Iowa Guard copters go digital

2013-07-09T15:03:00Z 2013-07-09T22:46:42Z Iowa Guard copters go digitalKurt Allemeier kallemeier@qctimes.com The Quad-City Times

The Iowa National Guard's helicopters hopped from analog to digital.

The guard unveiled five CH-47F Chinooks and two UH-72A Lakotas on Tuesday at the Army Aviation Support Facility at the Davenport Municipal Airport.

The new cargo-hauling Chinooks, priced at $37 million each, are an upgrade from a similar model introduced in the 1980s, while the Lakotas replace the OH-58A/C Kiowas that dated back to the late 1960s. The Lakotas, costing $7 million each, are equipped with searchlights and infrared cameras for homeland security support missions.

"It is a historic moment for this unit," Capt. Forest Lightle said as he gave a tour of a new Chinook. "This is truly a once-in-a-career opportunity for most pilots."

The Iowa Army National Guard has flown for decades, and the new helicopters are a part of that, Col. Greg Hapgood said.

"This is a continuation of a proven history of Guard aviation in the state," he said, noting the hangar at the Davenport airport was built to house the Chinooks in the early 1970s.

Although the Chinook is specifically a military helicopter, the Lakota is a commercial model built by American Eurocopter fitted out for military use. The Army started updating its Chinook fleet since 2007. The Lakotas were introduced in 2006.

The retired Chinooks were used in the troop drawdown in Iraq, hauling up-armored Chevrolet Suburbans, pallets of empty pallets and everything in between, Lightle said. The biggest difference between those Chinooks and the ones on display Tuesday are the navigational electronics. These have global positioning and auto-pilot systems that the previous models lacked.

Sgt. Jason Nemeth said the electronics of the new Chinooks to the older models are comparable to what you would find in a car built in the 1980s to one of today's models.

"It is a night-and-day difference," he said. "It is going from an analog world to a digital world."

The Lakotas, too, are a leap forward over their predecessor, Sgt. Jason Reed, a Lakota mechanic, said. The Kiowas were equipped with a searchlight and thermal imaging system. The Lakota has those as well as an infrared video camera that can pick out the letters on a license plate from 2,000 feet away.

"We've gone leaps and bounds technically," Reed said.

The new equipment required training at Hunter Army Airfield, Fort Stewart, in Savannah, Ga., that totalled three years of manhours. Flight engineers and mechanics, including Nemeth and Reed, received three weeks of training, while pilots, such as Lightle, spent three months training.

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