NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The U.S. Army’s Victor-model Black Hawk utility helicopter is now cleared to fly in national airspace, Brig. Gen. Robert Barrie, the program executive officer for Army aviation, told Defense News at the Army Aviation Association of America’s annual conference.

The second attempt at an initial operational test for the UH-60V was delayed until the Army made software and reliability fixes. The aircraft also needed its Instrument Flight Rules — or IFR — certification.

The certification occurred in March, Barrie said, meaning the Army can fly the Victor-model during the day, at night and under instrumented meteorological conditions.

Clearing the hurdle also means the Army can now conduct the second IOT&E in July, Barrie added. The 1st Battalion of the 106th Aviation Regiment of the Illinois Army National Guard received the first aircraft in July 2021. It will conduct the IOT&E and be the first tactical unit fielded.

The V-model Black Hawk converts a Lima-model from an analogue cockpit to a digital one. This replacement better matches the capability of the UH-60 Mike-model, the latest variant of the helicopter and is also seen as a stepping stone in the Army’s pursuit of a digital backbone for its Future Vertical Lift fleet, which will allow mission systems to seamlessly plug into the architecture of the aircraft.

The Army conducted the first initial operational test and evaluation at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state in September 2019, but due to numerous software reliability issues, the Army decided to hold a second test in the summer of 2020. That event was pushed back by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic and delays in the IFR certification process.

The first IOT&E relied on engineering and manufacturing development versions of the Victor-model aircraft, rather than production-representative systems. Wiring harnesses contributed to reliability issues.

The Army fixed the software issues identified in the first operational test last year through a new software baseline.

Redstone Defense Systems won an Army contract in the spring of 2014 to take Northrop Grumman’s cockpit design and integrate the technology into V-model prototypes. 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.

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 in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts from Kenyon College.

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