Tag Archives: US Army

Flying bruised bananas during Saber Junction

Saber Junction and bruised Bananas. Not the phrase you expect? It makes sense when you realize that the strikingly camouflaged UH-72 Lakota helicopters used by the US Army’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center (JMRC) in Europe are dubiously nicknamed after a certain bruised fruit. Saber Junction confronts Lakota crews with three weeks of energy-packed exercise.

(Image © Alexander Lutz)
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Earlier in April, Airheadsfly.com witnessed the kick off of Saber Junction at the US 7th Army Hohenfels training area in southern Germany . The area is the epicenter of the exercise for much of April. It is also a regular training ground for Airbus Helicopters UH-72A Lakotas, of which the US Army ordered well over 400.

The JMRC and it’s Lakotas exist to provide visiting forces with realistic training, and thus better prepare them for actual warfare. All is done under the watchful eye of an Observer-Controller-Trainers (OCT), all experienced officers who are quick to see where improvements are to be made.


Today, warfare seems to be limited to a sling load exercise and formation flying across the forest and fake villages of Hohenfels. In one of these villages, a minaret gives a clue about the scenario’s fought out. In a similar fake village, the minaret is replaced by a church. Elsewhere, tanks and other military vehicles cross the fields, signaling things are actually happening on the ground.

The relative peace in the Lakota’s cockpits contrasts with the actual numbers of this year’s Saber Junction: nearly 5,000 participants from 16 nations join forces and seek tactical interoperability. The exercise is originally meant to evaluate the readiness of one two US Army combat brigades in Europe. This year, the 173rd Airborne Brigade is at the focus of Saber Junction. On 12 April, the brigade showed itself in a massive airdrop near Hohenfels, using C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft.

Other assets

Other airborne assets are UH-60 Black Hawks, CH-47F Chinooks and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters. In fact, the Lakota is outnumbered by many; only eight are available at Hohenfels, four in standard green camouflage plus another four in the bruised banana scheme. The former is used for obervation flights mostly, while the latter acts as an opposing force.

The Lakota is however not the primary aircraft for those flying it, says chief warrant officer Thomas E. Weekley, one of it’s pilots. “We are all Black Hawk, Apache or Chinook pilots. We fly the Lakota specifically for the period we are here. After that, we transition back to our primary aircraft. In about a year, I will be back on the Apache. I have about 2,000 hours in that helicopter, including tours to Afghanistan and Iraq.”

Experience is  what JMRC’s pilots have in common, which is the reason they fly the Lakota as an OCT. It’s a sought after position within the US Army, even when it involves flying a helicopter nicknamed ‘bruised banana’. It’s rewarding job, according to Weekely: “It’s great to see units improve with our coaching and sustain the things they already do well.”

Behind Weekely, a formation flight of three Lakotas returns to the flight line. They are readied for the next day’s flying, but mostly for all that’s to come next during Saber Junction.

More on this exercise will follow at Airheadsfly.com.

© 2016 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Video filming, editing and © by Vincent Kok – Orange Avenue Filmworks
Featured image (top): Its camouflage earned this Lakota a dubious nickname. (Image © Dennis Spronk)

(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Air to air image of both camo’s, the green and the “bruised banana”, both operated by the US Army’s Joint Multinational Training Command (JMTC) based at Hohenfels. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Time for a briefing in the field for the next misssion. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
An Lakota crewmember. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The ‘bruised banana’ Lakotas often act als opposing forces. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Hoisting in progress. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
This is one of the 4 "green" Lakotas of the Falcon team, based at Hohenfels (Image © Dennis Spronk)
JMRC operates four standard green AH-72 Lakota, plus four in the ‘bruised banana’ caouflage. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
A green Lakota departs from an improvised landing area… (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
… and is followed by a camouflaged one. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
The three-tone camouflage doesn’t really work over Europe… (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
… whereas the green camouflage does. (Image © Dennis Spronk)
(Image © Dennis Spronk)
Landing at the end of the day’s flying. (Image © Dennis Spronk)


Meet the Lockheed Martin Black Hawk

As we at Airheadsfly.com reported earlier, Lockheed Martin is buying Sikorsky Aircraft. The biggest weapons manufacturer of the world – in sales – will thereby be the new daddy of the famous Black Hawk helicopter, the big CH-53 and the fast future combat helicopter of the future, the S-97 Raider – plus offshore rotary business and the Sikorsky daughter company Schweizer.

