SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE — The Army is conducting two separate investigations into complaints that National Guard helicopter crews are in danger because the Guard's helicopter mechanics are not receiving adequate training.
The complaints were filed by a maintenance test pilot and an experienced maintenance supervisor at the Army Reserve helicopter maintenance unit at Scott Air Force Base.
"If these complaints are accurate — and I have reason to believe they
are — it's only a matter
of time before somebody gets killed," said a high-ranking Army official familiar with the investigations, who asked not to be identified.
"We have inexperienced pilots flying aircraft maintained by unqualified technicians. Something's going to break and that pilot is not going to have enough experience to save the aircraft."
William MacIntire, the test pilot, and Kimball Kuehn, the maintenance
supervisor, alleged that the Guard — including the Illinois National Guard
— is rushing mechanics through an abbreviated, unauthorized training course
on the UH-60 Blackhawk at a Guard training center
The complaints accuse the Guard of "rubber stamping" Guard mechanics as qualified to work on the Blackhawk in as little as 14 days and call the situation "a prescription for disaster."
"As an aviation noncommissioned officer, there is nothing more paramount in my duties than the absolute safety of my soldiers," Kuehn said in a prepared statement.
MacIntire said he was concerned for the safety of helicopter crews because of poorly trained mechanics, not politics.
"None of us wants to stand there and say, 'I told you so,'" he said.
Both declined further comment.
The UH-60 Blackhawk is the Army's workhorse utility helicopter and replaced
most of the
active Army's Vietnam-era UH-1 Hueys in the 1980s. Over the next few years, the Army plans
to replace most of the Guard's aging Hueys with Blackhawks.
The training problem may be most acute in Illinois. The Illinois Guard was the first in the nation to receive Blackhawks from the Army Reserve under a Reserve-National Guard reorganization announced in December 1993.
The Illinois Guard already has received 10 Blackhawks from a Reserve
battalion at Scott
— five in December and five last week. Like most of the Guard, Illinois has been scrambling to get pilots and mechanics trained on the aircraft.
An Illinois Guard spokesman said Friday that a number of UH-1 mechanics
have been sent to
the Pennsylvania training school to learn how to work on the Blackhawk, but he did not know how many.
The complaints are directed at the Guard's Eastern ARNG Aviation Training
Site at Fort Indiantown Gap, Penn. The site began training Blackhawk mechanics
in 1993, and last fall
it began recruiting reservists and civilians at Scott to serve as temporary instructors.
Members of three Scott units, which include a Blackhawk battalion, a
and the 102nd Aviation Support Facility, say they became concerned when they received a
copy of the school's program of instruction (POI), the military's equivalent of a course syllabus.
The POI for a course conducted in October indicates that students received 20 days of training, most of it in the classroom. Students did get some experience on actual aircraft, but were not required to demonstrate proficiency on actual repairs.
By comparison, the active Army mechanics training school at Fort Eustis, Va., is a 13-week course. Reserve mechanics at Scott who cannot attend the active duty course go through a one-year training course of 12 weekends and one two-week active duty period, with an emphasis on "hands-on" experience.
Maj. Bob Dunlap, a spokesman for the National Guard Bureau, which oversees all of the state Guards, said Friday that the school's program of instruction had been approved by Fort Eustis and by the Training and Doctrine Command.
I'm not aware that there's a problem. I'm not going to respond to unsubstantiated allegations or rumors," Dunlap said.
Originally Published, January 22, 1995, Belleville News Democrat,
(c) 1995, Belleville News-Democrat, Belleville, Ill
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