Drawing: Cobra Drawing: Cobra

U.S. Army Moves Forward in Aviation Transformation
By Spc. Jerome Bishop
05 December 2005

POPE AIR FORCE BASE, North Carolina, 05 December 2005 – After years of planning, the first five UH-60 Black Hawks for soldiers of the 1st Support Battalion, or Task Force Sinai, 1st Corps Support Command in Egypt in support of Multi-national Force Observer, departed Pope Air Force Base Dec. 2.

The plan to replace obsolete aircraft in the Sinai for U.S. peacekeepers assisting in the enforcement of the Egyptian-Israeli 1979 Camp David Peace Accords has been under way for several years.

However, this mission involved more than just getting the helicopters from point A to point B. "This shows us three things," said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Virgil L. Packett II, acting commander of the 18th Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg who was on hand to review the loading progress. "First that we're moving forward in providing our soldiers with the best equipment. Second that we're moving forward in our aviation transformation, and third, the level of international cooperation in a peacekeeping mission by moving American helicopters on a Russian aircraft."

"Today is the first of the final steps in getting that completed in that we're getting the first five Black Hawks to the Sinai and that's a big step," said U.S. Army Chief Warrant Officer John Leake, the aviation readiness officer from Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Corps Distribution Command. "In 2002, a force modernization plan was put forward to change the Multi-national Force Observer Sinai's UH-1H Hueys to the Black Hawk."

Currently, Task Force Sinai are conducting missions with the UH-1H Huey helicopter, which the Army intends on replacing as part of the transformation of the Army's Aviation Corps.

"As part of the Army's Transformation Plan, Army Aviation is divesting itself of the 'legacy aircraft' such as the AH-1 Cobra and the UH-1H Huey among others," said U.S. Army Maj. Joseph Martini, aviation readiness officer for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Corps Distribution Command.

Martini spearheaded the coordination for most of the mission through bi-weekly teleconferences between the 1st Corps Support Command, 18th Airborne Corps, Air Mobility Command, the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade and other key players.

Although the Huey and the Black Hawk can both conduct the same variety of missions which includes transporting troops and supplies, search and rescue missions and medical evacuations, the Black Hawk is an essential part of the plan the Army has for its revamped aviation fleet.

"The Army decided it wants four aircraft – the UH-60 Black Hawk, the OH-58 Kiowa, the AH-64 Apache, and the CH-47 Chinook," Leake said.

Getting the helicopters to Egypt presented its own challenge since only a limited number of cargo aircraft are capable of simultaneously transporting five helicopters a third of the world away.

"Because of the priorities set by the Air Mobility Command, our options for transporting the helicopters were limited," Leake said. "In support of this national mission, they saw fit to charter an aircraft big enough to get them over there rather than resources being used in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The aircraft utilized by the 1st Corps Support Command to transport the Black Hawks to the Multi-national Force Observer was the Russian Antonov AN-124 Condor. The crew and aircraft was contracted from a Ukrainian-based charter company called Volga-Dnepr Airlines whom specialize in the transportation of over-sized cargo, Martini said.

The Air Force C-5 Galaxy cargo transportation aircraft is slightly larger than the Condor used by Volga-Dnepr, however, the Condor has a wider storage area and can carry more weight than the C-5. "Pretty much, the Condor is the equivalent of our C-5," Martini said. Working with the Russian team adds a unique level of international cooperation between two nations towards the advancement of peace in the world.

"The Russian aircrew of the AN-124 was friendly and very cooperative in making sure all of the equipment pallets and aircraft were able to be loaded on the AN-124," said Martini. "Once the AN-124 was loaded, we had about 12 inches or so of room to spare, so they were instrumental in making sure everything that had to go to the Sinai got on the airplane."

Without the help of the Russian crewmembers, the loading of the aircraft that took place Dec. 1, would not have been as fast and effective, said Leake. "I thought they did a fantastic job," said Leake. "They started loading the Condor at 11 a.m. and they were done by 3 p.m. and it was a tight fit."

The 1st Corps Support Command is planning to ship three more Black Hawks to Multi-national Force Observer peacekeepers sometime in January, however future use of the Condor is still undetermined, Martini said.

"It has been a team effort with outstanding cooperation between all agencies to make the mission happen," Martini said. "I look forward to the same level of cooperation in January 06 when we send the final load of three UH-60s to the Sinai."

Story courtesy of the U.S. Army

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Updated: 06 December 2007
Born on 04 February 2006