By Chelsea Bauckman
MRMC Public Affairs Office/Fort Detrick, MD
It happens to every vehicle owner at some point. That "new car" feel wears off and suddenly you're being passed on the interstate by a newer model. While most of us would relish the opportunity to cast our trusty old rides to the side and purchase a shiny new car; that isn't a realistic or cost effective scenario.
The Army is no different. Innovative models of military aircraft are being developed and deployed on a regular basis; the newest utility helicopter is the UH-72A Lakota, and Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation is still filling orders for the newer HH-60M Black Hawk. While there are a few of these newer helicopters being produced, the bulk of the missions are still being carried out by a dependable fleet of older models.
Part of this fleet is the UH-60 Black Hawks that have served the Army over the last few decades. As a cost effective measure, they are currently being upgraded and modernized through the Recapitalization Program.
These upgrade helicopters are referred to as "Recap Black Hawks" and they support the bulk of military missions as the newer models are being developed and introduced to the field. Just as the Recap Black Hawks are being modernized to match the capabilities of the HH-60M, so are the Medical Evacuation Recap Black Hawks being modernized to match the capabilities of the HH-60M MEDEVAC.
That is where the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command's responsibility comes in. In 2010, the Office of the Surgeon General directed MRMC to form the Project Management Office of the Medical Evacuation Mission Equipment Package in order to modernize the Army's existing fleet of UH-60A/L Black Hawk helicopters so that they could be re-deployed to effectively serve our troops in current combat missions. Currently PMO MEDEVAC has the goal to refurbish more than 335 Black Hawk helicopters by 2020.
Their mission is to manage the MEDEVAC configuration, and ensure that the installed MEP will allow the Recap MEDEVAC Black Hawks to meet the standard. Throughout engagements in Korea and Vietnam, the military has learned a great deal about medicine. Particularly the role that rapid evacuation plays in the ability to treat injuries and reduce mortality. Since then, medical personnel have been battling what they call the "Golden Hour."
If a patient can receive definitive treatment within the first hour after being injured chances are very high that they will survive. The Army has a policy in place to reach injured soldiers and remove them from the battlefield as quickly as possible. MEDEVAC helicopters help to fulfill that policy. Utilizing the knowledge obtained throughout military history, the newer model and Recap MEDEVAC helicopters are being outfitted with the most effective and applicable medical technology.
Charlie Paschal is the project manager MEDEVAC MEP and serves as the liaison between MRMC and the assistant project management MEDEVAC through a partnership with Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Ala. MRMC and APM MEDEVAC have been working to update the UH-60 fleet with the most applicable technologies and products to support current missions.
Relying on APM MEDEVAC's aviation expertise, Paschal and MRMC will provide the medical expertise for this effort. "It is all about saving soldiers lives. If we do our job right, there will be modernized medical evacuation helicopters above the battlefield doing just that. It is a privilege to be a part of this effort," says Paschal.
MRMC's expertise will be manifested in the form of five main medical subsystems. These components will give Recap Black Hawk helicopters the capability to address and treat casualties on today's battlefield. While some of the changes to the Recap Black Hawks will be minor, such as the modification of a window or the addition of an Infra-Red device, they will add capability to the Recap Black Hawks and help medic save lives.
The five components being added to the aircraft include: The Forward Looking Infra-Red sensor is used to locate injured soldiers on the ground using modern sensor technology. Additionally it helps crewmen scan the landing zone to ensure the area is safe and free of opposing forces. The Interim MEDEVAC Mission Support System includes three components: The updated Patient Handling System.
The original system was a carousel on a rotating bulkhead in the middle of the helicopter; it held four patients and was extremely heavy. In the revised system, a litter is loaded onto shelves that are mounted on the outside bulkheads of the helicopter. These shelves move up and down to allow for easier loading. The Smart Window is a sliding window that replaces the original bubble window on the cargo door.
This new version allows the medic to look out of the aircraft to perform necessary functions of takeoff and landing more easily when wearing equipment. The Internal Communication System Relocation Kit moves the helicopter's internal communication system and its components to the rear of the helicopter which allows for easier movement for the medic throughout the cabin while treating patients.
The Advanced Medical Oxygen Generating System is located underneath the engine compartment. This system takes high pressure air that is being generated by the helicopter's jet engine into medical grade oxygen. The AMOGS system replaces the traditional medical cylinders of the past.
These cylinders were a hazard because they had potential to explode if struck by gunfire, a major concern in a combat environment. If the AMOGS is struck it simply stops functioning. The Environmental Control System provides a heating system in the cabin of the helicopter to help reduce the chance of hypothermia in vulnerable patients.
The Telemedicine System will be the medic's line of communication with ground based health care providers. Two-way communication allows medics to consult with doctors and obtain prior approval to provide certain treatments as well as track a patient's treatment history before arrival at a field hospital.
Currently, MEP and the team at Redstone are retrofitting the aircraft piece by piece. Because the effort is time sensitive and it is important to get the aircraft off the ground, the team works on aircraft as they are received, adding the parts as they become available.
From there, the aircraft are entered into a system and tracked for future opportunities to complete the work. The team aims to complete the re-work of each aircraft in the course of one year. In 2012, the first batch of modernized Recap MEDEVAC Black Hawks will be deployed into theater to support the Combatant Commanders. MEP and APM are pleased to provide support to this effort.