Reinventing the Wheel

By Fred Kent CH-47 Instructor Pilot Tom Finnegan Cmdr., U.S. Coast Guard, Ret. Les Hornby Royal Air Force Benson Oxfordshire United Kingdom | May 1, 2004
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In response to the February 2004 Rotorcraft Report item, "U.S. Army Adapting to Iraq Threat," I submit the following:

How many times do we have to reinvent the wheel?

Army doctrine is very clear on avoiding "lines of communication," amongst many other ways of mitigating exposure to the enemy. It is right out of the field manual. Our CH-47 company deployed to Iraq in March. We never flew the same routes or times, avoided lines of communication (such as roads, rivers, and towns), flew fast and low, and flew almost exclusively at night (regardless of the illumination).


After three months in theater, we relocated from operations based in the north to an air base in central Iraq. By this time, some rear-area Army genius put out SAFFRS-published routes and corridors designed to organize airspace and ease navigation. They followed roads, rivers, and easy-to-navigate routing at altitudes consistent with easier target acquisition-all great for stateside, peacetime or administrative flying.

We refused to fly them and continued to plan and fly various routes, times and altitudes (almost all below 200 ft. AGL). What business do we have flying in a threat area above 100-200 ft. AGL except to avoid the wires?

After relocating, our new command limited night missions to periods with no less than 29 percent moon and 23 deg. moon angle. Not many hours of the month fall into these parameters. Now granted, this is much safer as far as dust landings are concerned, especially in low-contrast terrain. But we train and train for this (and should be training continually). Is it better to get shot at or increase risks of inadvertent terrain contact (hard landings) and bent aluminum?

I guess I'm just irritated that we lose good people and good equipment to what seems to me like poor risk management (that is, flying during the day). Yes, mitigate the risks, but we own the night! Why not sustain continued operations under lower threat vulnerability (using night-vision goggles, for instance)? How can we be expected to perform night-vision goggle missions when called upon if we do not maintain proficiency?

With regard to aircraft survival equipment, aircraft without appropriate survivability equipment were "red X" for combat or imminent-danger missions (which meant all flights in Operation Iraqi Freedom).

Reference the article, "Iraq Forcing Aviation Modernization," in the same issue, maybe I am missing something here. Fly-by-wire is one thing mentioned as an improvement for the battlefield. Perhaps what was meant is upgrading and integrating avionics to the flight control stabilization equipment (that is, auto-hover, moving map GPS, coupled navigation, etc.). Well, HELLO! We're still using round-dial, analog instruments, no distance-measuring equipment, non-database GPS. Bring it on! We get the job done now, but how much safer would we be, and how less pilot head-in-the-cockpit time would be required with upgraded avionics! Isn't "fly-by-wire" non-mechanical connection of the pilot's input to the controls and the final input to the flight control surfaces (no push/pull tubes or bell cranks)?

I love Army aviation. I love your publication. Keep it up and the greasy side down.


Of Things Remembered...

Thanks for leading off Douglas W. Nelms' article, "Growing Mideast Markets," (March 2004) with a photo of a U.S. Coast Guard HH-52A landing on the deck of a 210-ft. cutter.

How do I know? With more than 1,800 hr. in that trusty bird, I've plunked her down on those decks many times, often accompanied by more than a little adrenaline!

She was a great rescue helicopter, and I was sad to see her retired from long and faithful service, but it's been almost 25 years since that happened. It sure brings back memories for this old Pterodactyl (an association of Coast Guard aviation personnel)! Thanks for the memories!


...And Things Left Out

I enjoyed reading your recent article, "It is Worthless When Done" (February 2004). Many of the characters mentioned undoubtedly had a major impact on the development of the helicopter. However, the article failed to give credit to the technical breakthrough that made the modern helicopter possible. Without Juan de la Cierva's invention of the articulated rotor head, helicopters as we know them might not exist.

It was Cierva who realized that the blades needed to flap and drag to overcome aerodynamic forces and he successfully built and flew an autogyro incorporating his ideas in 1923.

By the time the first practical co-axial and tandem rotor helicopters had been flown in the early 1930s, Cierva had been regularly demonstrating his single-rotor autogyros around the world for almost seven years. Although Cierva never built a true helicopter (in 1934 he developed an autogyro that could make a vertical, "jump", takeoff), he should be remembered as the man who made modern helicopters possible.



The debut edition of our special section, Helicopter Training (April 2004), included some errors that we must correct.

In the News Briefs item, "L.A. Pilots Transition to Firehawk,", we say that the Los Angeles County Fire Department's pilots are transitioning from the Bell 212 to the Sikorsky Firehawk. That department, in fact, operates four Bell 412s, not 212s.

In the article, "New Paths to the Top", we refer to Tom Milton but muddle his title. He is chief pilot of the Nassau County, N.Y. Police Department's aviation unit.

We apologize to these individuals and to our readers for any inconvenience or confusion these errors may have caused.

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