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Feature story Lakota variants bring enhanced capabilities to U.S. Army operations

October 26, 2010

As its role in American military operations expands, the EADS North America-supplied UH-72A Lakota Light Utility Helicopter continues to receive high marks from the U.S. Army for its performance and mission diversity.

Col. Neil Thurgood, the U.S. Army’s utility helicopter project manager (at left), and John Burke, EADS North America’s vice president of the Light Utility Helicopter Program, provided a UH-72A program update for journalists attending the AUSA annual meeting and convention.

These key qualities were underscored today during a joint program update for journalists in Washington, D.C., where officials from the Army and EADS North America highlighted the Lakota’s on-going success.

“The Army is very happy, and EADS North America has done a great job with the aircraft,” said Col. Neil Thurgood, the U.S. Army’s utility helicopter project manager.  “When you see a Lakota out there, it is a great example of the Army understanding what they’re asking for and an industry partner providing that capability very rapidly.”

Speaking at the Association of the United States Army’s (AUSA) 2010 annual meeting and exposition, Thurgood highlighted the UH-72A’s growing role in Army and Army National Guard service. Beyond the standard Lakota configuration used throughout the U.S. and overseas, there are now five mission-specific variants of the UH-72A Lakota.

First and foremost, according to Thurgood, is the Lakota’s medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) variant, which currently is based at a number of locations across the United States – including the Army’s National Training Center in Ft. Irwin, California and Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.  

Earlier this year, the District of Columbia National Guard’s 121st Medical Company became the first Guard unit equipped with the MEDEVAC-configured Lakota to be deployed overseas. Based at the Army’s Joint Multinational Readiness Center in Germany, the 121st is providing MEDEVAC standby for units training in the region – many of them prior to their deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan.

UH-72As outfitted for MEDEVAC operations carry two stretchers, plus the associated medical equipment and systems.  Two medics are positioned in rear-facing seats behind the pilot and co-pilot. 

An additional variant of the UH-72A Lakota enhances the Light Utility Helicopter’s use in reconnaissance, border protection, command and control and air movement operations that support U.S. homeland defense and security missions. The S&S Battalion configuration includes a forward centerline-mounted camera system with electro-optical and infrared sensors and laser pointer, along with navigation systems adapted for this role.

“We learned in early operations with Hurricane Katrina that our military aircraft could not necessarily communicate well with police forces or fire departments. In conventional Army aircraft, we don’t navigate by street addresses – we navigate by grid coordinates,” Thurgood explained. “With this particular platform, we have the ability to plug in an address and the aircraft will help you navigate to that point.”

Located throughout the United States, the Army National Guard S&S Battalions provide a dispersed, readily available, light aviation capability for military missions and operations in support of civil authorities.  These units currently operate aging Vietnam-era rotary-wing aircraft which will be replaced by the UH-72A.

For the VIP transport role, the Lakota’s cabin is configured to accommodate eight passengers – with three rear-facing seats located behind the cockpit, two forward-facing seats just aft of the helicopter’s side doors, and three seats behind them.  These aircraft also retain the UH-72A’s large rear-fuselage clamshell doors which facilitate easy loading of cargo and equipment.

This version recently was utilized to transport senior and distinguished leaders through the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area during the U.S. Army’s annual Ten-Miler race on Oct. 24.

In addition, two variants are associated with training missions that teach soldiers how to fight aircraft and recognize friend or foe on the battle space.

A total of 138 Lakotas have been delivered to date for fielding to Army and Army National Guard units, which also includes five for the U.S. Navy. Overall, the UH-72A fleet has flown more than 40,000 hours in operational service.

“EADS is a global company with almost 120,000 employees literally all over the world,” added John Burke, EADS North America’s vice president of the Light Utility Helicopter Program, who joined Thurgood for today’s briefing. “But we have a ten-power magnification on the UH-72A Lakota, and are committed to continue delivering on this program.”


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