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By Staff Writer | December 1, 2007

CSAR Chinook Debate

I am responding to Mr. Richard Dickson’s comments on the U.S. Air Force choice of the Boeing CH-47 Chinook as its next-generation combat search and rescue (CSAR) helicopter ("Chinooks for CSAR?," February 2007, page 7).

Mr. Dickson stated he has been around Chinooks since 1967. A lot of people have "been around" Chinooks, but those with experience as crewmembers, in combat or peace time, know the Chinook’s capabilities and what an obvious decision it was for the Air Force. I would like to comment on each negative point he made.

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First, the Army does not use the term "mission-capable rate." We use "operational readiness" or "O.R. rate." The supply system directly affects the O.R. rate. This is most prevalent in the U.S. because most of the repair parts are going to Afghanistan or Iraq to support aircraft flying combat missions. This goes for every aircraft.

Second, the Chinook is an old aircraft, but so is the B-52. Both are made by Boeing and both are proven, superb workhorses. Age is not an issue. Capability is.

Third, who cares about high-level corruption? The question should be: What do the troops need?

Fourth, not only has the Air Force wrecked some Sikorsky Aircraft HH-60G Pave Hawks, but there have been cases where they could not accomplish a mission due to heat, altitude, and their heavy helicopter. I know these CSAR guys. I have talked with them in Afghanistan and they are not second-class citizens. They are gutsy, humble professionals. There are a lot of military members who owe their lives to them. But some were lost due to the H-60 capabilities, not the crew.

Fifth, while the Chinook is "heavier" than other Army aircraft, it is far from heavy when you consider power-to-weight ratio. Keep in mind the highly efficient, tandem-rotor design. There is no loss of power to a tail rotor as with the H-60. Of the Chinook’s power, 100 percent is dedicated to lift. Anybody who has crewed a Chinook or flown in formation with one knows it is fast and maneuverable. Don’t be deceived by their looks.

For sixteen years, I have been involved in Army aviation. I started out as a flight medic on the Bell Helicopter UH-1 and then became a crew chief. I transitioned to the UH-60 and then to the Chinook as a flight engineer. I spent a year in Afghanistan and experienced all aspects of war, including enemy engagements and, worst of all, friends who were killed. I know what the Chinook can do. There was not a single helicopter in that demanding environment that could outperform it.

The CSAR guys are pros. It’s about time they got a quality helicopter.

Staff Sgt. Dean Penrod

Army National Guard

Reno, Nev.

"A Personal Encounter..."

In both of Brian Swinney’s articles he makes the statement that he and his crew "walked away" ("A Personal Encounter With IMC," October 2007, page 48).

My crew and I were on duty and on a law enforcement patrol in our Bell Helicopter OH-58 when we received a call from dispatch advising that the emergency medical service helicopter from the neighboring county was down in our county and its reported GPS (Mayday) coordinates.

We immediately returned to base and switched to our EMS AgustaWestland A119. We knew the weather was bad west of town, but a fellow flight crew was in trouble and we would at least try to get out there. Being a two-pilot crew that night and night vision goggle-equipped, as well as extremely familiar with the local area, we were able to make it there and begin the search.

With the combination of excellent crew resource management, NVGs, and the ELT signal from the accident aircraft, we located the downed aircraft, lit the scene with our searchlight, and then conducted a landing in an unimproved area next to the crash and delivered our paramedic directly to the crash site. We lifted off to direct ground units in while our flight medic tended to the patients.

We then landed in a cow pasture a little from the scene and waited for the patients to be loaded. We transported two patients to a trauma center. That is not walking away! They also were not found by ground units 2 hr later when the weather cleared. From the time the Mayday was issued until we responded into the area to begin the search was 18 min.

I commend, and agree, with Brian for bringing the important issue of inadvertent IMC training to the forefront. But I do not understand why he misrepresented our community’s rescue efforts.

Sgt. Wade Hatcher

Chief Pilot

St. Lucie County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office

Brian Swinney replies: Sergeant Hatcher is correct. He and his crew did an excellent job locating our aircraft and did it rather quickly, despite very poor weather. My reference to 2 hr was for the ground response. I used "walked away" as a generalization of an accident that wasn’t fatal; I also noted our paramedic in the back suffered a back injury in the crash. If anyone was offended by the comments, I apologize. Sergeant Hatcher and his crew, and everyone involved, did an excellent job and I will always be grateful for their help and dedication on that night.

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