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The Life of an Army Helicopter Pilot

Posted 14 years 151 days ago ago by Admin

The Life of an Army Helicopter Pilot by CW3 BERNIE SMITH, US ARMY

I offer this article as an Army UH-60 Blackhawk pilot since 1990, therefore my views are that of the Army and not any other Service. I will give information as accurate as I can. Pilots of other Army aircraft may disagree on some details, such as the Blackhawk being the finest helicopter ever produced. Thanks Igor.

You do not need any previous aviation experience to apply for the Army Flight Program, but any you have will definitely be an advantage, even if it is in a ground support field Blackhawk Helicopter(maintenance, ATC, etc.) Most Warrant Officers and some Commissioned Officers were previously enlisted, but not necessarily in an aviation field. I served in the Marine Corps infantry and my only flight time was in the back of CH-53’s and 46’s.

After successful completion of Warrant Officer Candidate School or Officer Candidate School , you will attend flight school at Fort Rucker , Alabama , the Home of Army Aviation. Warrant Officers are specialized technical experts and their primary job is to fly. Commissioned Officers are leaders and although they will spend some assignments flying, they may have jobs that don’t allow them to fly for three or more years. If you want to get flight time, go Warrant. If you want more money, along with the challenge of managing/leading people that go with it, go Commissioned. As a CW3, I will focus my views on flying with the Army as a Warrant Officer.

Flight school is about 10 months long. Everyone starts out in the TH-67. You will have a “stick buddy” that shares your training period. You will both share an assigned Instructor Pilot. After primary training, you will continue with Instrument training, again in the TH-67. Following successful completion it’s on to Basic Combat Skills. Lastly, you will be assigned a specific airframe to train in. This will be the aircraft you fly throughout your career. Class standing, personal preference, and “needs of the Army” (A term you will become painfully familiar with) determine which airframe you end up with. It will either be a UH-60 Blackhawk, CH-47 Chinook, OH-58D Kiowa Warrior, or AH-64 Apache.

You will also be qualified flying with Night Vision Goggles, or NVG’s. These are mounted on the front of the flight helmet and allow an operational advantage during night flight. It is one of the most challenging phases of flight training. Your field of view is limited to 40 degrees, as opposed to about 200 degrees without them. Flying with goggles has been compared to flying while looking through toilet paper tubes. The Army prides itself in owning the night for war fighting and most assignments will require you to stay proficient in NVG flight.

A WO1 with less than two years of service will make $2133.90 a month base pay, with $125 in flight pay and the other allowances the Army provides, such as for housing and food. These other allowances vary depending on your duty location. Flight pay increases almost every year for 6 years until it reaches $650 per month. After that, it increases to $840 after you’ve served 14 years of aviation service. Promotion for a Warrant Officer 1to CW2 (Chief Warrant Officer 2) is pretty much automatic at one year unless you really screw up. After that, you will remain a CW2, CW3, or CW4 for six years between promotions. The highest Warrant rank is CW5. Base pay for a CW5 with 20 years in service is $5169.30. The entire pay table can be found at http://www.dod.mil/militarypay.

Don’t just look at the base pay/flight pay when considering your budget. For about $16 a month, I have $250,000 worth of life insurance. Besides the other allowances previously mentioned, hospital and dental care is provided. My daughter was born at Fort Campbell , KY. It cost me a whopping $15, which covered meals for my wife. Unless you’re on duty, such as MEDEVAC coverage, you will also get every Federal holiday off, which is usually combined with a training holiday for a nice 4-day weekend. Everyone in the military starts out with 30 days of leave a year, and up to 60 days can be saved and sold back when you get out.

Following completion of flight school you will owe the Army six years of service. You will be assigned to a Stateside or overseas tour right after flight school, then again about every three years after that. You submit a preference, but needs of the Army prevail. One-year tours are called short tours and are primarily in several posts in South Korea or Honduras . Long tours, three years duration, can be found in Germany , Alaska , Hawaii , and sometimes Japan . There are others, but these are the big ones.

A short tour to Korea is almost inevitable if you stay in long enough. Depending on where you’re stationed, you may bring your family. If the government pays for it, you will have to agree to stay two years instead of one. If you pay for their travel, one year is it. Short/long tours are pretty much what YOU make them. I paid to bring my wife over during my first Korea tour so overall it was a very positive experience. Every culture has something to offer, it’s up to you to either learn about it or stay in your room and count the days until you go home.

