred thir­teen heli­copters have been field­ed across the mil­i­tary to both active-duty and Nation­al Guard units, with most going to the Guard. 

“That’s very impor­tant because it’s part of our nation’s promise to the Guard to field them with cur­rent, mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy and to sup­port them in their home­land defense mis­sions,” Thur­good said. 

The Lako­ta con­tin­ues to replace Black Hawks in non-com­bat oper­a­tions, which can then be sent to Iraq and Afghanistan for mis­sions. It also saves the Army mon­ey by eas­ing main­te­nance issues that old­er Hueys expe­ri­ence. The Lako­ta not only does a good job of sup­port­ing the mis­sion, but also helps elim­i­nate the Army’s fleet of aging air­craft, Thur­good said. “Both are impor­tant for the Army.” 

The Lako­ta can be used dur­ing search and res­cue oper­a­tions in the after­math of floods, earth­quakes and oth­er nat­ur­al dis­as­ters. It can also be used by the Army Nation­al Guard to per­form counter-nar­cotics oper­a­tions at the bor­der. The pri­ma­ry mis­sion depends on the aircraft’s vari­ant, however. 

The heli­copter can be craft­ed in five spe­cif­ic vari­a­tions. There is a VIP vari­ant to fly senior lead­ers around; a MEDEVAC vari­ant to con­duct med­ical mis­sions; a train­ing-spe­cif­ic mod­i­fi­ca­tion; a Guard-spe­cif­ic air­craft for home­land secu­ri­ty; and a stan­dard-pack­age air­craft used for a vari­ety of missions. 

After 40,000 hours of flight time, with 420 trained pilots, the feed­back from oper­a­tors is pos­i­tive, Thur­good said. Pilots like the mod­ern dig­i­tal cock­pit, the sta­bil­i­ty, the nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem and the seat­ing posi­tion, and some of the mod­els are equipped with air conditioning. 

All Lako­ta pilots are pro­vid­ed with Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion train­ing in Granbury, Texas, and the impact the heli­copter has on the country’s econ­o­my is an addi­tion­al advantage. 

“The air­craft pro­duc­tion has shift­ed from Ger­many to Amer­i­ca,” Thur­good said. “That’s very impor­tant eco­nom­i­cal­ly to our nation, it’s very impor­tant to our jobs and it’s very impor­tant to our states.” 

The Army has tak­en steps to ensure a smooth field­ing process, an exten­sive mis­sion set and encour­ag­ing feed­back. These mea­sures have led to a suc­cess­ful imple­men­ta­tion of the Lako­ta heli­copter with sup­port from senior leaders. 

The process has been suc­cess­ful because the Army is tied direct­ly to users, form­ing a rela­tion­ship with every unit using the heli­copter. Lead­er­ship has worked hard to acquire fund­ing lead­ing to an accel­er­at­ed pro­gram. And this is an instance where the Army has tak­en advan­tage of the mar­ket­place instead of task­ing indus­try with build­ing a spe­cif­ic air­craft, Thur­good said. 

These fac­tors have led to rapid acqui­si­tion, and the field­ing process isn’t slow­ing down. The Army is set to field the Lako­ta at Aberdeen Prov­ing Ground and for Nation­al Guard units in Yaki­ma, Wash., and Vir­ginia for the remain­der of the year. 

Six­ty-two Lako­ta heli­copters will be sent to 12 dif­fer­ent sites next year. 

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