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Meet the New UH-60M Black Hawk's Third Pilot: 'Mike'

Jeff Gregg, UH-60M instructor with Science and Engineering Services, Inc., and Capt. Kristian Mroczko look at the outside of a new UH-60M Black Hawk.  (Photo by Michelle Kennedy)
Jeff Gregg, UH-60M instructor with Science and Engineering Services, Inc., and Capt. Kristian Mroczko look at the outside of a new UH-60M Black Hawk. (Photo by Michelle Kennedy)

FARNBOROUGH, England -- Pilots accustomed to legacy versions of the Army's UH-60M Black Hawk chopper sometimes have to be reminded that the aircraft is not flying itself, pilots and maintainers said Wednesday.

The twin-engine Sikorsky aircraft flew across Europe to attend the Farnborough International Airshow, passing over Luxembourg, Belgium and the French coast in its transit from Ansbach, Germany, where ten of the choppers from Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 501st Aviation Regiment deployed in April to form a surge force in support of the multinational exercise Anakonda 16.

Sgt. Jason Hook, a standardization instructor for the aircraft, revealed that the M-variant is so technologically advanced that crew like to refer to "Mike" -- using the variant designator -- as the chopper's third pilot.

With the four multi-function display screens, a controller that allows pilots to design flight routes while in flight, and integrated controls that eliminate the need for a bulky EDM thigh-mounted computer to provide blue force tracker information and mapping, the technology can be overwhelming for some accustomed to the Alpha-Lima versions of the aircraft, he said.

"It's important for the pilots to remember that they can fly the aircraft for themselves," he said. "Because sometimes they get task-saturated and let it fly itself and you've got to remind them who's actually flying, who's keeping an eye on the controls."

The UH-60M entered full-rate production in 2007 and saw its first operational combat deployment -- to Afghanistan -- in 2010. The Army ultimately plans to buy 956 of the aircraft and another 419 of the HH-60M medevac variant, with procurement stretching through 2026.

Chief Warrant Officer Four Alex Coronado, a Black Hawk pilot who began flying the legacy version in 2002, said he found learning the advanced system required more focus because of its complexity.

"Looking at switchology, it's a big difference compared to what the Alpha and the Lima provided," he said.

It's even possible "Mike" may be the only pilot aboard the Black Hawk at some future point.

In 2014, Sikorsky and the Army demonstrated an optionally piloted version of the aircraft as part of its development of a fly-by-wire upgrade to the UH-60M that the service ultimately decided not to pursue.

According to a report from AINOnline, Sikorsky may test an autonomous flight kit on a UH-60A Black Hawk variant later this year.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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