ABOARD USS ESSEX, At Sea (NNS) -- Helicopter Combat Support (HC) Squadron 5, Det. 6 completed the Navy's first deployment of the new MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter aboard an amphibious ship Jan. 30 on USS Essex (LHA 2).
HC-5 Det. 6 got underway with Essex and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) (Special Operations Capable) Jan. 16 for the biannual Training in an Urban Environment Exercise (TRUEX).
As one of the Navy's only forward deployed search and rescue helicopter squadrons, HC-5 Det. 6 provides the Essex Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) and embarked MEU with airborne search and rescue capability. They are the first search and rescue squadron to be outfitted with the Knighthawk.
"We're forward deployed out of Guam," said Aviation Maintenance Administrationman 1st Class Tommie Jenkins. "At any one time, we may have six detachments on six different ships. What better way to run tests on an aircraft than to put it out to sea?"
The squadron has 14 aircraft in all. A pair deploys with each of the six detachments, and two remain shore based in Guam. Detachment 6 is permanently forward-deployed to Japan, aboard Essex.
Prior to this deployment, HC-5's primary aircraft was the HH-46 helicopter, which is being phased out of the Navy. HC-5 traded out their last remaining HH-46s for MH-60Ss in December. They now spend less time on maintenance and repairs, Jenkins said.
"This gives us a more mission ready aircraft, with less down time," said Jenkins. "Eventually, they'll replace all the 46s in the fleet."
While the HH-46 had more room for cargo and passengers, the new capabilities of the MH-60S make up for the loss, according to the crews.
More powerful engines give the Knighthawk significantly more lift power than the HH-46, said Aviation Electrician's Mate 2nd Class Joshua Haggard, HC-5 Det. 6 search and rescue swimmer. The added lift will greatly enhance the detachment's secondary mission of vertical replenishment, he said.
Due to a busy underway schedule, ships of the Essex ARG are often re-supplied at sea, and the HC-5 crews are called on to hoist and transport pallets of supplies from the replenishment ship to the ARG.
The Knighthawk also has the capabilities to play a more active roll in combat search and rescue operations, which were limited with the minimal armor of the HH-46.
Now HC-5 can have a bigger role with actually going in country to do combat search and rescue, Haggard said.
In addition to the added lift power and its armor, the Knighthawk also has built in Global Positioning System navigation and four M-240D machine gun mounts. However, the most notable new feature of the new helicopter is its "glass cockpit."
"Glass cockpit is a term that refers to any aircraft, whether it be a helicopter or fixed wing, where everything is digitally displayed on what is basically a T.V. screen," said HC-5 Det. 6 pilot Lt.j.g. Ricke Harris Jr.
The MH-60S is the only helicopter in the fleet with this fully digital display.
"The thing I like most is the glass cockpit," Harris said. "It compresses all of the gauges. Instead of having the traditional cockpit and analog instruments that are spread out everywhere, in the front you just have two screens, a flight display and a mission display."
"The flight display has all the primary flight instruments compressed into less than a foot square, so it's a lot easier to scan everything," Harris added. "And the mission display allows you to scroll to different functions."
The major components of the aircraft, however, have been in use for some time.
"Essentially, it's a Blackhawk airframe," Harris said. "The rotor head and the tail is the same as legacy H-60s, the Bravo and Foxtrot. The engines are the same as the legacy 60s, so the meat and potatoes of the aircraft are tried and true."
"I really don't feel like I'm testing anything," Harris said. "Sometimes it's too much fun to think about that."
While they are excited about the new helicopters, these crews are well aware that their job is not about fun. The Sailors of HC-5 bear the sacred duty of providing a lifeline, vital airborne search and rescue capability throughout the Pacific, and whether they are aboard USNS ships, Essex, in Guam or Japan, HC-5 Sailors are always on call.
"The service HC-5 provides is a vital and irreplaceable piece of our ability to project and sustain power ashore," said Capt. Andy Karakos, Commander, Amphibious Squadron 11 and the Essex ARG. "Their effort and professionalism is unsurpassed, and I know that every Sailor and Marine aboard feel that much more comfortable knowing this new aircraft has reported for duty."
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