The Army at Redstone Arsenal is busy making old helicopters…New.

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. - Being a passenger aboard an Army Black Hawk helicopter will convince you of a couple of things. First, the UH-60 Black Hawk is a powerful aircraft. Second, the Army pilots are ultra-competent.

Another impression you would have had on a flight a few years ago, the analog cockpit of the Black hawk is chock full of gauges and dials. Pilots have a lot to look at while they fly. "You might be scanning up to 6 gauges over the course of 15-seconds or so," said Lt. Col. Andy Duus, the Product Manager for the UH-60 Victor.

On the old analog versions of the a pilot would have to check out gauges for both engines, for gear box temperatures, for fuel flow, for torque, for basic instrumentation of flying.  The pilot also would have to pay close attention to speed,  altitude and direction.

Flying an analog Black Hawk is busy flying, but it doesn't need to be.  "The engines are 99-percent of the time, working just fine. So why do I need to be focused on them all the time. Let's just let the cockpit tell the aviator when he's got a problem," said Lt. Col. Duus.

That's what the digital UH-60 Victor cockpit will do.

Digital UH-60 Victor cockpit

Digital UH-60 Victor cockpit

In this picture you can see the clean lines of the digital control panel. All the information a pilot needs is there, but it's easy to see. And in some cases the cockpit takes the work away from the aviator, and only puts it back on his plate, when he needs to see it.

"It's all fused into one component. It's very easy to keep your eyes upon it, and get the information you need in an instant," said Lt. Col. Duus.

Now the Army has its first prototype of a retro-fitted digital cockpit in an older model, formerly analog, Black Hawk. The goal is to build four more prototypes, and then test them in real formation flying conditions.

Once the testing is over the Army plans to retro-fit some 700 currently analog Black Hawks with the new digital instruments.  They'll become UH-60 "Victor" model Black Hawks.

This project is not just because the Army can make the change. The upgrade is a necessity. "It's kind of the same thing as going from a computer you had 10-years ago to a computer you have today. It's night and day," explained Lt. Col. Duus.

The new digital instruments will keep the Black Hawks current, and mission capable. It'll also make them safer for passengers and crew.

The "Proto-type Integration Facility" at Redstone Arsenal developed the new cockpit. the "PIF" is part of the Army's "Aviation And Missile Research Development And Engineering Center", which is referred to as AMRDEC.