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Monday, September 1, 2008

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Heli-Snipers Here to Stay

Giovanni de Briganti calls on the U.S. military to consider employing a technique he explained is being used by several other forces, particularly the British and French (“Heli-Snipers Prove Effective” June 2008, page 54). He writes “...if the Pentagon can afford to spend $22 billion to buy 22,500 Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicles to protect troops from roadside bombs, it can afford to deploy a few dozen heli-snipers to take out the bomb-makers before they strike. In any case, given its low cost, the availability of the necessary resources in theater, and the failure of other tactics, the heli-sniper concept at least deserves a thorough evaluation.”

This seems to indicate that the U.S., unlike some European nations, is lacking in innovation and execution in the heli-sniper concept. In fact, the U.S. Marine Corps has trained heli-snipers for many years. As early as 1994, Marine snipers trained to shoot balloons and other targets from several hundred meters on ranges aboard Camp Pendleton, Calif. from the back of slow-moving and hovering Bell Helicopter UH-1Ns.

Moreover, part of the standard Marine Expeditionary Unit pre-deployment training included the visit, boarding, search and seizure of ships, or “ship takedowns,” which often incorporated snipers (and other Marines operating in the sniper/overwatch role) in Hueys hovering alongside the target ships as other forces boarded and seized the vessel. Although similar tactics do not get much press coverage in 2008 in Al Anbar province, if they are being employed, it is safe to assume that today’s Marines are as well — and more likely better — trained as were those of years ago. The U.S. Marine Corps remains versatile, adaptable and dependable, and no doubt heli-sniper tactics will remain part of the force’s playbook for years to come.

Lt. Col. Glen Butler MCAF Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii

Giovanni de Briganti missed the mark on his recounting of the heli-sniper concept. The idea of a trained rifleman firing from a moving helicopter to eliminate threats with precision accuracy is a good one. However, he seems to give the credit to the recent actions of British and French for creating this concept and urges the U.S. military to consider the same.

The U.S. Army has evaluated this concept. Somewhat ironically, this concept was already used in the skies above Somalia in 1993 by the U.S. Army, which is amply illustrated in the narrative of Mark Bowden’s book “Black Hawk Down” and the subsequent movie of the same name. Two U.S. Army heli-snipers, Gary Gordon and SFC Randy Shughart, were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for their defense of a downed aircrew.

The same heli-sniper concept has been successfully used for dozens of law enforcement interceptions by the U.S. Coast Guard’s Helicopter Interdiction Squadron or HITRON.

It is good the French, some 15 years later, are applying the hard-won U.S. military lessons.

Peter Grandgeorge Bondurant, Iowa

Singing Praises

I just finished reading Ernie Stephens’ column on tactical flight officers in airborne law enforcement units (“TFOs: The Unsung Heroes” July 2008, page 60). Nice job!

Two sentences say it all: “It isn’t a helicopter until the pilot lifts the machine into the air. But it isn’t a police helicopter until the TFO does everything else.” With your permission, I would like to borrow this phrasing in the future. I don’t know when or where, but I think it is so well stated and has such an impact on those of us that know police aviation, that I’m just going to have to use it sometime.

Daniel B. Schwarzbach Houston, Texas Police Dept. Air Support

Ernie Stephens wrote a very inspiring column on tactical flight officers. It enlightened and gave worthy credit to the guys and gals who do the real work while hanging on in the helo. Thanks for your outstanding contribution.

Dean Willis Milton, Fla.

Correction, Please

In a recent article, you incorrectly state FAA requirements for pilot in command in Robinson Helicopter aircraft as 200 hr total in helicopters, 50 in type, and 10 hr dual (“FAA Extends ‘Robinson SFAR’” June 2008, page 11). Special Federal Aviation Regulation 73 states the requirements as 200/50 hr OR 10 hr dual, not both. In the case of the R44, only five of those 10 hr need to be in an R44.

Also, the annual review is needed only until 200 hr is reached, after which only a biennial flight review is required.

Byron Wright Gloucester, Va.

Thank you for the information. — The Editor

Open to Suggestions

This is a suggestion and request from my side to the publishers of Rotor & Wing on behalf of all the rotorcraft pilots in my unit.

We are of the opinion that R&W is a very informative magazine and keeps us abreast of the latest in the helicopter world. It would be nice if you could choose one particular helicopter in each issue and print an extra center spread with its salient features, as well as technical specifications. That way we could have a ready reckoner in the form of snazzy photographs that are informative as well. These would also be a mode of advertisement for companies across the world.

I do not know if this particular comment would be considered, but can only hope for the best. Keep doing the great job. We appreciate it.

Lt. B. Madhu Kiran Senior Pilot, 321 Flight Indian Navy

We certainly will consider this fine suggestion, and welcome others from readers. — The Editor

Tail Boom Strakes

Three years ago, when I checked aboard NAS Fallon, Nev. as a search and rescue pilot in the Bell HH-1N, tail boom strakes were installed on the team’s aircraft (“Helicopter Booster” January 2008, page 16).

