NORFOLK -- The Navy is hosting a ceremony Thursday to formally reestablish a training squadron for sailors who fly its minesweeping helicopters, some two decades after the unit was disbanded as part of a broader consolidation.
The change is part of the service's ongoing effort to reinvest in its MH-53E Sea Dragons, an aging helicopter program that has dealt with a series of maintenance and safety problems since 2012.
The training squadron, Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 12, or HM-12, will be based at Norfolk Naval Station, home of the Navy's only two active Sea Dragon squadrons, HM-14 and HM-15.
Having been disestablished in 1994, HM-12 will once again serve as a fleet replacement squadron, where new pilots and crew members go to learn how to fly their designated aircraft. The Sea Dragon has long been the only Navy aircraft without a separate fleet replacement squadron.
Capt. Richard J. Davis will serve as the training squadron's commanding officer, the Navy said in a news release.
For almost a decade after HM-12 was shut down, new Sea Dragon pilots and crew were sent to the same squadron that trains Marine Corps pilots to fly CH-53E Super Stallions, a similar helicopter used for a much different mission.
In recent years, initial Sea Dragon training has been handled at HM-14 -- an operational squadron that flies minesweeping missions here and in South Korea -- in conjunction with Airborne Mine Countermeasures Weapon Systems Training School. Under that arrangement, HM-14 provides helicopters and equipment; the school provides instructors.
The re-established HM-12 will take command of five helicopters from HM-14 and will be fully staffed with its own command staff, instructors and aircraft maintainers.
The Sea Dragon -- the only U.S. military helicopter designed to sweep for underwater mines -- is the oldest and most maintenance-intensive copter in service.
Since February, following an investigation by The Virginian-Pilot and Investigative Reporting Program, most of the Navy's 28 Sea Dragons have been down while crews work to find and replace potentially unsafe wires and fuel lines, the same issue that led to a deadly crash off Virginia a year earlier.