US Army, April 19, 2012 - FORT DRUM, N.Y. - While ground troops scour the terrain, helicopters provide security, transportation and support overhead.
The 10th Combat Aviation Brigade received the first of many UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters last month to ensure they can continue to support service members deployed overseas.
During a brief ceremony April 10, Col. Pedro Almeida, 10th CAB commander, officially received the computerized "logbook" for the first of several new aircraft the unit will receive.
"The brigade is now transitioning from the older model UH-60 Black Hawk 'Lima' model to the 'Mike' model aircraft," he said. "(The new aircraft provides a) significant increase in capability for the brigade … particularly in the medevac platform."
Some of the new features include a digital "glass" cockpit, improved rotor blade function, different seating options and other conveniences for pilots, crew members and passengers, according to Maj. John Watwood, UH-60A/L/M assistant product manager for Program Executive Office -- Aviation from Redstone Arsenal, Ala.
"We want to give aviators the best aircraft we can," Watwood explained. "We look at survivability, performance (and) modernization. A digital cockpit is what every piece of aircraft is going to, (especially) with the whole modern battlefield and the situational awareness that goes along with it."
"(The new aircraft) is much more a mental workload than a physical workload," he continued. "The physical workload goes down, but because of the modernization, the mental workload goes up."
The UH-60M has a whole new cockpit setup with four multifunctional display screens where the older models have analog gauges, Watwood said.
"All the information a pilot needs is contained on those screens," he noted. "If you look at the younger generation, everything is geared toward digitization and technology. The younger generation is more technologically savvy and that's what we're aiming for."
The body of the new helicopter also boasts a "monolithic" design, a sleek upgrade to the older model Black Hawk's more segmented look, Watwood added.
The 10th CAB is the fourth combat aviation brigade to receive the UH-60M since the Army began fielding it in 2007.
Four of the brigade's five Black Hawk-specific companies will transition to the UH-60M during the next six months, Almeida explained. Previously, 10th CAB units were flying UH-60 A/L models.
"For our pilots, as well as everyone else involved with the aircraft, receiving the Mike model will entail additional training requirements -- essentially another air craft qualification," Almeida said. "In order to do that, we actually have the fielding process taking place right here at Fort Drum."
Instead of sending pilots and crew members to Fort Rucker, Ala., or Fort Eustis, Va., representatives from PEO Aviation and Science and Engineering Services, Inc. will provide all of the academic and hands-on training required.
Providing the training is not only more cost-effective, but it's better for aviation Soldiers and their Families, Almeida added.
"It's a huge morale booster for Families," he said. "Otherwise, we would essentially have about a battalion and a half worth of aviators, air crew members and maintainers who would have to … spend anywhere from a month and half to two months … to go through those courses. That's a lot of Soldiers when you look across the entire brigade."
Providing home-station training is a system that the Army as a whole has begun using to field the new aircraft, Almeida noted.
"It is more cost-effective and more efficient and overall, (offers a higher) level of effectiveness, to bring the training team to the brigade … at our home station," he explained, adding that any Soldiers who arrive at the brigade who are not UH-60M-qualified will have to go to the schoolhouse training.
The presence of aviation support can often determine the success of a ground unit's mission, especially those in Afghanistan, according to Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeffrey Fitzgerald, 10th CAB command chief warrant officer. Fitzgerald has heard from ground force commanders who have said their Soldiers "can't live without" aviation support.
"In Afghanistan, aviation (assets are) critical," he said. "This new aircraft allows us to get from Point A to Point B a little more safely because the pilots have more situational awareness (while flying) in combat."
Although Almeida will soon relinquish command, he said he is happy he can leave the brigade knowing that its pilots and crew members will deploy with state-of-the-art utility helicopters.
"(The UH-60M) is a significant added capability for the brigade," he said. "It has taken us into a more modern aircraft that has more features that can enhance the safety and mission-readiness of the brigade and our ability to affect the guys on the ground. That's a great feeling to have as we turn around and modernize the organization."