Copters an upgrade for Guard

Just two guys and their eyeballs — that’s all that the New York Army National Guard had to aid its h

Just two guys and their eyeballs — that’s all that the New York Army National Guard had to aid its helicopter surveillance in disasters like last year’s Tropical Storm Irene, Lt. Col. Rich Goldenberg said.

Pilots couldn’t directly provide assistance, but their OH-58A copters acted as beacons for emergency vehicles on the ground.

Now, a gift of two UH-72A Lakota helicopters is providing a technological boost the guard can take advantage of, Goldenberg said.

“It’s like looking 50 years back with one, and 50 years ahead with the other,” he said.

The technology in the aircraft can do more than carry people. Two engines, instead of the single one in the OH-58A, power the Lakota. A floodlight, which can reach a brightness of five million candlepower, can “turn the night into day,” said Chief Warrant Officer Chuck Rodda, a pilot. A mechanism, much like the device that drives a radio-controlled airplane, controls two cameras at the nose of the helicopter.

The cameras have electro-optical and infrared capabilities. The camera can be zoomed into one spot, and coordinates can be sent to emergency personnel to deal with the situation, such as locating a missing person at night.

Rodda, with 26 years of experience in the pilot’s seat, added that the copter is user-friendly. Some of the technologies are often used in our day-to-day lives, such as GPS navigation, he said.

The New York Guard welcomed two Lakotas to its fleet in a ceremony Monday afternoon at the Army Avation Support Facility in Latham, attended by guard officials, soldiers, aviators and family members. The copters sat mirroring each other at the door of the hangar. They bookended an OH-58A, pushed into the background.

The Lakotas bring modernity to a fleet previously stocked with 50-year-old models. Officials said the upgrades will make the guard’s job easier, safer and more effective.

“The Lakotas will help with disaster and relief efforts, as well as surveillance missions, as with counter-drug enforcement,” Goldenberg said. The two copters are the 118th and 119th out of 210 Lakotas to be given to the National Guard. In June 2006, a contract was written up between the U.S. Army and EADS North America, an aviation supplier, to provide 345 Lakotas to the Army and the guard. Each helicopter costs about $6.4 million, with the funds coming from the federal Army National Guard budget, Goldenberg said.

Col. Michael Bobeck was one of the officers in charge of getting New York in the pecking order for the aircraft in 2006. They were to replace the OH-58As, which were built in the 1960s. Now, six years after his initial effort, Bobeck, currently the chief of the Army National Guard’s Aviation and Safety Division in Arlington, Va., said he’s happy to the see the copters on New York soil. He served previously as commander of the 42nd Combat Aviation Brigade in Latham.

Bobeck, who has flown helicopters for 28 years, said the Lakotas are worlds away from their older counterparts. “I equate it to the Barney Rubble of helicopters and the Buck Rogers of helicopters,” he said.

Edward Rivette Jr. flew the copters’ maiden voyage from Columbus, Miss., where the Lakotas are manufactured, to the Latham facility. He’s flown both the OH-58A and the Lakota, and said there is no comparison. The Lakotas can be fashioned with a rescue apparatus to haul people, a device that Rivette said could have been used during Irene’s raging storms last year.

Categories: Schenectady County

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