WASHINGTON — A U.S. Army National Guard unit is set to get the first Victor-model Black Hawks this month, Brig. Gen. Robert Barrie, the program executive officer for Army aviation, said in a July 21 press event at the Army Aviation Center of Excellence’s industry day at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
The UH-60V converts a Lima-model Black Hawk from an analog cockpit to a digital one, intended to better match the capability of a Mike-model, the latest variant of the helicopter.
The Victor-model is the first foray into an open architecture system for the Army’s fleet of helicopters and could serve as a foundation or model for the service as it attempts to field two future vertical lift aircraft by 2030 with modular open system backbones that will allow for easy capability upgrades, plug-and-play mission systems and promote system-level competition throughout their life cycles.
Redstone Defense Systems won an Army contract to take Northrop Grumman’s cockpit design and integrate the technology into V-model prototypes in spring 2014. Three prototypes spent more than two years in the Prototype Integration Facility at Redstone undergoing integration.
The Army partnered with Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas, to convert L-models into new V-models at a rate of 48 aircraft per year, which some have called too slow, as it would take 15 years for the service to produce all 760 aircraft. The Army has been looking at ways to speed that up.
But at the same time, the Army has been slowed with numerous software and reliability challenges found in tests. Despite the trouble, it did not affect the overall schedule of the program, according to Barrie.
The Army’s initial operational test and evaluation was conducted at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington State, in September 2019, but due to the software and reliability issues, the Army decided to hold a second test. That test was originally intended to be held in the third quarter of fiscal 2020 but was pushed back by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic and delays in the instrument flight rules certification process, or IFR, which would allow the aircraft to fly in the national airspace.
During the first test, the Victor-model aircraft were engineering and manufacturing development versions and not production-representative systems. Those wiring harnesses contributed to reliability issues.
While the second-round initial operational test and evaluation “is not yet completely scheduled,” according to Barrie, the service will use the first unit equipped in the National Guard for that test.
The software issues have been fixed through a new software baseline and, for now, the Army will fly the aircraft under visual meteorological conditions rules where flight is permitted when there is enough visibility to see terrain and other aircraft.
Barrie said he expects the Victor-model to be IFR certified in early 2022.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.