One of the leading helicopters in the oil and gas industry is the Sikorsky S-92, in use for years in for example the Norwegian offshore business (Image © Aircontactgruppen Norge)
RELATED POST: Sikorsky to disappear under oil and gas pressure
Lockheed Martin pays 9 billion dollar for the deal, to the company that was Sikorsky’s parent for 85 years: United Technologies Corporation. US Federal authorities will have to approve of the deal, safeguarding that it doesn’t collide with monopoly regulations.

If approved the transition of Sikorsky into Lockheed Martin will be done by the end of 2015 or the beginning of 2016. “The Corporation plans to align Sikorsky under the Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Training business segment. MST and Stratford, Connecticut, based Sikorsky currently partner on a number of critical programs, including the VH-92 Presidential Helicopter, Combat Rescue Helicopter and the Naval MH-60 Helicopter,” Lockheed Martin writes in its statement.

With the acquisition of Sikorsky by Lockheed Martin the end of the company founded in 1923 is there, as Lockheed Martin will likely release the Sikorsky helicopters of the future under its own name – the way Boeing did when it acquired McDonnell Douglas and the way McDonnell Douglas did when it bought Hughes.

Re-enacting air landing operations of World War II in the Netherlands in September 2014 (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Black Hawks Re-enacting air landing operations of World War II in the Netherlands in September 2014 (Image © Dennis Spronk)
Optionally Piloted Black Hawk Demonstrator Helicopter Takes Successful First Flight on 11 March 2014 (Image © Sikorsky)
Optionally Piloted Black Hawk Demonstrator Helicopter Takes Successful First Flight on 11 March 2014 (Image © Sikorsky)
The first UH-60M for Taiwan arrives by ship on 4 December 2014 (Image © RoC Army)
The first UH-60M for Taiwan arrives by ship on 4 December 2014 (Image © RoC Army)

Sikorsky produced the world’s first single main rotor helicopter, the VS-300, and was the force behind the XR-4 that became the first helicopter to fly cross-country across the USA. The Sikorsky S-58 became the first helicopter to retrieve a US astronaut, commander Alan Shepherd, in 1961.

The most numerous Sikorsky helicopter flying around at the moment is the Black Hawk and its derivatives like the Sea Hawk. With its first flight on 17 October 1974 more than 4,000 UH-60s and likes have been produced so far – with the military of 24 nations relying on these work horses.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): Sweden was the first export customer for the UH-60M Black Hawk. Seen here in June 2012 during a tactical assault demonstration at F3 Linköping-Malmen Airbase (Image © Marcel Burger)

One of the new Australian MH-60Rs on flight trials off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, on 13 May 2014. (Image © LS Eammon o'Brien / © Commonwealth of Australia)
One of the new Australian MH-60Rs on flight trials off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, on 13 May 2014. (Image © LS Eammon o’Brien / © Commonwealth of Australia)

Croatia to conclude Kiowa deal in May

Croatia is to conclude the planned deal for 16 Bell OH-58D Kiowa Warrior armed scout helicopters in May 2015, according to sources in Zagreb.

According to a letter of intent signed in November 2014 the United States will provide the choppers free of charge as part of the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) Program and since Croatia is an allied nation. However, Zagreb is trying to secure funds to modernize / upgrade / overhaul the ex-US Army machines before they will be transferred to the Balkan nation.

Helicopters for the US Army are equipped with, among other high-resolution cameras, laser for marking targets, devices that allow fly at night and in bad visibility. Armed with the anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns and machine gun. Getting these helicopters would be only part of the process of replacing the existing Russian-made helicopters.

The Kiowa Warriors – of which more than 2,200 have been built – are to replace the Mil Mi-24 “Hind” attack helicopters the Croatian Air Force already has retired. However, it is uncertain if the new choppers will be based at the former Hind location of Pleso – near Zagreb – or divided over Pleso and other airbases like Zemunik in Zadar where the 93 Air Base Helicopter Squadron (93 Zrakoplovna Baza Eskadrila Helikoptera) already flies the Bell 206B, based on the same Jet Ranger model as the OH-58.

