By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
July 18, 2008 - Officials at the National Guard's Eastern Aviation Training Site here yesterday unveiled the new UH-72A Lakota light utility helicopter, for which they will become the military's sole trainers. This central Pennsylvania post will be the only Army training site for the military's newest light utility helicopter, which entered service in 2006 for homeland security and other non-combat missions, said Army Spc. Matt Jones, a full-time National Guard employee at the site.
Ultimately, the Lakota will replace UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters to be transferred for operational missions, as well as the last of the Vietnam-vintage UH-1 Huey helicopters that remain in the military arsenal, Jones said.
The Lakota is the military version of the Eurocopter EC-145 commercial aircraft, designed to fly light general support operations such as civil search and rescue, personnel recovery, evacuation, counter-drug and limited civil command and control operations for the Department of Homeland Security. It carries up to 11 people.
Pilots who fly the twin-turbine aircraft reported it's a powerful aircraft that handles well in all weather conditions, including storms that most aviators avoid. The Lakota also burns significantly less fuel than the Black Hawk or other similar aircraft, Jones said.
But unlike the Black Hawk, the Lakota is not designed to operate in combat environments and is considered non-deployable, Jones said.
Army Gen. Richard A. Cody, Army vice chief of staff, accepted the Army's first Lakota helicopter during a December 2006 ceremony in Columbus, Miss. Cody said the Lakota "is not only serving as a catalyst for change across the Army, it is also accelerating the speed of Army aviation modernization and integration with other services and government agencies."
The Army National Guard is slated to receive most of the 322 Lakota aircraft to enter the inventory.
The Fort Indiantown Gap training site received its first Lakota aircraft last month and its second about two weeks ago. Army Col. Timothy Hilty, who commands the site, said two more Lakotas are due by the year's end, with another four arriving by 2012.
Instructors from the Army Aviation Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., and Fort Indiantown Gap are already leading the first training course. A high-tech simulator at the training site and a cockpit trainer with a wrap-around screen provide realistic training conditions, Jones said.
Pennsylvania's Adjutant General, Army Maj. Gen. Jessica L. Wright, said the Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site has a history of providing excellent training and promised those trained here will receive "the best training possible."
The aircraft will also be available to respond to emergencies, as needed, she said.