There are also several thousand troops in Iraq , in case you haven’t watched the news lately. Deployments are by far the downside of the military. Since Desert Storm, troops have been deployed to Somalia , Bosnia , Kosovo, and Afghanistan to name a few. If you just can’t stand being away from your family, the military is not for you. Being away and missing birthdays, graduations, and anniversaries are part of the job. It never gets easy; you just learn to deal with it.

Each airframe has a particular mission. The Apache’s mission is to kill tanks and anything else that moves on the other side of the battlefield. If you love to shoot things, that’s your bird. It has an array of weapons from Hellfire missiles to a 30mm chain gun. It’s very high tech. The Kiowa Warrior is an offspring of the OH-58 Kiowa. It has multiple missions, ranging from reconnaissance to target acquisition/designation. The Chinook is the Army’s heavy lift helicopter that can haul internal and external loads around the battlefield as needed, including troops, vehicles, and artillery pieces. Although it looks cumbersome, this is actually the fastest helicopter in the Army. The Blackhawk has the most versatile mission. You may perform Command and Control, MEDEVAC, Air Assault, VIP, or mine laying missions to name a few. The Chinook and Blackhawk also perform Special Operations missions.

Until you are assigned a specialized job, you will hold one or more additional duties. These jobs are what make or break you during your early years. They may be a high visibility job or seem insignificant, but they all support your commander’s mission. They range from the Arms Room Officer (weapons guy), NVG custodian, Fire Marshall, etc. Yes, your primary job is to fly, but all your peers fly, so the best way to set yourself apart is to excel in your additional duty. Like any civilian job, attitude is everything.

As a Warrant Officer, you may choose from four different “tracks”, or job specialties. These are Instructor Pilot (IP), Aviation Safety Officer, Maintenance Test Pilot, or Tactical Operations Officer. All tracks require further training at Fort Rucker .

Instructor Pilots can be assigned to Fort Rucker to teach basic skills, or to any unit training and evaluating mission tasks specific to that unit. They conduct annual evaluations, called APARTs, which are very similar to the FAA evaluations. They also run the flight simulators for their respective aircraft. Many IP’s go back to Rucker to attend the Rotor Wing Instrument Flight Examiner Course. They may then conduct annual instrument evaluations

Aviation Safety Officers are assigned to units to oversee the Safety Program. Safety is primary in everything the Army does. There is a saying that just because something is dangerous, it doesn’t have to be unsafe. Safety Officers identify risk and help mitigate that risk to the lowest level possible. They also conduct accident investigations.

Maintenance Test Pilots not only do the troubleshooting and flying on aircraft, they also manage their unit’s maintenance program. Army aircraft are maintained to high standards and MTPs are an integral part of the program. Some MTPs become Maintenance Test Flight Evaluators. They train and evaluate MTPs in maintenance tasks and maneuvers.

Tactical Operations Officers plans, schedules, assigns, coordinates, and briefs missions, and develops and manages the flying hour. They are also the unit’s Electronics Warfare Officer.

Once a year a board is held to select applicants for the Fixed Wing Course. This is highly competitive. Many pilots just want a break from flying helicopters, and some are seeking a dual rating for jobs outside the military. If you are selected, it is not a guarantee that you will fly fixed wing the rest of your career. You may be utilized for one year, and then it’s back to rotary wing.

I’ve mentioned my least favorite aspect of flying for the Army; being away from my family for extended periods of time. My favorite aspect is the same now as it’s always been, executing missions that are sometimes complex and time sensitive, conducted safely and to a high standard. It’s very challenging and rewarding work. I have the honor of flying with crew chiefs and medics who are dedicated to their job. They work many hours maintaining the aircraft long after I walk away from it, and are dedicated to personal sacrifice in order to save others on the battlefield.

An Army recruiter can answer any questions you may have concerning flying for the Army. There are also several web sites that provide information, such as www.army.mil,

leav-www.army.mil/wocc, and www-rucker.army.mil.

CW3 Bernie Smith
Standardization Instructor Pilot
50th Medical Company (Air Ambulance)
101st Airborne Division (Air Assault)

Proudly serving in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom