A Democratic senator from New York has called on the new defense secretary to investigate a "disturbing pattern" of UH-60 Black Hawk crashes that have claimed the lives of nine Army National Guard soldiers since December 2019.
"Three crashes involving the National Guard's use of the UH-60 in just over a year raises significant concerns about a systemic issue with the Black Hawk helicopter operation cycle," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, wrote in a Feb. 5 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Gillibrand's letter follows two Black Hawk crashes this year, one that killed three Idaho Guard pilots Feb. 2 and one that killed three New York Guard pilots Jan. 20. An earlier Black Hawk crash on Dec. 5, 2019, killed three Minnesota Guard soldiers.
A separate Aug. 27, 2020, crash in California that killed two members of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment who were flying in a special operations version of the Black Hawk known as the MH-60 "raises additional questions that we urgently need answered," Gillibrand said in her letter to Austin.
"Accordingly, I ask that you take all necessary steps to promptly investigate these incidents to determine if they fit a larger pattern of malfunction with the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter," she added.
The U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama, is investigating the recent Idaho and New York Guard crashes as "disparate events," Gillibrand said in her letter.
The summary results of the December 2019 Minnesota Guard UH-60 crash investigation concluded that the "helicopter's number one engine failed during a maximum power check while the number two engine was in an idle setting, causing a dual engine-out condition. The failure was attributed to the incorrect installation of the engine's hydromechanical unit," Gillibrand said in the letter.
The investigation also found that the pilots failed to react properly to the critical situation and follow emergency procedures.
The Black Hawk entered service in the late 1970s. The Army is scheduled to begin replacing it in 2030 with the faster, more modern Future Long Range Assault Aircraft under the Future Vertical Lift program.
If this series of accidents represents a larger problem with the Cold War-era helicopter, Gillibrand asked that the Pentagon "produce recommendations and guidance regarding the operational readiness of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and its crew to ensure the safety of our service members," according to the letter.
She also requested that Austin provide a classified briefing on the status of the his investigation that should include "any mechanical, software, electrical, or other problems with the UH-60 Black Hawk that cause it to malfunction or make it further difficult to pilot, and ... the Department of Defense's plan to rectify this issue," the letter states.
"Because of the ongoing danger posed to our service members, I ask for this briefing to occur as soon as the disparate investigations are complete," Gillibrand said in the letter.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.