JACKSON, Tenn. --- To enhance Army battlefield lethality, UH-60A/L Blackhawk helicopter pilots recently tested technology which could drastically change how Blackhawk Army aircrews plan and execute missions.
Known as Air Soldier System, or Air SS, the new technology allows aircrews to receive improved situational awareness, increased mobility and comfort, additional crewmember protection, extended mission duration, reduced cockpit workload, improved critical flight function performance, and increased system reliability.
"Air SS brings the older analogue UH-60A/L helicopters into the modern age with moving digital maps and a greatly improved day, night, color high-tech heads up display (HUD)," said Gary Vaughn, the Air SS Test Officer with the U.S. Army Operational Test Command's Aviation Test Directorate.
The Air SS operational test was a team effort involving the West Fort Hood, Texas-based AVTD, the U.S. Army Evaluation Command Aviation-Fires Evaluation Directorate from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, the Air Warrior Product Management Office at Huntsville, Alabama, and the 1st Assault Helicopter Battalion, 230th Aviation Regiment, based out of McKellar-Sipes Regional Airport, Jackson, Tennessee.
AVTD coordinates multiple efforts as Air SS moves toward its next major milestone for the UH-60A/L helicopter -- a full-rate initial production decision for the Soldier Computer Module, Mission Display Module, and Helmet Display and Tracking System components.
By implementing operationally realistic scenarios, according to Vaughn, 1-230th AHB was able to test the system while providing the crews an opportunity to train on the unit's Mission Essential Task List.
"AVTD prepared operational test events based on mission tasks and tactical mission scenarios," Vaughn said. "1-230th AHB crews then planned and flew the mission scenarios."
Chief Warrant Officer 3 Phillip Norris, the 1-230th AHB's production control officer, explained how the test came at just the right time for the unit.
"Executing the operationally realistic scenarios enhanced our unit readiness and assisted our crews in preparing for our upcoming humanitarian mission," said Norris.
Operational testing determines operational suitability, survivability, and effectiveness of Air SS, and its contribution to mission accomplishment during realistic scenarios.
Overall, participating pilots felt good about how Air SS helps step up their game.
"I really liked the new helmet style," said Capt. Shawn Baker, one 1-230th AHB pilot. "You no longer need a weight bag and the helmet has an increased field of view. Both the day and night HUD are very user friendly, have a sharp modern feel, and the color aspect was really an improvement.
"The HUD provides all the information a pilot requires and really allows us to remain focused outside of the cockpit rather than inside," he added.
Baker said Air SS offers many advantages to helicopter pilots. "It does bring what we have closer to the modern more digital aircraft," he said. "Even though it's an add-on system, it gives the pilots blue force tracker, the situational awareness of the moving map permanently affixed to the aircraft console, and the ability of the pilots to send messages over the horizon.
"Once you learn how to utilize the ins and outs of the system, it really is a force multiplier and a very useful tool."
Crews flew with 2-D symbology in their HUD throughout most of the test, but had the opportunity to fly and provide feedback on an emerging 3-D symbology capability toward the test's end.
"I think the Air Soldier System, as a whole, is going to improve aircrew situational awareness on the battlefield," said Norris.
"With the training and use of the 3-D symbology, unsafe landings to degraded visual conditions such as brown outs are a thing of the past," he added. "With the advancements in the system and proper training, pilots could safely deliver personnel and supplies to anywhere on the battlefield at any time."
"I'm very excited that our unit has been afforded the opportunity to participate in this operational test," said Maj. Mark Jordan, 1-230th AHB Operations Officer.
"I'm confident that this system is a step in the right direction toward a more efficient navigational capability, and I feel that this system could prove to be an invaluable situational awareness tool for the Blackhawk community."
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.