Army Copters to Start ‘Flying Over Your Neighborhood’

(WIRED)   Shortfalls with the Army’s Black Hawk helicopter has led Army aviation units in Iraq and Afghanistan to use the UH-72A Lakota, a light non-combat helicopter, to fill the gap. But at the Association of the U.S. Army conference in Washington D.C., the Army’s project manager, Colonel Neil Thurgood, says that the vast majority of the Lakotas are going to go to the National Guard to aid in civilian disaster relief.

The Lakota, a “maneuverable, agile aircraft” that EADS has put in production since 2007, is increasingly able to talk with civilian law enforcement and homeland security, Thurgood said at a panel discussion. “You’ll be seeing more of those in your neighborhoods, flying over.”

Most importantly, new communications equipment gets the Lakota talking with the police patrol car below. The helicopter has P-25 public disaster band radio. Cameras on the nose flash aerial pictures of the aftermath of a disaster to “any of the agencies, state, national or federal, involved in process,” Thurgood said. A sensor operator in the rear of the copter can map and track the movements of cops, firefighters, ambulances and other disaster-relief officials on the ground.

That’s an improvement the Army learned the hard way. During Hurricane Katrina, the military discovered that it tracks locations using grid coordinates. Police and firefighters use street intersections. Neither knew immediately what the other meant.

These days, the Lakota is going to be in the toolkit of National Guardsmen who’ll be the frontline military points of contact with law enforcement and homeland security during the next hurricane or tornado. The Army’s going to buy 230 Lakotas; 210 of them are going to the National Guard.

But the helicopter isn’t just going to be used in disaster-relief missions. “We’ve used it along the southern border,” Thurgood said. If you live in a border town, expect to hear it flying overhead.

Photo: Wikimedia

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