SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – The 363rd Training Squadron finally got its HH-60 Pave Hawk – it only took 30 years.
The 982nd Maintenance Squadron here at Sheppard AFB was finally able to close an acquisition process which originally began in April 1991 with a request for the HH-60. The aircraft will be used as a ground instructional training aircraft for Airmen in Training learning how to maintain armament and munitions, with the possibility of other career fields also able to utilize other aspects of the aircraft.
Scott Turner, aircraft vehicle distribution officer at the 982nd MXS, explained the reason the request for the aircraft took as long as it did was because the retirement of the HH-60 is few and far between.
“They’ve been reutilizing and modifying the aircraft so much over the years, there was not one that became available that the schoolhouse could use,” he said. “They’ve been offered a couple over the years, but it was crashed or it was damaged beyond usability.”
The HH-60 has been in use by the Air Force since 1982, but students at Sheppard have been going without a hands-on training aid for nearly four decades. Instead, they used other creative ways to understand and apply what is taught in their current curriculum for the HH-60.
Staff Sgt. Kirby Keith, armament and systems Instructor at the 363rd Training Squadron, said up until now, they’ve used a cutout of the weapon system to train.
“That’s the only real hands-on we’ve had,” he said. “Now we’ll actually have the aircraft to see. The best we’ve had are pictures and YouTube videos as a representation. Now that we have it, it’s going to better the training we have and allow us to get a better feel.”
Keith stated that not having the aircraft had diminished students training and noted how he related to the students when he was first training in his career field.
“For me specifically, having the aircraft would’ve allowed me to see the systems themselves instead of a brief representation. It would have better projected my ability to excel in the field rather than getting to the airframe at my first duty station and having no idea what’s actually going on,” he said.
With Sheppard’s newest ground instructional training aircraft, Keith said the curriculum at the school is going to be changed extravagantly. Specifically for the armament and munitions school where he instructs, students will now have ability to learn and test on the electronics systems and operate the weapons systems, which will display form and function of them as they should be.
He said to actually see the airframe and get a tactile feel of the aircraft will be immeasurably better for both instructors to teach and students to learn, and will be a huge improvement in their training.
Keith referenced Air Force Chief of Staff General Charles Q. Brown Jr's strategic approach for the service – Accelerate Change or Lose – saying applying this aircraft will exhibit that order very clearly.
“We are going to be able to change the way training and the aircraft is viewed, and this will propel training Airmen at Sheppard as a whole into the future,” he said.
As for other training aids needed here, Turner said the normal timeline for acquiring a GITA varies on the aircraft retirement process. He said some older aircraft are coming up for retirement in the very near future and Sheppard will be a recipient of those. Aircraft that are still performing and flying the combat mission may take longer to get.
The HH-60 will not be handed over for training right away. There will be multiple steps taken by the 982nd MXS in preparing it for safe use by the 363rd TRS and other training squadrons. That time frame for official use by the schoolhouses has not been determined but is highly anticipated.