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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Black Hawk Talk

By Lee Benson

In the September issue, I wrote about laser strikes on aircraft. Since that article was written, in fact predating that article, there has been an effort underway to get the FAA to consider formulating some guidelines for eye protection devices from laser strikes. As I said in the previous article, I don’t think a regulation or full-blown rule change is necessary. A well written Advisory Circular with some background on the threat and some suggestions as to the desired properties of adequate eye protection to be used to mitigate the threat to flight crews would be a long step in the right direction. I would see the guidelines suggesting the light spectrums to be covered and the minimum visual acuity of the device spelled out. If one of the standards for laser protection already written here or in Europe is appropriate for flight, all the better. So far, the effort to discuss this with the FAA has generated lots of football passing, but no touchdowns. (For my friends who don’t play or watch American football, I guess that would translate to a lot of kicking the ball back and forth but nothing into the net, so far.) Hopefully, by the time you read this that will change.

The last couple of months for me seemed to be all about Black Hawks. First, there was the announcement that the Army is divesting itself of 400-800 A-model Black Hawks. These aircraft will be replaced with new, digital M-model Black Hawks. First in line to receive the old aircraft will be federal, state or local municipalities. If no government entities step forward then Sikorsky and others will have the chance to buy the aircraft.

I flew L-model Black Hawks for the last eight years of my flying career with Los Angeles County Fire and it is a tremendous helicopter, but it is a very sophisticated aircraft to both fly and maintain. Like all helicopters, the bigger and more sophisticated they get the easier they are to fly. But it’s a helicopter where you as the pilot really need to understand the systems integration at work. The days of “pull up on the thing on the right, point the thing in the middle where you want to go and adjust the pedals accordingly” do not apply to a Black Hawk. If your company or agency has a mission profile that requires this kind of capability then my suggestion would be do your homework and see if you can either turn a profit or have the budget to support it. But buyer beware, this is not your uncle’s Huey.

The most intriguing part of this story to me was a conversations with some Sikorsky folks who where suggesting that Sikorsky will be refurbishing some of these aircraft up to L-model specs and offering them for sale at a price that seemed to be a very good value. I am not going to repeat the price I heard because I do not know if it was for public consumption yet.

All of this reminds me of the time in the mid-90s when I was engaged in a conversation with a fellow from a public agency that was telling me how his agency was planning on fielding two Bell Hueys by the next fire season. It occurred to me that his agency had a twin, fixed wing aircraft and that he had driven a long ways to attend the meeting. I asked him why he didn’t fly the airplane down and he indicated that “one of the engines needed an overhaul and that’s a lot of money.” I didn’t say it, but my thoughts about the Hueys where “you haven’t seen expensive yet.”

The next Black Hawk event, was an invitation from the South Florida Chapter of the American Helicopter Society to Palm Beach Florida to listen to John Dixson, Sikorsky’s retired chief pilot, and Ray Leoni, the Black Hawk development program director speak about the initial development of the Black Hawk. It was an amazing evening. John and Ray are both excellent story tellers. The pitfalls, trials and tribulations that Sikorsky went through to first compete and then win the UTTAS contract is a tale worth hearing.

Ray has authored a book called “Black Hawk: The story of a world-class helicopter.” It is quite a story.

At the end of the evening, I was invited to speak about LACOFDs Firehawk program to this group of almost-all Sikorsky test pilots, engineers and support personnel. It was really an honor to see the pride that these folks take in what they build.

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