News Spotlight / By CPT Matt E. Hayden and CPT Ronald W. Braasch III: Fort Rucker made history on January 8th, 2016. As flight school class 16-005 woke up and drove to their designated parking spot in the darkness, waiting for their bus to pick them up and take them to Cairns Army Airfield (AAF), it was like every other morning for primary students for the past 20 years. Once the students went to their classroom, completed morning questions, and confirmed performance planning and weather, they grabbed their flight gear and signed for the aircraft keys. The difference is these students did not get on the bus to go find their TH-67, instead they walked to the new primary aircraft, the UH-72A – the first UH-72A primary class in the Army and a new chapter in flight instruction at Cairns AAF.
History of the TH-67
The TH-67 (commonly known as the Bell 206), has operated at Cairns since 1995. Army Aviation chose the TH-67 in the 1990s to replace the UH-1 “Huey” as primary trainers. During that time, there was resistance to change but the TH-67 was more cost effective to operate. The TH-67 airframe trains brand new aviators in the Primary and Instrument phase of training with each phase lasting 8 weeks. Follow on training consists of another several weeks of Basic Warfighter Skills that encompass air navigation and low reconnaissance skillsets in the OH-58 A/C. After completing this initial training, student pilots transition into an advanced airframe (CH-47F Chinook, UH-60 Black Hawk, or AH-64 Apache). The TH-67’s commendable history includes over 100,000 hours annually to train more than 1,500 Army Aviators. Additionally, the TH-67 has produced more than 30,000 Army Aviators with over 2 million hours flown over its twenty-year tenure within Army Aviation.
Emergence of the UH-72A
Army Aviation selected the UH-72A to replace an aging TH-67 airframe in need of relief. Many aircraft possess more than 15,000 hours of flight time. C Troop 1-14th Aviation Regiment originally stood up the UH-72A Aircraft Qualification and Instructor Pilot Training program (AQIPT) at Fort Rucker in June 2015. Subsequently, Headquarters and Headquarters Company 1-223rd Aviation Regiment assumed control of AQIPT in October 2015 in support of future Initial Entry Rotary Wing (IERW) operations. Currently, transition to the UH-72A is ongoing as hundreds of personnel begin to augment systems and processes to facilitate the more advanced airframe. The UH-72A, unlike the single engine TH-67, is a multi-engine aircraft combined with the improved avionics of a “glass cockpit.” The “glass cockpit” refers to the digital displays found on the console of the UH-72A that replaces analog gauges found on the TH-67. Many UH-72A systems are automated, allowing the pilot manual manipulation if necessary. As a result, the UH-72A is a highly stable platform reducing pilot workload as compared to the TH-67. Almost all cyclic movement is reduced as the aircraft is in motion, making the “stirring the pot” action negligible by comparison.
Differences in Flight School
The UH-72A applies the same three-phase concept as the TH-67, but adds two additional phases aimed at improving student pilot capability in tactical flight. Furthermore, the UH-72A primary phase is just six weeks to adjust for improved aircraft stability as compared to the TH-67. Key differences in training include improved Instructor Pilot (IP) continuity, “glass cockpit” manipulation, and Night Vision Goggle (NVG) qualification. First, the IPs will instruct the same students in the UH-72A training program through the first fourteen weeks of training improving training focus.
Next, during Advanced Skills students focus on “glass cockpit” operations learning the application of the aircraft’s automated systems. Lastly, UH-72A students will finish training NVG qualified. This will reduce requirements during the students’ advanced airframe training and will better prepare them during future Aviation operations overseas.
Reasons for Change
In addition to replacing the aging TH-67 airframe, initial UH-72A training immediately exposes the flight student to multifunctional displays and a suite of communication and navigational equipment similar to that of the advanced airframes. Although the instrument panels of both the UH-72A and TH-67 provide the same basic information, the UH-72A enhances situational awareness and reduces pilot workload with the use of redundant, instantaneous and additional supporting indications. Unlike the analog gauges of the TH-67, the UH-72As advanced displays provide flight students with a logical progression of information for their follow-on AH-64D/E, UH-60M, or CH-47F airframes.
Similarly, flight and training capability increases with the larger UH-72A. The reduction to susceptibility of Loss of Tail Rotor Effectiveness is one example. Additionally, UH-72A IERW training exposes the student to an airframe that applies dual engine technology as well as performance capability. In fact, the UH-72A provides redundancy for many of its systems including hydraulics, GPS, Autopilot, VOR, and communications. With this capacity, the flight student is expected to apply mission fundamentals into their advanced aircraft more quickly. The application of these redundant systems, however, means that UH-72A touchdown maneuver training is reduced as compared to its single engine counterpart in order to maintain airframe readiness for years to come.
The surrounding communities and visitors to Fort Rucker will notice a decrease of the historic orange and white TH-67 flights overhead. The end of 2018 will retire the TH-67 as numerous olive drab UH-72As completely take over the skies. The UH-72A is the future of Army Aviation qualifying the next generation of highly adaptable, technically and tactically proficient, and technologically savvy Army Aviators.
CPT Matt Hayden is the company commander for HHC, 1-223rd Aviation Regiment providing oversight of staff functions, Quality Assurance of TH-67, UH-72A, and C-12 Initial Entry Training, UH-72A AQIPT, IERW and AQIPT academics, and oversight of operational functions for Knox AAF and Cairns AAF. He is also the Cairns Army Airfield Commander. He is qualified in the AH-64D and performs duties as a TH-67 IP.
CPT Ronald Braasch is the Battalion Operations Officer for 1-223rd Aviation Regiment. A graduate of the United States Military Academy, he formerly commanded A 1-223rd Aviation Regiment in charge of graduate CH-47D/F flight training. He has deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and performs duties as a CH-47F SP.