Approximately two years ago, several rectangular holes were found in the deckplate of the tail rotor driveshaft compartment of several H-1s in the U.S. Navy/Marine Corps inventory, including one of our own at NAS Fallon. It was determined that the tail boom strakes were causing a flexing of the tail boom that allowed the driveshaft coupling to come in contact with the deck plate. Subsequently, all tail boom strakes were removed from our aircraft. None of our pilots noticed that they were gone after removal; no “anti-whining psychological training” required.

Perhaps these strakes aren’t so amazing after all?

Brent Hardgrave Fallon, Nev.

UAVs’ Civil Impact

You ask what impact readers expect unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to have on civil helicopter operations in the next five years (“Question of the Month” June 2008, page 7). Very little, I would guess.

Flying UAVs is not a simple operation. It involves a team of personnel. Certainly, their combined income equals or exceeds the income for a pilot in single-pilot operations. An UAV is not cheap, nor is its maintenance. That may change in time, just not enough in the next five years. And there are some instances in which the UAV will never be able to compete because its size and capability (as now known) is simply insufficient.

Does a UAV minimize risk? In some cases, yes. In many cases, no. The “situational awareness” of the controller is not nearly the same as a pilot in the seat. Does it minimize costs? Not yet, except in the cases of complete loss. Can it do the same job? In a few instances, but many of those currently involve poorly paid positions through which helicopter pilots gain experience and the cost of UAV operations still outweighs that of helicopters.

Will UAVs eventually gain a niche market? Almost certainly.

CW4 Steven Kersting, U.S Army Harrisburg, Pa.

Mechanic’s Pride

I take exception to Paul Bass’ statement that he “learned technical skills and pride that, even at the age of 46, makes any auto mechanic’s work look like crap” (“Feedback” August 2008, page 8).

I received my A&P in 1969 after graduating from A&P school and have been employed for 39 years as a mechanic. I have been the lead mechanic for the past 20 years at my company. I am also an “auto” mechanic and have worked on many sophisticated and highly technical automobiles as a hobby. I do not consider the maintenance I perform on these exotic cars as “crap.”

As far as working conditions go, I have been treated very well by my employer for the past 39 years. I could easily retire right now, but I have no plans to do so because I truly enjoy my job. I have traveled all over the world and visited locations I could never afford to have seen on my own. Also, I have never had a single tool missing from my rollaway in the 39 years I’ve been here.

Roy Frye Bloomfield, Conn.

More Than NVGs

We always appreciate all that R&W and your staff do to support the helicopter industry. This last year has not been a particularly good one for rotary-wing aviation. Our insurance rates are going up 50 percent in just this one year! This is unprecedented. We’ve never had an accident or insurance claim.

You have included several articles and notes regarding NVGs in R&W during the past year. I have been using an enhanced vision system (infrared imagining) for the past two years for night and day operations in our Bell 206 and wonder why enhanced vision seems to get less coverage when discussing safety equipment beyond NVGs, enhanced ground proximity warning system, etc. We are just installing the new Max-Viz EVS-1500 and what we have seen is awesome. It is simple, dependable, helps us avoid inadvertent instrument meteorological conditions and is a great alternative to the other options. Can you do a segment on enhanced vision systems?

With all the recent emergency medical service accidents, enhanced vision should be an important consideration beyond NVGs.

Brad Pattison Tacoma, Wash.

We will get to work on that article. Thanks for the suggestion. — The Editor

HUMS Inevitable

You ask if health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS) are inevitable in all helicopters (“Question of the Month” August 2008, page 7).

Two decades ago, I would have said that dedicated engineering staff could beat any data-collecting software. However, as helicopters have become more advanced and systems more complex, the HUMS (namely Euro-Hums, which I have knowledge of) is certainly an advanced tool to assist the engineer in prevention.

Training on the system installed at flight line level has to be equivalent to the knowledge of those who designed the system. There is absolutely no point in having a system gathering megabytes of data that cannot be interpreted by the flight line engineer. I have seen a few shortfalls: passwords made available to engineers without relevant training; data retrieval misunderstood by flight line personnel; no real-time management when the helicopter is detached from base; 24-hr coverage rarely available from the manufacturer.

Used properly and managed properly, HUMS on helicopters is here to stay. It gives the customer confidence in that all onboard systems are continuously monitored. Faults that do happen are usually tracked and fixed long before a serious incident occurs. If the engineer has a query with any data, a HUMS user group e-mail system is available. Should that fail, a direct line to the manufacturer is available.

Engineering defect reports for red alerts are recorded and monitored daily for an initial period of 10 hr. If a resolution of the alert is not found, the manufacturer can ground the aircraft or advise the engineer on site of the steps he should carry out to make the aircraft ready again for release to service.

Time can only improve the systems available out there. There will always be a place for this type of tool in aviation. HUMS aircraft have increased times before overhaul. This means less downtime and more flight time, making it better for operators and their customers.

Yes, HUMS in all helicopters is inevitable.

Ed McIlroy Ayrshire, Scotland

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