FORT RUCKER, Ala. — With the arrival of three new UH-72A Lakota helicopters last week at Cairns Army Airfield, Air Ambulance Detachment, known as “Flatiron,” can better assist Fort Rucker and local community members by reaching medical emergency scenes faster.
“Flatiron” Soldiers, under 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment, are switching from the older UH-1 Huey to the Lakota, according to “Flatiron” Commander Lt. Col. Kyle Patterson, in order to modernize equipment. These helicopters, received July 8, are the first of eight to replace the Hueys within the next two years.
Patterson said another benefit is the increase in speed. The Lakota travels 30-40 knots faster than the Huey.
Patterson said the Lakota has a more modern avionics package, global positioning system and glass gauges. The rescue hoist is external, creating more room inside the cabin for medics and patients, he added.
“It allows you to get the patient to the hospital faster so they can get faster medical treatment. That speed translates to time, and we hope eventually it translates to saving lives,” Patterson said.
“Flatiron” Soldiers not only evacuate those injured in accidents here, but also in the surrounding towns, Patterson said.
Patterson said Hueys and Lakotas are difficult to compare. “You’re going from an aircraft that is beloved by many (to a new one),” he said. “(The Huey is) reliable … it’s durable, it’s trustworthy. I guess you can kind of compare it to driving an old (Volkswagen) bug and now you’re going to a modern sports car.”
“Flatiron” detachment executive officer Capt. Chris Chung, one of the Lakota maiden flight pilots, said he will miss flying the Huey, but looks forward to using the new helicopter. Chung said the Huey has a long tradition and heritage and is more old-fashioned, while the Lakota employs newer technology.
“Flatiron” instructor-pilot Chief Warrant Officer Jim Pitchford also flew in one of the new Lakotas and said he is excited because the features will make the duties easier and safer for “Flatiron” Soldiers and patients. He noted the tail rotor is located higher on the new aircraft compared to the Huey, enabling rear entry access, something the Huey did not offer.
Pitchford said the Lakota carries a crew of four: two pilots, a firefighter and a medic.
Patterson expects the new Lakotas to be in use within a month after mechanics are trained on and familiar with the aircraft. Once that is accomplished, Soldiers, Families and community members will see the new, faster, sleeker helicopter flying around the Wiregrass to help save lives.