Magazine article National Defense

Navy in Flight

Magazine article National Defense

Navy in Flight

Article excerpt

Helicopter squadron gets new aircraft; learns tactics, maintenance techniques

NAVAL AIR STATION NORTH ISLAND; calif.-The West Coast training squadron for the Navy MH-60R Seahawk multi-role helicopter is slated to initiate its first student aviator on Oct. 1.

In January, Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 41 accepted four MH60Rs, which were rebuilt from earlier SH-60Bs by Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin.

The 500-strong squadron currently is developing tactics, operational schemes and maintenance procedures. Aviators fly the Romeo models alongside 10 older SH-60Bs. In the next four years it will replace them with 11 factory-fresh Romeos and supply five to seven West Coast squadrons with several dozen pilots apiece as they transition to the new helicopter.

The Navy is replacing about 250 antisubmarine warfare SH-60Bs and SH-60Fs with a similar number of new-build MH-60Rs under a $2.5 billion program.

The H-60 airframe is employed by the Navy under the model designations SH-60B (Bravo), SH-60F (Foxtrot), HH-60H (Hotel), MH-60S (Sierra) and MH-60R (Romeo).

The Romeo is equipped with new sensors and modern avionics, wired for weapons growth and designed for rapid reconfiguring for mine-warfare, humanitarian and even airto-air missions countering low, slow-moving aircraft. It is intended to complement the MH-60S cargo helicopters and eventually replace the S-3B Viking antisubmarine warfare aircraft.

The Navy wants to only operate MH-60R and MH-60S helicopters in the future, rather than the seven models currently in use. The consolidation could save the service $1 billion annually, officials say.

"The future of naval aviation is Hornets and helicopters," says HSM-41 skipper Cmdr. J.C. Shaub. "We've finally been recognized as a force multiplier."

The MH-60R combines the capabilities from earlier Seahawk models. "The Romeo is a Foxtrot plus a Bravo plus a hotel - all in one aircraft," says HSM-41 Aviation Warfare Systems Operator Nick Hunter.

The Romeo incorporates the Bravos surface search and sonobuoy capabilities with the dipping sonar of the SH-60F and the missile armament of the search-and-rescue HH-60H. This hybrid missions suite is installed in the same basic Seahawk airframe - which, according to HSM-41 Structural Mechanic Stephen Lind, is the "same, except there's an extra hydraulics system."

"The Romeo does everything the Bravo does ... but does it with more fidelity and better avionics," Shaub explains. "The HH60B is based on 1970s black boxes. This airframe is developed with the latest and greatest stuff."

Plus, Shaub adds, "We have the ability to grow as technology develops." The Romeo's cockpit has open-architecture computers and software, and its wing pylons include wiring for future weapons. The Romeo design philosophy, Shaub says, is "flexibility." Bravos deployed for Hurricane Katrina and tsunami relief duty in recent years had to go through difficult de-installations to make them ready for transport and cargo hauling, but Shaub says that equipment in the Romeo's crowded cabin can be pulled out in just minutes.

The flexibility extends to its "office," where two pilots fly the aircraft and manage information fed into the cockpit by a sensor operator in the cabin. In the Bravo, the right seat is hardwired for flying and the left seat for information management. In the Romeo, both seats can perform both roles, facilitating better teamwork during high-intensity missions.

All these new systems mean a steep learning curve for some HSM-41 maintainers who got their start working on Bravos. Some, including Avionics Technician Stephen Williams, did stints at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland, where they learned about the MH-60R before the aircraft's initial fielding to HSM-41, but others have had to learn on the job.

"It's all hands-on training for me. I've been learning as I go," says Avionics Electrician Kyle Elhard. …

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