By C. Todd Lopez
WASHINGTON (April 05, 2012) -- The Army's newest aircraft, the UH-72A Lakota, is approaching 100,000 flight hours, and maintains one of the highest mission-capable rates among Army aircraft.
The Army expects to buy a total of 345 of the aircraft, and the service has just taken delivery of 209 so far.
"The real success story for us: it's been on schedule [and] it's met its cost targets perhaps better than any other aviation program we have got that's active right now," said Col. Thomas Todd, project manager for Army utility helicopters, during an April 3 press briefing at the Army Aviation Association of America conference in Nashville.
The Lakota is a slightly modified version of the manufacturer's commercial EC-145 aircraft, and serves mostly inside the United States, though it has served in Haiti as part of relief operations there, Todd said. Right now, the Lakota is being used in 42 of 50 states. Only a third of the aircraft are headed for active-duty units. The remainder are bound for Army National Guard units.
In the field, Todd said, the Lakota has maintained remarkably high reliability rates.
"It maintains consistently 90 percent operational availability rates," Todd said. "We obviously take a lot of pride in the fact that 90 percent means [a commander] gets nine out of 10 to fly. It makes that unit commander, no matter where they are and what mission they are performing, more effective."
The Lakota can be configured with mission equipment packages to support medical evacuation missions, VIP support or and security and support. While most military aircraft deal with military threats, the Lakota, with the S&S mission-equipment package, was developed to work counter-narcotics on the southwest border. Along the Mexican border, for instance, 11 Lakota aircraft have racked up 700 flying hours working the Southwest Border Mission there out of operating locations in Larado and Harlingen, Texas.
In a time of constrained budgets, Todd said that the Lakota also delivers on maintenance costs. As a light utility helicopter, the UH-72A Lakota was pursued as a replacement for the OH-58A and C Kiowas as well as the UH-1 Iroquois. Repair parts for the Lakota are less expensive than for the older aircraft, and are delivered quicker.
"When we compare our parts fill rate is higher, and our parts cost or our contracts cost is easily 30-40 percent less," Todd said. "That's a huge measuring stick for us, in these resources constrained times."