Reverie – The bad bad helicopter

This is a short post for eventually a much longer piece discussing how poor of an idea it is to give the Afghanistan Air Force any American-made UH-60 helicopters, let alone over 100.

To start I will take a quote from an article.

“The Mi-17 that the UH-60 is going to replace is not sustainable as a helicopter, so what we are doing, we are giving to the Afghan Air Force sustainable, very highly capable and battle-proven helicopters so that they can take the fight forward as they continue to safeguard this country,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Ted Rogers, director of operations for the 441st Air Expeditionary Advisory Squadron. He called the transition “hugely important.”

National Post article

I will start by saying I think this Air Force major has no idea what he is talking about. If this is honestly what he believes and he is narrow-minded and foolhardy.

His statement should read that the MI 17 is a proven capable aircraft. He is an aircraft that the Afghanistan Air Force knows how to fly and as an aircraft to the Afghanistan Air Force know how to maintain.


Mi-17 on the ramp in Shindand, Afghanistan
MI-17 in Afghanistan


The Afghan he Air Force has at least some sort of logistic supply for the needs of the MI 17. Helicopters require an enormous amount of maintenance and logistics. The Army has entire companies attached to aviation units solely for logistics not only for normal army needs but the specifics for the aircraft. Everything on a helicopter breaks. Everything needs to be replaced. The engines require specific maintenance. The rotor blades require specific maintenance. The transmissions require specific maintenance. If these parameters are not met the aircraft will fall out of the sky, that is the reality of aviation.

Here is a video of doing a preflight inspection on the UH-60


I do want to note that this pre-fight is being conducted by a pilot. Also, a pilot is not very good at doing a pre-flight. I can only assume or at least hope that he is new. Depending on how you want to classify “good,” a crew chief, it typically takes 30 to 45 minutes to do a detailed preflight inspection. This time varies depending on if the crew chief is working by himself, if there is a second crew chief, or if there is a door gunner. The preflight inspection does not include any of the other tasks such as loading radios, stowing year, and getting the ice chest and flight gear for everybody.

The only thing that we are giving to the Afghan Air Force is an overpriced and unnecessary helicopter that will shackle them to the needs to be fulfilled by contractors for decades to come. If for whatever reason the Afghani’s don’t play nice, then we pull the contractors and their Air Force is grounded. You do not field a brand-new aircraft to replace a fleet of aircraft.

Yes, the UH-60 is battle proven and it is a highly capable aircraft. But why in the world do they need this? The money would’ve been better spent on upgrading and overhauling the MI 17’s. Funny enough this is exactly what the US Army has done with the UH-60s since its inception in the 1970s. The UH-60 MI 17 were developed roughly at the same time. Yet the upgrades the UH-60 have gone through are mind-boggling. There are parts of the UH-60 but as fully trained mechanics we consider them to be run by gnomes and spirits. Anyone who can look at a mechanical mixing unit and make sense of it is certainly smarter than I am.

Any UH-60 mechanic knows how difficult’s a full rigging is. Or the utter hell that is adjusting flight control rods in the broom closets. Maybe how shitty it is to be in the tail boom when it’s hundred and 30 and you have about 30 minutes of corrosion control that you have to meticulously look over. Maybe putting safety wire on the tail rotor.

Almost every bit of maintenance done on the aircraft requires multiple people to support it.

Now obviously this is the same with every aircraft. However, it is far easier to maintain a motorcycle then it is an automobile. Just take a look at a picture of the aircraft completely stripped down.

Here is some video of a time lapse of a phase:

Here is some shit that supports my view and says it better.

When an aircraft is received for phase maintenance, a team of Soldiers begin the break down.

“We have 10 UH-60 crew chiefs and 10 mechanics from our support shop made up of avionics, sheet metal, power train and power plant technicians,” Dowdy said. “We brought some new Soldiers with us, fresh from the school house. Each of us has gained a lot of experience from the nine PMIs completed since arriving here.”

Phase maintenance is based off the amount of flight hours the aircraft has since the time it was built or after its last phase maintenance session. Two time periods are used for the PMIs conducted for UH-60s; the first is at 360 flight hours and usually lasts for seven days. The second is at 720 flight hours and lasts for roughly 14 days due to the extensive tear down and inspection. During the deployment rotation, the phase teams will continue to perform PMI 1 and 2 until it is the aircraft’s time to be shipped back to the states. Once back in the states, the aircraft will undergo a reset where it will receive a complete overhaul.

During a PMI 1, panels are removed from the aircraft, a fuel integrity test is performed, basic inspections of the aircraft are conducted, it is washed, and a rig test is used to verify the measurement of the blade angle. When a PMI 2 is underway, both engines, oil cooler, drive shafts, and auxiliary power units are removed from the aircraft. Air is run through the fuel lines to help check for leaks. Also removed are the main rotor head and main mast seal.

“We note the deficiencies when we come across them in our inspections,” said Chief Warrant Officer 4 William Rector, the Production Control Officer-In-Charge for D/2-25 AVN, 25th CAB, originally from Austin, Texas. “Of those deficiencies, we remove, repair and replace anything we can down to the smallest nut and bolt, rivets, and cracks in the airframe. Every inch of the rotor blades are inspected. During the PMI 2, we conduct a full serial number verification to match up all the components on the checklist.”

In the past nine years, the UH-60s have gone from receiving phase maintenance once every 500 flight hours to 360 flight hour interval inspections. Before the aircraft goes in for phase, two 120 flight hour inspections are conducted by the line companies. With the increase of inspections and phases, the UH-60s started to use the Integrated Vehicle Health Maintenance System to better determine a components time before overhaul. article

And I will leave it at that… For now.