CORONADO, Calif. (NNS) -- The Navy introduced its newest fleet aircraft, the MH-60S Knighthawk helicopter, in a ceremony held here recently. Against a background of Sailors and helicopters at Naval Air Station (NAS) North Island, naval aviators and industry executives joined Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark in formally introducing the Knighthawk to the fleet.
"This helicopter will make our force more lethal and combat-capable," said Clark.
The CNO praised the men and women of Helicopter Combat Support Squadron (HC) 3 for their hard work and dedication in making the Knighthawk's fleet introduction a reality. The "Packrats" of HC-3, stationed at NAS North Island, were the first squadron to fly the aircraft.
The Knighthawk will assume the CH-46D Sea Knight's mission of carrier battle group logistical support, including inter-battle group replenishments of bombs and supplies, and personnel transport.
As two CH-46 and three MH-60 helicopters flew in formation over the ceremony, participants and spectators witnessed history in the making. The Knighthawk's introduction to the fleet is truly a milestone in naval aviation.
"Helo-air is helping to lead the Navy's transformation," Clark said. "The men and women of HC-3 are on station at the forefront of this transition, piloting a new helicopter that is infinitely important to the fleet because of its adaptability and ability to accomplish so many different missions."
HC-3 began diversifying the skills and backgrounds of its pilots, aircrew personnel and maintainers more than two years ago, while preparing to be the first fleet replacement squadron to fly the MH-60S.
After undergoing flight testing at the Rotor Wing Aircraft Test Squadron (RWATS) in Patuxent River, Md., the first Knighthawk arrived at North Island on Dec. 19, 2000. Pilots at the squadron began training flights in the new aircraft in October 2001. The Knighthawk will soon arrive at its first operational fleet squadron, HC-5 in Guam.
"The MH-60S is the first building block in a 20-year plan to recapitalize our helicopter force," Capt. Greg Hoffman, officer-in-charge of the MH-60R/S Fleet Introduction Team, said. "HC-3 aircrews and maintainers are spearheading this transition." Helicopter support squadrons will be the first to receive the new helicopter.
The MH-60S is more than just a replacement for the aging CH-46; it is the helicopter of the Navy's future, designed with growth in mind, a characteristic which will allow it to adapt and evolve as its mission capabilities are fine-tuned to suit the Navy's needs.
Throughout the next decade, leaders in naval aviation anticipate that the Knighthawk will not only replace most existing Navy helicopters, but will be instrumental in the development of entirely new helicopter missions.
"In the helo master plan, we're going from seven airframes down to two, as the Romeo and Sierra (helicopters) get outfitted with new systems and become more multi-mission capable," explained Hoffman.
From a distance, the new airframe looks similar to the SH-60 B and F that crews are accustomed to seeing in the fleet. Notable visual differences between these versions and the MH-60 include a tail wheel that sits further aft, permitting more aggressive landings in confined zones over land, and engine exhaust venting, which effectively reduces the aircraft's heat signature.
The cabin is redesigned to make it cargo and passenger compatible and opposing main cabin sliding doors enable rapid troop entry and debarkation. Other highlights include a new glass cockpit display, which integrates the latest advancements in avionics and ergonomics, using a combined GPS and inertial system for navigation.
The digital instrument array is configured to enhance the pilot's scan and many switches and bezels remain undesignated, permitting enormous future growth potential.
For more information on Naval Air Force Pacific Fleet, go to http://www.airpac.navy.mil.