SAN FRANCISCO -- Military.com checked out the U.S. Navy's MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter while taking a tour of the amphibious ship USS Somerset here during Fleet Week. The Navy has purchased a few hundred of the machines and is gearing up to finish the contract.
Lt. Walker Robinson, an aviator with Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron-21, based at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, on Wednesday gave an up-close look at some of the features that set the chopper apart from earlier versions of the rotorcraft, including new electronic cockpit displays.
"It's an absolute joy to fly this machine," he said. "It's got a lot of power. It's maneuverable. We're lucky enough to fly the Sierra, which is the newest helicopter the Navy operates, so our machines are pretty new and in great condition."
Robinson said the rotorcraft, which is made by Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., features electronic displays complete with mouse-like track balls and other buttons to navigate the flat-screen monitors.
"One of the great things about these newer aircraft is that we're moving to a flat-panel display system, so as you can see here, we're moving away from the old steam gauges," he said. "If you look in the middle, we still have some. Those are our back-up instruments just in case we have a severe multiple system power failure, we can rely on those to keep flying in the dark. But now, everything is moving to these multi-function displays. It's kind of like having iPads in the cockpit in a sense."
Robinson added, "All of our flight instrumentation, mission instrumentation, maps, engine information -- all that kind of stuff -- gets displayed up on the screens and we can reconfigure the screens to optimize them for whatever mission that we're doing, adjusting the brightness."
The cockpit is also fully night-vision compatible, so the crews are able to fly exercises and missions at night.
The helicopter, which is essentially a modified version of the Army's UH-60 Black Hawk, also features folding rotor blades so it can fit inside of a ship, a rear tail wheel, enlarged cabin doors to quickly transport troops from Navy SEALs to bomb disposal technicians, and space for weapons from machine guns to Hellfire missiles and rockets.
While a primary mission of the helicopter is search and rescue, it's also expected to take on a greater role hunting for mines. Robinson didn't discuss the sensors aboard the aircraft, but the Navy has tested the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System aboard the Sierra model to spot mines floating on the surface of the water or near the surface in areas close to shore.
The Navy to date has purchased almost 300 MH-60S Knighthawks. Indeed, last year's budget included $208 million to buy the final eight aircraft of the variant. The proposed spending plan for fiscal 2016, which began Oct. 1, included $34 million to support final deliveries of the aircraft, related equipment and costs to complete the contract, according to Pentagon budget documents.