News: Louisiana Guard first to fly new helicopter in overseas mission
Story by Sgt. Aaron Leblanc
NEW ORLEANS – Aviators from the Louisiana National Guard led the first overseas humanitarian training relief mission involving the Army’s newly fielded UH-72A Lakota helicopters during Task Force Bon Voizen – New Horizons Haiti 2011 from April through June.
The new aircraft performed medical evacuations, helped to move critical supplies and transported troops and civilians around the task force area of operations.
The Lakota is a military version of the civilian Eurocopter EC-145 multi-mission helicopter, used worldwide for law enforcement, emergency medical transportation, search and rescue and corporate transport. It has been reconfigured for the U.S. Army with the aim of replacing the aging OH-58 Kiowa and supplementing the UH-60 Black Hawk.
There are several advantages enjoyed by the Lakota over the combat-oriented Black Hawk due to its relatively recent vintage, smaller size and weight, said Louisiana Guardsman Capt. Michael Bonney, who was in charge of task force aviation operations in Haiti. It has advanced avionics, and its nimble airframe can go places larger helicopters can’t. It sports rear clamshell doors that simplify medical evacuations, and its range is greater.
“The Lakota was introduced into the Army’s inventory in 2006 to free up the Black Hawk fleet for the ongoing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Bonney, a Reeves native.
Bonney, who personally racked up several dozen hours of flight time on the new aircraft, praised the Lakota as an exceptional peacetime asset.
Bonney explained that his Lakota aviators, representing both the Louisiana and Florida National Guard, squeezed their Lakotas onto landing zones too small for Black Hawks, and their airframes withstood the rigors of the harsh environment with minimal maintenance.
“Also, the advanced avionics assisted in easing the pilot workload,” he added.
According to Bonney, the Lakota was a good fit for the mission in Haiti because its small size and light weight enabled it to ferry small numbers of troops around quickly, evacuate casualties effectively (if required) and deliver light cargo loads.
This meant that it was able to do the job much more efficiently than the heavier UH-60 Black Hawk would have done for a savings of nearly $3,000 per flight hour. During the course of the mission in Haiti, this difference amounted to more than $1.4 million of savings versus what the operational cost of fielding only UH-60 Black Hawks would have been.
“The Lakota proved itself in Haiti and will continue to do so in future relief operations,” Bonney said. “We [Louisiana pilots] flew over 325 hours in support of the mission with an operational readiness of 98 percent. No missions were cancelled due to maintenance. The Lakota is a versatile and agile aircraft that will continue to see overseas service with the same mission set as Haiti.”
The Louisiana National Guard fielded two Lakotas for the duration of the mission and was augmented by two Lakotas from the Florida National Guard and two Black Hawks from the Ohio National Guard.