BAGHDAD — Something new is buzzing the skies of Iraq.
As Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, replaces 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, they bring with them a battalion with one of the Army's newest helicopters, the UH-60M Black Hawk. The CAB is the second active duty unit to receive the UH-60M and the first to use it in Iraq.
This new model of Black Hawk was first used by 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101 Airborne Division. Receiving the aircraft Nov. 7, 2009, the unit used the aircraft during a deployment to Afghanistan.
The CAB became second to receive a shipment of the aircraft April 21, 2009. On March 30, two crews from the CAB's 3rd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Aviation Regiment, made the M-model's pioneer flight into Iraq, with the rest of the battalion's fleet close behind.
"There are a lot of first times for a lot of things in this war. It's really cool to be a part of one of those times," said Spc. Corey Corr, a crew chief from 3-1 AHB who was aboard one of the two first UH-60Ms to cross into Iraq.
"It was a pretty smooth flight," he said. "As we started getting close the berm crossing into Iraq, the aircraft pulled up side-by-side so that one wasn't going in before the other."
Like Corr, many crew chiefs are enthusiastic about the aircrafts' new features. One of the biggest changes impacting the crew chiefs is the moveable crew seats.
"It's changed a lot," said Corr. "I can now move my seat three different ways. On the L-model, it was a fixed-position seat. [This one] provides us the ability to scan and do our job a lot better."
The most notable improvements introduced to the UH-60M are not the crew seats, however.
The new "glass cockpit" features four multi-functional displays, an autopilot system, two electronic flight management systems, dual navigation systems, a digital moving map and an integrated vehicle health management system. Mechanically, the M-model's new blades offer 500 pounds more lift than previous models, and it has a strengthened fuselage and infrared suppression. The UH-60M is what many 3-1 pilots call the Cadillac of the sky.
"The M-model made it a smooth flight in [Iraq]," said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Randy Hendrix, a pilot with 3-1. "The moving map display is a huge plus for us. We didn't have to fumble with a paper map up in the cockpit. It really increases situational awareness; right there on the screen you look down and see where you're at as well as other aircraft and units."
The pilots of 3-1 are among the first Army pilots to work with these systems.
Operating them throughout the CAB's year-long deployment, they will pave the way for future pilots of the UH-60M. A tour in Iraq will bring the challenges of extremely hot and sandy conditions, said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jesse Lee, who also flew one of the first aircraft into Iraq. Communicating with their peers who used the M-model in Afghanistan, CAB pilots will continue to break new ground as they fly the aircraft in an inclement environment.
While CAB pilots can refer to lessons learned by the pilots of 159th CAB, operations in Iraq pose major differences than operations in Afghanistan, such as terrain, heat and elevation.
"It gets hot in Afghanistan, but not quite like this. We'll really be the ones to see how the M-models hold up in this environment," said Lee.
Despite the addition of this new aircraft, 3-1's mission will remain unchanged.
Along with the CAB's four other battalions, each with its own diverse mission, the battalion's UH-60Ms will conduct full spectrum aviation operations from the skies of Iraq in support of U.S. and Iraqi ground forces.