Cover Story: A Look at the UH-60A Black Hawk Helicopter

Army National Guard helicopter maintenance in Minnesota and Iraq


The flight line crew is responsible for the PMD, PMS, unscheduled maintenance, and helicopter ground movements around the facility. For example, technician Shaun Brenner was assigned to troubleshoot and correct a tail rotor deice problem, while technician Cliff Steenberg repaired the tail rotor pylon drive shaft cover. Steenberg says of his career with the National Guard, “I have 34 years of military time between the Army and the National Guard. I’ve been a full-time technician here since 1988.” He holds an FAA A&P certificate from when he worked on helicopters prior to his full-time employment with the Guard.

The Phase crew was in week three of a PMI 2 during my visit. There was extensive work taking place including the complete replacement of the tail rotor pylon. Both engines and all four main rotor blades were removed, but the “5-pack” as it was called was still installed. The five-pack includes the main module or gearbox, the two engine input modules, and two accessory drive modules.

Chris Kelly, maintenance supervisor for Phase Maintenance, explains, “Several weeks out we have a phase planning meeting to review the work-scope and make preparations. With a crew of eight technicians working a standard 40-hour work week, completion of these phase checks averages between five and seven weeks.”

Terry Johnson, lead technician on the phase check crew was transferring hardware and components from the removed tail rotor pylon over to the replacement. When asked what the most complicated task was on the Black Hawk, he replies, “The complete rigging of the main rotor system can be very complicated.” He went on to explain the adjustment of all the control rods from the cockpit to the cabin roof all the way to the torque shafts including the stabilization augmentation system, the control mixing unit, and the forward, aft, and lateral servos that go into the main rotor system.

Maintenance in the heat and the sand

In Iraq, the maintenance organization was operated similarly, having unit, intermediate, and depot level maintenance groups. Generally, the work was accomplished in a cement dome structure known as the hardened area aircraft shelter (HAAS). I was told most days were 10 to 14 hours on duty with one day per week off for things like laundry or catching up on rest. I listened intently as a group of technicians recalled their experiences in Iraq.

When asked about the weather, technician Mike Ricke promptly replies, “The sandstorms were very real and they could last as long as two to three days. I’ll always remember the red color of the sky during a sandstorm.”

Technician Dustin Paulson recalls, “We’d close the doors on the HAAS but still everything was eventually covered with dust and sand. We did a lot of cleaning and vacuuming of dust and sand from inside the aircraft during our maintenance checks.”

Another part of the sandstorms I was told was they sometimes meant an increase in enemy mortar attacks. Again Ricke says, “In the summer months the temperature would reach a high of 130 F and it would cool down to 90 F at night. During the winter months it would range from about 60 to 30 F.”

Flight line checks in Iraq were accomplished using larger crews in a much shorter time. The goal was to keep the Black Hawks in a constant state of readiness. Technician Johnson says, “Sometimes getting parts is slower than we’d like here, but in Iraq we never had to wait for parts.” Ricke shares, “We really became good at doing Black Hawk checks and I think I could do a 120-hour check with a blindfold on.”

Technician Scott Staiert, who was recently hired at the St. Paul AASF shares, “Even though I am relatively new here, I gained a whole lot of experience working 13 Black Hawk phase inspections in Iraq. The phase checks were more extensive due to the extreme flying, but were accomplished in shorter periods with up to 10 technicians working two shifts.” Lead technician Johnson says, “We had great engineering support with rapid response and repair authorization, and Sikorsky and GE reps were on-site to assist us at any time.”

The National Guard as a career

Steve Goetz, maintenance supervisor for the flight line explains the one requirement for working at the AASF: you must be a member of the Army National Guard. If you are or can be, feel free to apply for a job. Goetz says, “We look for technicians with military or National Guard experience, but primarily we look for current and relevant technical experience. Goetz explains for a recently hired technician, “Although he didn’t have military helicopter experience he did have aircraft systems experience and a well-rounded heavy maintenance airline background. He was a good fit.”

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