— Since November, helicopters have been falling out of the sky at Camp Edwards, and Lee Morse is responsible. He and his crew of trainers and technicians keep the camp’s UH-60 Blackhawk simulator up and running, providing essential training and flying experiences to National Guard pilots from all around the country.
The Transportable Blackhawk Operations System sports a complete Blackhawk cockpit and can simulate every adverse situation a pilot could encounter, from pummeling crosswinds to dual engine failures at high altitudes, and all from the safety of an enclosed, fully computerized training center.
“The simulator was developed about seven years ago,” said Morse, a simulator technician for Computer Science Corp., the contractor in charge of the trainer. “They built two prototypes and ours is one.”
All of the 12 production models that followed were distributed to active Army installations worldwide, allowing pilots to familiarize themselves with hundreds of high-risk scenarios. Until now, National Guard access to this life-saving training has been limited and expensive.
“When one of these is at an Active Army post, Active Duty Soldiers have priority on using it,” said Morse. “The National Guard tends to only have weekends available.” Since the trainers are contract operated, the Guard would have to pay much more in overtime pay to use them during those hours. The Camp Edwards trainer grants Guard pilots over 100 hours per month of flying time.
The transition from prototype to fully operational trainer was a difficult one for technicians like Dave Melby, who had to refurbish the system.
“We are unique, as far as I know,” said Melby. “We’re the only preproduction model left. It took a lot of hours to get it fixed up for use.” The entire bus-sized system had to be disassembled and miles of wiring had to be rerouted. Since the device is a preproduction model, technical support from the manufacturer is very limited. Melby, who had no prior experience with any kind of helicopter, learned by trial and error while configuring the systems required to simulate the complex flight controls of both Lima and Mike configurations of the Army’s Blackhawks.
“We cater to the Soldiers,” said Morse. The Army concurrently fields several models of Blackhawks, and Melby can configure the cockpit to allow soldiers to fly with the systems they will use in real situations.
Once the trainer was reassembled and operational, retired Chief Warrant Officer Ed Ivers began his job of flight instructor. Ivers, who began his career in the UH-1 Huey, retired from the Massachusetts National Guard in 2011. During the last part of his Guard career he acted as a Blackhawk instructor, and he said he enjoys being able to continue helping pilots perfect their craft.
“I can simulate anything they’ll face in the real world,” Ivers said. “It only takes a second to change weather conditions or trigger the kinds of warnings they’d see in flight.” As he spoke, Ivers tapped his control screen and the pilots in the TBOS immediately reacted to the warning he had triggered—in this case, magnetic pickups registering engine damage and debris.
All of this effort expended by Morse’s team translates into huge savings for the National Guard and taxpayers.
“If you try to do this in a flyable aircraft the cost would be insane,” said Morse about Ivers’ scenarios. “This is pennies on the dollar to train here.”
Money is not the only thing being saved by Camp Edward’s TBOS system, either.
“What they learn here today will save their or somebody else’s life in their career,” said Morse. “Maybe it’ll be ten years, but it’ll happen.”