Tennessee Medevac unit flying UH-60Q, latest model of the Black Hawk

Tennessee Medevac unit flying UH-60Q, latest model of the Black Hawk

Calvert, Brian R

Only three of the newest Sikorsky UH-60Q “Dustoff” Black Hawks exist, and the Tennessee Army National Guard has them.

The Q-model is a modified version of the helicopter specifically designed for medical evacuation. That’s how they arrived at the hangers of Tennessee’s Combat Enhancement Capability Aviation Team (CECAT), a medevac detachment with around 40 troops and 13 pilots.

The Army is notorious for sending the Guard its hand-me-downs, but this equipment procurement project would not have been possible without financial support from the Guard, military and Sikorsky officials agreed. The National Guard Bureau funded the project when Army budgeting fell through, said an NGB official familiar with the project.

“The Guard got this program up and running,” he said. “We put in the effort, time and resources to get it kick-started.”

John Soehnlein, a government business development director at Sikorsky, credited the Guard for beginning a healing process that could bridge a gap that has been widening between the active Army and the Guard.

“In certain areas, the Guard and the Army work very well together,” Soehnlein said. In this case, “The Guard can take credit for modernizing the active Army.”

A lot of that modernization came from research and development of a new, modern cockpit. Because medical evacuation helicopters have special needs, a more compact cockpit is necessary So the Army, the Guard and Sikorsky put all that together to build a better aircraft.

The result was a helicopter with hightech navigation devices, infrared sensors on the nose that allow pilots to see 360 degrees, a computer monitor display that replaces many of the older boiler-type gauges and more advanced medical lifesaving equipment.

Medics on the crew benefit the most from the Q-model’s assets. For example, the forward M60 gunners seats-unnecessary in a medical helicopter-were removed to create more space. The new model also comes equipped with oxygen generating and suction systems and other medical-specific improvements.

During the months of August and September, in a four- to six-week train-up, pilots and medics trained in Fort Campbell, Ky., to familiarize themselves with the complex gadgetry of the new model, which was modified from the original UH-60A model.

Pilots and medics recently visited Kentucky to see exactly what the helicopter was capable of. SGT Tracy Banta, a flight medic for the CECAT, said the newer provisions allow medics to “spend more time on the patients,” a major advantage when life or death can be decided by mere minutes of medical attention.

Also at Fort Campbell to observe and train with the helicopter were members of the 101st Airborne Division.

The hardest part of training was learning all the new instruments, said MAJ Greg Castleberry, flight facility commander for the CECAT In addition, the Qmodel comes equipped with an external hoist device, which requires training by pilots and medics, alike.

The Tennessee Guard has had the three prototypes since February, and another one is being built for them.

This year, the Defense Department budget contains provisions for more models, pending congressional approval.

“Congress is very supportive” of this program, Soehnlein said.

The new model is better equipped to fly in adverse conditions, day or night, rain or shine, and pilots must learn to fly with the new systems acting as their eyes during bad conditions.

“We’re completely self-contained” in the newer model, Banta said.

Copyright National Guard Association of the United States Sep 1998

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