Correction: Redstone Defense Systems is the prime contractor for V-model cockpit integration and prototype building. While Northrop Grumman’s technology was chosen for the cockpit, it serves as a subcontractor of RDS.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Army is looking at ways to speed up UH-60 Black Hawk utility helicopter conversions from Lima models to the new Victor model, which would replace the older variant’s analogue cockpit with a new digital one. This replacement better matches the capability of the UH-60 Mike model, the most up-to-date version of the helicopter, according to Col. Billy Jackson, the program manager for the service’s utility helicopters.
As of now, the plan is to partner with Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas, (or CCAD) to convert L models into new V models at a rate of 48 aircraft per year. But “unfortunately, it’s going to take us about 15 years to do all 760 aircraft,” Col. Billy Jackson told an audience at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual summit on April 26.
“We are looking at opportunities to speed up velocity there and funding opportunities. The goal would be to modernize the UH-60 fleet in a timely manner and give all [components] similar capability in terms of Black Hawk,” he said.
The Army needed to use innovative means to afford and develop a new cockpit for L models because buying more Mike models would have been too expensive.
While there are currently no funded options yet, as the recapitalization plan is in the concept phase, the Army has pushed out “quite a few” L-model recaps through CCAD over the last four or five years, Jackson noted,
Those newly recapitalized aircraft would enter the tail end of the UH-60V conversion, so Jackson said one idea would be to take those aircraft that will be in the best shape and allow for a competition for facilities outside of CCAD to perform the conversions.
“We would like to go ahead and leverage those aircraft as early as possible to do that,” Jackson said. “Like I said, this is an idea, I think it’s very important, it’s going to rely on finding available funding to do that.”
The Army is still in development for the Victor model, but it has logged 140 flight hours on two platforms at Redstone Arsenal Test Center, Alabama, that is “going extremely well,” Jackson said, adding that the program is “on track.”
That means the service will hold a limited user test this summer to inform low-rate initial production. It will then hold a follow-on test in the summer of 2019, which will inform full-rate production.
The Victor model first flew in January 2017. The version could be the springboard for the Army’s Future Vertical Lift “backbone” which will allow mission systems to plug seamlessly into the architecture of the aircraft.
The Victor cockpit design, which has an open architecture suitable for quick integration, will also allow the Army to test how effectively and quickly it can integrate systems onto the aircraft based on vendors designing to a specific standard.
Redstone Defense Systems won a U.S. Army contract to take Northrop Grumman’s cockpit design and integrate the technology into V-model prototypes in the spring of 2014.
Three prototype helicopters spent more than two years in the Prototype Integration Facility at Redstone undergoing integration.
Northrop has trademarked the name of its newly developed mission computer, the heart of the Victor-model cockpit, as the FlightPro Gen III, which could be used in any other airplane, rotary-wing or fixed-wing aircraft.
Jen Judson is the land warfare reporter for Defense News. She has covered defense in the Washington area for 10 years. She was previously a reporter at Politico and Inside Defense. She won the National Press Club's best analytical reporting award in 2014 and was named the Defense Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2018.