The U.S. Army has delayed a second attempt at an initial operational test for the UH-60 Victor-model Black Hawk until software and reliability fixes are made and the aircraft receives certification to fly in national airspace. The first initial operational test and evaluation was conducted at Joint Base Lewis McChord in Washington State, in September 2019, but due to numerous software reliability issues, the U.S. Army decided to hold a second test for the third quarter of fiscal year 2020. That event was pushed back by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic and delays in the Instrument Flight Rules certification process (IFR) that would allow the aircraft to fly in national airspace.
In 2017, Northrop Grumman won a US Army contract to upgrade Black Hawk L-model helicopter cockpits from analogue to integrated, open-architecture digital ones. The converted version is called the Victor-model. The Victor model converts a Lima-model Black Hawk from an analogue cockpit to a digital one. This replacement better matches the capability of the UH-60 Mike-model, the latest variant of the helicopter. But its success could serve as springboard for the Army’s future vertical lift backbone, which will allow mission systems to seamlessly plug into the architecture of the aircraft. Three prototypes spent more than two years in the Prototype Integration Facility at Redstone undergoing integration.
The U.S. Army partnered with Corpus Christi Army Depot, Texas, to convert “L” models into new “V” models at a rate of 48 aircraft per year, which some have called too slow, as it would take 15 years for the service to produce all 760 aircraft. The Army has been looking at ways to speed that up. The Army has developed a new software baseline — “baseline 3.0” — that is undergoing developmental testing, but has solved the challenges seen in the IOT&E from a software perspective. During the first test, the aircraft used were engineering and manufacturing development versions of the aircraft and not production representative systems.
Around the world, countries with L-model Black Hawks might be interested in upgrading to a digital cockpit or they might be interested in streamlining a fleet of different aircraft with the same cockpit to help reduce logistics and training costs of a mixed-fleet or they could design brand new cockpits using the technology for brand new helicopters. It’s clear many countries, including in the Middle East, are looking to upgrade equipment already procured. Since the time Northrop won the contract to integrate the new cockpit into the L-model fleet there’s been a “tremendous amount of inquiry” from international customers, who will be watching further flight tests of the V-model very closely.