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National Guard Troops Trained Here Assist In Sandy Relief

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) -- Army National Guard pilots that came to the Madison County Executive Airport  weeks before super-storm Sandy hit the East Coast are now assisting in recovery operations.

Since last year teams of pilots from across the country have been meeting in Madison County to train on the  UH-72A S&S Mission Equipment Package, or MEP,  the newest helicopter to enter service with the Army.

According to officials the S&S MEP includes a turreted electro-optical/infrared sensor and laser pointer; EuroAvionics, EuroNav moving map system and two SkyQuest touch-screen displays; a video management system, SkyQuest digital video recorder plus additional avionics and Sierra Nevada Tactilink Eagle data downlink system.

Pilots train at the Madison County Executive Airport.
(Matt Kroschel, WHNT News 19)

The helicopter is also equipped with a 30-million-candlepower searchlight that is mounted on the aft starboard step and slaved to the MX-15, and the sames rescue hoist that is included in the Lakota's medevac MEP.

Guards troops are participating in the two-week training, which consists of academic and day and night flight training. The aircraft provides long-range electro-optical sensors and the ability to record and down-link data, which will aid the Army National Guard in its homeland security, counter drug, and border patrol missions.

On the East Coast the helicopters are flying over the damage, collecting video and sending it back to FEMA command centers. The helicopters are also specially equipped for search and rescue operations that include a hoist system. Some of the guards troops who are instructing the other pilots worked on search and rescue operations following Hurricane Katrina, they said.

WHNT News 19's Matt Kroschel was granted access on board the helicopter for a flight Monday.

Madison County Executive Airport was chosen since it had all the facilities and the right amount of airspace available to conduct training in the area.

One hundred UH-72A S&S MEP are currently on contract for production. The first 16 were retrofitted with the MEP, and the next 84 will roll off the production line at the EADS facility in Columbus, Miss.

The rapid acquisition, production and fielding of the UH-72A Lakota aircraft over the last three and a half years has allowed the Army to transfer 23 UH-60 Black Hawk aircraft to other missions that support overseas contingency operations. It also allowed the Army to retire the aging UH-1 and divest the OH-58A/C by replacing them with modern, capable aircraft, officials said.

PEO Aviation Public Affairs Specialist Sofia Bledsoe contributed to this report.