WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army has marked its calendar for a critical operational test for the UH-60 Victor-model Black Hawk.
Brig. Gen. Robert Barrie, the Army’s aviation program executive officer, said the helicopter test will take place in the summer of 2022.
The UH-60V converts a Lima-model Black Hawk from an analog cockpit to a digital one. That modification is 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 setup will allow for easy capability upgrades, plug-and-play mission systems, and the promotion of system-level competition throughout their life cycles.
A U.S. Army National Guard unit received the first six aircraft over the summer at the Eastern Army National Guard Aviation Training Site in Pennsylvania.
Barrie told Defense News in an interview before the Association of the U.S. Army’s annual conference that the feedback from the unit — the 1st Battalion of the 106th Aviation Regiment from the Illinois National Guard — so far is “positive.”
The delivery of UH-60Vs to the unit will be complete in October.
The Army has experienced delays in fielding the Victor-model aircraft after some issues cropped up in the initial operational test and evaluation that was conducted at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state in September 2019.
During the first test, the Victor-model aircraft were engineering and manufacturing development versions, rather than production-representative systems. Troubled wiring harnesses in the EMD versions created reliability issues.
With the software and reliability problems experienced in the first test, the Army determined it would require a second operational test to validate fixes.
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 national airspace.
The Army is now aiming to complete its IFR certification in March 2022, Barrie said.
“It really requires a pretty robust and elaborate process with the airworthiness authorities to verify that the work that’s been done from a software perspective, meets all the rigorous standards to operate in the cloud and that work is on track,” Barrie said.
“We have regular engagements with our partners in the operational test community describing the activities that need to go on for that, all ahead of our target completion of fielding to that first unit equipped … by the fourth quarter of 22,” he added.
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 Lima-models into new Victor-models at a rate of 48 aircraft per year. At that pace, it would take 15 years for the service to produce all 760 aircraft, and the Army has been looking at ways to speed it up.
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.