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After four accidents in fourteen months, the US Senate is wondering if the Black Hawk is safe

With more than 4,000 aircraft built since it was commissioned in 1979, the Sikorsky (now at Lockheed Martin) UH-60 Black Hawk is one of the most successful military helicopters on the market. However, a number of fatal accidents in the United States have caused the Senate to take an interest in their safety.

Between December 2019 and last February, there were four accidents involving UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in the United States, in which eleven people were killed. These accidents occurred far from combat. This prompted Senator Kirsten Gillbrand to formally request the Department of Defense to investigate whether there was a common cause behind these four incidents.

On December 5, 2019, a UH-60 crashed during a training mission near St. Cloud, Minnesota, killing three National Guard Airmen. On August 27, 2020, an MH-60 of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) crashed near the island of San Clemente, California, during a training mission, with the loss of two airmen and the injury of three others. On January 19, 2021, three New York National Guard airmen were killed when their medical evacuation helicopter crashed south of Lake Ontario near the city of Rochester. The last came on February 2, when three Idaho National Guard soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed in mountainous terrain near Boise, the state’s capital.

Senator Gillbrand sent a letter to Secretary of State Lloyd Austin on February 5, asking for clarification as to whether the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter had a malfunction pattern. In his letter, he cited the U.S. Army’s Combat Readiness Center’s 2020 report on the December 2019 accident. That report cited engine # 1 failure during a full performance test, and engine 2 was idling, so none the engines could deliver enough power. In the report, the dual engine shutdown condition was traced back to improper installation of the engine’s hydromechanical unit.

In addition to the letter, the Senator requested confidential information about the status of the investigation and possible mechanical, electrical, software or other problems that could lead to failure or make it difficult to control the helicopter. The Combat Readiness Center in Fort Rucker, Alabama, is responsible for investigating these accidents.

The U.S. Army released an online aviation safety publication called Flightfax, which detailed in its January issue of this year that 160 mishaps occurred with the UH-60 between 2016 and 2020. Among those 18 were the so-called Class A, which refers to those who have caused more than $ 2 million in damage to public or private property, aircraft destruction (other than Type 1, 2, or 3 UAVs), death, or durability Disability.

An earlier report

The National Aviation Safety Commission published a 130-page report late last year containing eighteen-month investigations into accidents between 2013 and 2018. During this period there were accidents in which 198 lives, 157 airplanes and 157 people were killed and 9 billion dollars in damage. This report highlighted some of the main causes of the pilots’ lack of flight hours, lack of training and poor morale among maintenance staff, and the inefficiency of the supply chain to keep the aircraft in flight condition. However, the shortcomings by aircraft type are not described in detail. The budget cuts have resulted in a significant reduction in flight hours for training since 2013 and recommended that the Commission lower the number of training hours to the 2010 level. (Jos M Navarro Garca)

Photo: Four Army Black Hawk helicopters (US Army)

Letter from Senator Gillbrand (Click to open the PDF)

The table in the February article published by Flightfax (US Army)

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