A Croatian Air Force Bell 206 (Image © M. Karačić / HRZ i PZO/EH)
A Croatian Air Force Bell 206, the aircraft’s base is similar to the OH-58D. (Image © M. Karačić / HRZ i PZO/EH)

Flown by a crew of two the OH-58Ds normally operate with speeds of about 110 knots (127 mph or 204 kmh) and have a range of 160 miles (555 km). Airborne for max. 2 hours at a time the Kiowa Warriors can be armed on two points, one on each side of the chopper, with either a .50 or 12.7 mm machine gun, a LAU-68 rocket launcher for up to seven Hydra 70 rockets or 2 AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. Sources close the acquisition process believe Croatia will order the Hellfire anti-tank missiles almost certainly with the chopper order, with estimates running from 160 to 500 Hellfires during a first order.

Apart from the Kiowa Warrior deal Zagreb also hopes to be able to sell the remaining 12 to 14 aging Mil Mi-8-MTV transport helicopters flown by 93 Air Base Helicopter Transport Squadron out of the Divulje Barracks in Split, to free funds for the acquisition of 12 to 15 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, either of the new M-standard or former US Army machines.

2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A US Army 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade OH-58 Kiowa Warrior in the Ghazni province in Afghanistan in December 2011 (Image © US Army)

First new UH-72A Lakota for training

Airbus Group on 26 March delivered to the US Army the first UH- 72A Lakota helicopter to come off the Airbus Helicopters Inc. production line configured for the Lakota’s latest mission, as the service’s initial-entry training helicopter.

The aircraft will join seven Lakotas previously in the army inventory that have already been modified to the training configuration and fielded to Fort Rucker, in preparation for the Lakota’s formal introduction into the training curriculum in early fiscal 2016. Ultimately, army plans call for an initial-entry rotary wing training fleet of 187 Lakotas, made up of a mix of new deliveries and already in-service aircraft reconfigured for the training mission.

To date, the Department of Defense has ordered 411 Lakotas, 400 for the U.S. Army. With today’s delivery, 332 completed aircraft have been delivered from the Airbus Helicopters Inc. production facility in Columbus, MS.

The Lakota was competitively selected in 2006 to fill a wide variety of roles for the Active Army and Army National Guard, including search and rescue, medical evacuation, border security, command and control, VIP transport, general utility and training. Army National Guard units, operating UH-72As equipped with the Security & Support Mission Equipment Package, are deployed supporting Customs and Border Protection missions along the US-Mexico border. The Lakota is also operated in a training role by the US Naval Test Pilot School.

The Royal Thai Army has ordered UH-72As through the US government’s Foreign Military Sales program. These Lakotas are scheduled to be fielded to Thailand within the coming months. Airbus Helicopters is marketing the UH-72A to other allied nations with requirements for a modern, low cost multi-mission helicopter.

The UH-72A according to Airbus is a powerful, stable, and agile platform with a glass cockpit that is compatible with night vision goggles. The Lakota is single-pilot Instrument Flight Rules certified. It has the lowest cost to buy, own and operate of any US military helicopter in production.

Source: Airbus Helicopters
Featured image (top): A UH-72 Lakota inflight. (Image © Airbus Helicopters)

Second Sikorsky Raider into final assembly

Sikorsky Aircraft started the final assembly of the second S-97 Raider helicopter in West Palm Beach on 4 March 2015, Florida, the company announced.

The new helicopter is a coaxial rotor prototype aimed to serve as armed reconnaissance and special operations platform. The project was launched in October 2010, when the X2 design was mature enough to show its potential to the US Army. X2 technology was then put into the S-97. The government has so far not made any funds available to the Raider project, but Sikorsky is confident the machine will sell and works together with partners, like Aurora Flight Sciences of Manassas in Virginia that makes the all-composite fuselage.

Test flights of the second Raider prototype are planned to commence this year, with its first demonstrations flights in 2016. According to calculations and tests with the X2 the new chopper should be able to reach cruise speeds above 220 knots (253 mph / 407 kmh).

Source: Sikorsky
Featured image: PR image of the X2 and the new S-97 Raider (Image © Sikorsky)