By Sgt. 1st Class Richard. A. Sosa, Rotary Division Research, Development, Test and Evaluation NCO, Aviation Test Directorate, U.S. Army Operational Test Command
REDSTONE ARESENAL, Ala. – Experimental test pilots from Redstone Test Center (RTC) here teamed with operational pilots, crewmembers and ground troops from the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade (CAB), Fort Bragg, N.C. to put two prototype UH–60V Black Hawk helicopters through their paces during a recent limited user test (LUT).
The UH–60V digital Black Hawk will refit the U.S. Army’s remaining UH–60L helicopter fleet’s analog cockpits to a modern digital cockpit, similar to the UH–60M helicopter.
The program has the potential to reduce obsolescence and increase commonality and interoperability by installing a digital integrated glass cockpit. The digital cockpit will include an upgraded navigation suite and replace analog gauges with electronic instrument displays, similar to would be seen in an advanced premium sports car.
Throughout the LUT, an Aviation test team from the U.S. Army Operational Test Command (USAOTC) applied post-mission surveys and after action reviews, corroborated with onboard video and audio instrumentation, to collect data directly from the aircrews.
“This approach permitted evaluators to see and hear how the pilots interacted with the digital platform during missions,” said Mr. Derek Muller, UH-60V LUT Test Officer with USAOTC.
“The data collected during the test will support an independent evaluation by the U.S. Army Evaluation Center,” continued Muller. “The evaluation will also inform a low-rate initial production decision later this year, allowing the Utility Helicopter Program Office to move forward with limited production.”
During the LUT, aircrews flew the UH–60V under realistic conditions, conducting air movement, air assault, and external load missions under day, night, night–vision goggle, and simulated instrument meteorological modes of flight.
“These conditions enabled evaluators to determine the UH–60V’s overall effectiveness in enhancing the aircrew’s ability to complete their mission in a combat-like environment,” said Mr. Brian Apgar, Rotary Wing Deputy Division Chief of USAOTC’s Aviation Test Directorate (AVTD).
USAOTC coordinated the use of realistic threat simulations during the test to stimulate the UH–60V’s aircraft survivability equipment and trigger pilot actions using the updated cockpit capabilities.
“The threat simulation not only enriched the combat-like environment, enhancing the quality of the test,” said Muller. “The representative threat also provided quality training for the aircrews.”
LUT Operations Officer, Chief Warrant Officer 4 Toby Blackmon of USAOTC, began each day briefing aircrews on the assigned mission, based on a current real-world scenario.
Following the mission brief, the aircrews continued with mission preparation, completing team and crew briefs, and conducting preflight inspections of the aircraft.
During each mission, Blackmon served as the aircrew’s higher headquarters, directing operations using FM radios, blue force tracker 2 (BFT–2), and the aircrews on-board joint variable message format (JVMF) messaging, which allowed him to talk directly to the crews during missions through radio and the digital text messaging system.
“Using BFT–2 allowed me to stimulate the aircrews with mission changes through JVMF messaging, add simulated threats, plus receive situation reports from the aircrews in real–time,” Blackmon said.
Ground crews from the 82nd CAB prepared and hooked up sling loads during several missions, allowing pilots to see how the UH–60V’s cockpit displays provided situational awareness while carrying an external load.
USAOTC Test NCOIC Sgt. 1st Class Jason Keefer spent a week training the ground crews on sling load operations, rigging procedures, and conducting sling load elevator drills, before performing actual sling load missions.
“Using time during the operational test to train Soldiers on sling load operations is something I enjoyed most,” Keefer said.
“The sling load missions increase unit readiness by training 82nd ground troops on sling load operations,” said Col. Jason Blevins, USAOTC’s AVTD director.
Test pilots easily noticed the differences between the older UH–60L and the UH–60V.
“I don’t even know how you compare the Victor to the Lima,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 David Bragg of the 82nd CAB. “The UH–60V digital cockpit improved situational awareness.”
The program management office out of Redstone Arsenal, Ala., upholds that the UH–60V can provide real-time feedback using more modern and usable data for the pilots.
“My multifunction display was my navigator,” Maj. Michael Pinter, an RTC experimental test pilot, after completing an air assault mission during the test.
USAOTC is currently planning the initial operational test and evaluation for the UH–60V during late 2019.
Future operational testing will ensure Soldiers continue to have a voice in the acquisition process, guaranteeing a quality product prior to fielding.
About the U.S. Army Operational Test Command:
As the Army’s only independent operational tester, USAOTC tests Army, joint, and multi-service warfighting systems in realistic operational environments, using typical Soldiers to determine whether the systems are effective, suitable, and survivable. USAOTC is required by public law to test major systems before they are fielded to its ultimate customer — the American Soldier.
The Aviation Test Directorate at West Fort Hood, Texas, plans and conducts operational tests and reports on manned and unmanned aviation-related equipment to include attack, reconnaissance, cargo and lift helicopters, fixed wing aircraft, tactical trainers, ground support equipment, and aviation countermeasure systems.