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Friday, June 1, 2007

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Correction

We said the U.S. Navy threatened to cancel a major contract unless Sikorsky Aircraft fixed production and quality problems ("The Challenge of Lean," April 2007, page 20). That was incorrect. In November 2006, the U.S. Defense Contract Management Agency issued Sikorsky a Level 3 Corrective Action Request and required it to provide a detailed plan to correct production and quality deficiencies in U/HH-60s and S-70s. Observers of U.S. defense acquisitions described that Level 3 request as a step below contract termination. We apologize for the error. — The Editor

Clarification

We ran an item on noise-complaints against a firefighting flight school that included a photograph of a Columbia Helicopters aircraft ("Fire Crew Training Draws Noise Complaints," May 2007, page 16). This may have created the impression that Columbia was the object of the complaints. It was not, nor was it involved in the activities in question. We apologize for creating such confusion. — The Editor

Demanding the Best

It sounds like Mr. Richard Dickson’s years of experience were in the maintenance hangar, not the cockpit ("Chinooks for CSAR?," February 2007, page 7). I must address his far-off-the-mark assertion that U.S. Air Force helicopter pilots are less than stellar.

Today’s Air Force helicopter pilot has more combat time in close proximity to the enemy and has been shot at more than anyone in the Air Force fixed-wing community. Low-level operations conducted in extreme environments under low illumination and brownout conditions in unfriendly territory to recover U.S. and allied personnel demand highly skilled aircrew. These young pilots were forced to clearly demonstrate the qualities required for this mission before earning a trip to Fort Rucker.

For the past 18 months I have worked, flown with, and led the men and women of an Air Force rescue squadron, both at home station and deployed. Whether in combat operations in Iraq, flying over New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina (where our squadron logged over 870 saves), or in combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) and medevac missions in Afghanistan, the performance of these young men and women has been nothing less than extraordinary. We spent eight months last year shoulder to shoulder with our Army brothers in Afghanistan, and while I have the utmost respect for Army helicopter pilots, it was proved day after day that my crews were at least their equals. We flew on the darkest nights, in the worst weather, and most of the time with the smallest power margins — and logged nearly 1,000 hr, over 200 combat missions, and 225 lives saved, all without a mishap in the world’s most demanding helicopter flying environment.

Lt. Col. Todd Worms, U.S. Air Force

HH-60 Evaluator Pilot, Operations Officer

41st Rescue Sqdn.

Moody AFB, Ga.

Mr. Dickson’s use of completely false data is appalling and diminishes your magazine and military aviators everywhere. His complete lack of understanding of what missions the HH-60 performs is remarkable.

The high-altitude missions in which we lost aircraft in Afghanistan were all missions in which the U.S. Army medevac assets had determined the missions were beyond their capability and too dangerous to attempt. Such missions constitute the vast majority of the roughly 800 combat saves by USAF HH-60s in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.

This is not a criticism of the brave and very capable Army UH-60 medevac crews. The HH-60G has been uniquely equipped and our aircrews uniquely trained for arguably the most demanding mission in the U.S. military, CSAR. The weapons, survivability equipment, low-light and infrared pilotage sensors, and unique support from a global Air Force command-and -control system allow our CSAR crews to perform missions that no one else can. These are inherently risky and flown at the Pave Hawk’s absolute limits. This is why the Air Force is aggressively pursuing a new helicopter as its No. 2 acquisition priority and increasing the fleet from the remaining 101 HH-60s to 141 CSAR-Xs.

Another prime example of this kind of heroic action is the HH-60 mission to rescue five Army Chinook aircrew in Operation Iraqi Freedom. These brave HH-60 airmen won the coveted McKay Trophy. They penetrated a sandstorm that forced them to fly as low as 30 ft to maintain sight of the ground and evaded four surface-to-air missiles while engaging anti-coalition insurgents with their weapons.

As a squadron commander, I had the opportunity to recruit Army aviators. I selected the top four. As the top 1 percent of the applicants, they were and continue to be fine aviators and fit right in with the rest of my crews, but by no means did they find themselves amongst the Air Force’s worst pilots. As a graduate and former commander of an Air Force Weapons School squadron and a Naval Test Pilot School Distinguished Graduate, I think I can tell the difference.

Col. Michael T. "Ghandi" Healy, U.S. Air Force Student, National War College Fort McNair, Washington

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