Army To Return Helicopters To Flying Status
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Army will begin returning its grounded Blackhawk assault helicopters to flying status this week, as it begins strengthening and refitting parts blamed for a fatal crash, the Army announced Monday.
The entire fleet of 630 Blackhawks, worth $4.9 million each, may be back in service by early autumn, the Army said.
The helicopters were grounded April 19, following crashes that killed 12 soldiers at Fort Bragg, N.C., and two soldiers and a civilian instructor at Fort Rucker, Ala.
Investigation of the accident at Fort Rucker showed that failure of a main rotor blade spindle led to a blade being thrown from the aircraft with subsequent loss of control and a crash, the Army said.
The Army and Sikorsky Aircraft, the manufacturer, found that some of the helicopters will need new load-sharing tie rods and some will need new tie rods and spindles, the Army said.
Teams from the Army and the company will visit Blackhawk units around the world to inspect the helicopters and install the spindle tie-rod assemblies.
″We’d like to be finished by early fall,″ said Col. Miguel E. Monteverde, an Army spokesman.
He said the cost of fixing each helicopter would range from about $8,000 to $80,000 depending on how much work needed to be done. Lawyers for the Army and the company are still discussing who is responsible for paying the cost of the repairs.
The decision to fix the tie rods and spindles resulted from the investigation of the Fort Rucker crash.
The Fort Bragg accident, however, was blamed on an unrelated problem: the absence of a bolt, apparently causing flight controls to jam.
″Total destruction of the aircraft prevented conclusive findings,″ the Army said. ″In a painstaking inspection of the entire Blackhawk fleet, no other aircraft was found to have this bolt missing.″
The UH-60 Blackhawks, which began flying for the Army in April 1981, replaced the UH-1, ″Huey″ helicopters of the Vietnam War era as the main air assault, air cavalry and aeromedical evacuation craft.
Since 1982, the new helicopters have been involved in 23 ″Class A″ accidents accounting for 37 fatalities. Of the accidents, 14 were found to have been caused by human error and several were blamed on either maintenance or materiel failure.
An non-fatal UH-60 accident in West Germany this January, blamed on an ″act of God,″ was caused by a lightning bolt.
Monteverde said 170 aircraft - those having logged less than 260 hours - will require the least amount of work and should be finished quickly.
Those with 1,000 hours of flight time will take the longest and the bulk of the fleet, with between 260 hours and 1,000 hours, will take an undetermined amount of time to refit, depending on whether both the tie rod and spindle need to be refitted, Monteverde said.