ARLINGTON, Va., Oct. 5 (UPI) -- U.S. Army National Guard pilots from four states are training on the new Security and Support variant of the Lakota helicopter.
The UH-72A S&S Mission Equipment Package is the newest helicopter to enter service with the U.S. Army and is built by American Eurocopter, a business unit of EADS North America, which is a subsidiary of Europe's EADS group.
The S&S MEP includes a turreted electro-optical/infrared sensor and laser pointer; EuroAvionics, EuroNav moving map system and two SkyQuest touch-screen displays; a video management system, SkyQuest digital video recorder, plus additional avionics and Sierra Nevada Tactilink Eagle data downlink system.
The helicopter is also equipped with a 30-million-candlepower searchlight that is mounted on the aft starboard step and slaved to the MX-15 and the same rescue hoist that is included in the Lakota's medevac MEP.
"I'm excited about the enhanced capabilities that it offers," said Lt. Col. Dallas Jones, a pilot with the Louisiana National Guard who is participating in a two-week course at Madison County Executive Airport near Huntsville, Ala.
Pilots from Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and North Carolina are participating in the training, which consists of classroom and day-and-night flight training.
EADS North America said the aircraft provides long-range, electro-optical sensors and the ability to record and downlink data, which will aid the Army National Guard in its homeland security, counter-drug and border patrol missions.
There are many "firsts" with the UH-72A S&S MEP, including touch screens and soft keyboards. Jack Johnston, director of Flight Operations with the LUH Product Office said the Lakota S&S MEP is "the only Army aircraft with these capabilities. It's completely unique."
"Everything in this aircraft feeds through the video management system and in any one of the video displays," Johnston said. "So the guy in the back could be looking at one of the sensors while these guys up front could be looking at the map while the other guy could be looking at the other sensor on the ball. It gives you complete independence throughout."
Another capability of the aircraft is being able to conduct database searches with the moving map.
"We have all the city street maps, aeronautical charts for the entire U.S., nautical charts for all the coastal areas and (Instrument Flight Rules) charts for all of the U.S.," said Johnston. "We can also host topographical maps for the U.S."
EADS North America said conducting all of the training in Huntsville allowed the team to consolidate and maximize resources with instructors and aircraft operating from one place.
Madison County Executive Airport was chosen as the training site since it has all the facilities and the right amount of airspace available to conduct training in the area.
A total of 100 UH-72A S&S MEP are on contract for production. The first 16 were retrofitted with the MEP and the next 84 will roll off the production line at the EADS facility in Columbus, Miss.
The rapid acquisition, production and fielding of the UH-72A Lakota aircraft over the last 3 1/2 years has allowed the Army to transfer 23 UH-60 Black Hawk aircraft to other missions that support overseas contingency operations. It also allowed the Army to retire the aging UH-1 and divest the OH-58A/C by replacing them with modern, capable aircraft, officials said.
They said the Army plans to acquire 345 Lakotas through 2015 and the service has ordered 232 of the helicopters so far, along with five UH-72A versions for the U.S. Navy.
Since 2007, 178 UH-72 helicopters have flown over 76,000 hours across the United States, Puerto Rico, Kwajalein Atoll and Germany.