This is an incredibly challenging time for US Army aviation leaders. In one instance, the service is modernizing its legacy fleets to remain operationally ready and relevant on the battlefield well beyond this decade. At the same time, the Army is creating a new air order of battle with new rotary aircraft – from the CH-47 Block 2 Chinook to the Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA).
Pat Mason, Deputy PEO Aviation for the Army, put modernization in some context when he noted the upgrade of the Black Hawk utility helicopter means the platform will remain in the service’s inventory for at least one more generation – at least 20 years. S&T will help this and other platforms remain relevant to the end of their service lives.
In the case of the Black Hawk, Alan McClendon, Chief Engineer for Utility Helicopters at PEO, noted that as UH-60M models enter the force to replace the L version, aircrews “can train online, in some cases, virtually, during their transition from legacy airframes to the ‘M’ model.” The learning the executive referenced is part of an in-depth transition course completed by National Guard and other aviation branch personnel.
The US Army is ending production of its CH-47 Chinook Block 1 in 2026, and is eyeing the ramp up of production for the Block 2 model. With yet another new aircraft in the Army’s inventory, this fleet’s aircrews will receive instruction in an expanding array of training devices, some of which include CAE Defence and Security’s CH-47F Operational Flight Trainers.
PEO Aviation’s Mason inserted an important caveat into the Army programs discussion, when he pointed out that, heretofore, individual and collective trainers for service rotary aircraft have had different software baselines. A high-visibility initiative at PEO Aviation is the harmonization of software baselines, The service executive emphasized, “The software and code must be the same to allow our training devices to roll into the Army’s emerging Synthetic Training Environment.” STE remains a program of record to provide a collective, multi-echelon training and mission rehearsal capability for the operational, institutional and self-development training domains. It brings together live, virtual, and constructive training environments into a single STE. This complementary effort expands military services’ efforts beyond simple concurrency – or the effort to bring operational, and like, commonality among the actual airframes and their enabling training devices.
The above efforts will help strengthen training for pilots, but what about maintainers? PEO Aviation’s Mason declared Fort Rucker (the Army Aviation ‘schoolhouse’) “has been trying to get out of paper products for quite some time.” PEO’s McClendon explained his utility helicopter portfolio is seeking “continuous delivery, and other outcomes through virtual training products.”
Of added significance, improved and higher-fidelity maintenance training is a project of interest for the Army’s evolving FARA program, according to Ski Horrocks, Deputy Project Manager. Under FARA, the service is attempting to put the “R” (reconnaissance) back into its force structure. Bell and Sikorsky have competitive airframes in the program competition, both at the 80% completion build rate. First flights for the prototypes remain scheduled for 2023.
Bob Sheibley, Deputy Project Manager for Advanced Turbine Engines at the PEO, told session delegates the Army is building its strategy for aviation electrification, an effort which significantly lags the progress of the service’s ground forces to examine and advance electrification for hybrid and related propulsion efforts, and on-board systems. “We’re in the infancy stage. We’re interested in generators, batteries, electric power systems, APUs and maybe a hybrid solution, but there is not a firm requirement. We’re collaborating with ARL (Army Research Laboratory) and other organizations,” he added.