August 20, 2007:
smaller isn't better. Field testing of the new U.S. Army UH-72A transport
helicopter found problems with passenger cabin layout and air conditioning in
A side effect of the
cancellation of the Comanche helicopter in 2004, because it was seen as too
expensive and complex for army needs, was the adoption of two commercial
helicopters, to take up the slack. The 2.8 ton ARH-70 (a militarized Bell-407),
was to replace the elderly OH-58D scout helicopter, while the 3.6 ton UH-72A (a
militarized EC145) will supplement the UH-60 for transportation and other jobs,
and replace many of the UH-1s now being phased out of reserve units.
In both cases, much was made
of how quickly these two birds could be obtained, because both were
"off-the-shelf", and would be using existing military equipment. The adaptation and integration went ahead
without a hitch on the UH-72A, which costs about $6 million each, for a buy of
322 helicopters. The UH-72A already had many satisfied civilian users,
including many police organizations.
Two months ago, the first six
UH-72 were delivered to equip the Air Ambulance Detachment at the National
Training Center in Fort Irwin, California. That's in the desert, so the UH-72As
got a workout in hot and high conditions, and use by combat veterans. Civilian
users had not exposed the EC145 to such conditions, so it was not shocking to
discover that more air conditioning was needed. Both the crew compartment (and
all those electronics), and the passenger compartment got hot and stuffy after
a few hours in desert Summer conditions. Also, as expected, carrying capacity
in hot and high conditions was a bit
less than expected. Medical personnel also found that, while you could treat
two badly injured stretcher patients on paper, in practice it was too crowded.
The passenger compartment could be reconfigured a bit to ease up on this
problem. The specification did not call for there to be space for two
critically injured patients, but the army medics pointed out that this was
often what had to be done. That's because, if you have two critically wounded
troops, and the helicopter can carry them, the medics will take two. With
critically wounded soldiers, every minute counts.
The UH-72A met all
specifications, but the specs themselves don't always address every
eventuality. That's normal, and the UH72A is, so far, considered a success.