KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany: The 21st Theater Sustainment Command paved the way for another first when it facilitated the acquisition and receipt of five UH-72A Lakota helicopters – the Army’s newest aircraft. The cutting-edge helicopters received at Ramstein Air Base, April 13, are the first ones to reach the U.S. Army in Europe.
The light-utility helicopters were towed to and reassembled at the Theater Aviation Sustainment Manager Europe’s closed loop facility on Ramstein. TASM-E, 405th Army Field Support Brigade, which falls under the operational control of the 21st TSC, is responsible for the maintenance of the light utility helicopters under the Department of the Army Contract Logistics System.
“As the senior logistician for the USAREUR Theater, Major General (Patricia) McQuistion, (the commanding general of the 21st TSC) has a keen interest in all logistics support of this theater, to include the contracts,” said William Sanders, the chief of the 21st TSC’s support operation’s aviation logistics section.
However, until the Army officially took possession of the aircraft, it was hands-off for them. While TASM-E provided the space, equipment and tools and stood ready to assist when and wherever possible, the Lakotas were being off-loaded and re-assembled by representatives from the manufacturer and the light utility helicopters product office at Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
Awaiting their turn was not always easy.
“They are so new, they still have that new helicopter smell,” said Carl Marquez, an aircraft mechanic at the closed loop facility.
“On the other hand, who could do it better, anyway? Everyone here is working toward an easy and smooth transition,” said Allen Partain, a quality assurance representative with TASM-E.
Finally, when it was time for the ground run-ups of the first three reassembled Lakotas April 19, the end owners had their turn. Three instructor pilots from the Joint Multinational Readiness Center and seven air crew familiarized themselves with the newest additions to their training fleet.
The aviation detachment known as Falcon Team provides the air support training at JMRC in Hohenfels, Germany. The center is slated to receive 10 UH-72As. Among its initial delivery is the aircraft with tail number 72100, signifying the 100th Lakota helicopter delivered to the Army.
The helicopters will be used to train pilots for combat engagements. Additionally, they will carry observers to oversee war game scenarios against opposing force aircraft, said Maj. Brian Parsons, an aviation observer controller with the Falcon Team.
In addition to providing JMRC with the flexibility to train diverse scenarios, the multi-role Lakotas will replace the aging UH-1 Iroquois aircraft at JRMC and will free up the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for tactical missions and deployments.
That’s another plus for the 21st TSC, which is responsible for reporting the aircraft readiness of this theater to the Department of the Army. The introduction of the Lakotas will boost readiness rates as well as additional operational capability, Sanders explained.
Simultaneously, being able to turn in the reliable but old Hueys at JMRC will eliminate a maintenance nightmare.
“Obtaining parts for the UH-1 Hueys has been a significant challenge for a while, because (the Army) cancelled all repair parts production lines for this aircraft,” Sanders said.
The Lakota, an advanced rotary-wing aircraft, is produced by American Eurocopter, a business unit of European Aeronautics Defense and Space.
“The Lakota is the military version of an existing aircraft – the EC 145 Eurocopter – it was actually designed in Donauwoerth, Germany, which makes it even better suited for the training mission here,” said Bill Bennett, a contract field service representative with American Eurocopter.
Meeting the Army’s commercial off-the-shelf acquisition strategy for light utility helicopters also equates to time and money saved for research and development as well as acquisition.