STEAD, Nev. — Mirroring the path of many soldiers who began their careers in the 1980s, the Nevada Army Guard’s oldest Black Hawk helicopters is set to retire from the military and transition to civilian life by the end of August.
Black Hawk UH-60A No. 7923305 (nicknamed 305) was built in 1979 by the Sikorsky Aircraft Company and has served in the U.S. Army since 1981. After more than 35 years of completing countless transportation, evacuation and fire suppression missions over the course of 5,466 flying hours, it will enter the Army Black Hawk Exchange and Sales Transaction program and be sold either back to Sikorsky or a top civilian bidder.
Although it sounds like an unglamorous final chapter for the venerable aircraft, No. 305’s divesture in the BEST program assists the Army in the long run as it creates more room for new airframes in its aviation inventory. Unfortunately for the Nevada Army Guard, 305’s replacement is nowhere on the horizon and the state’s total number of Black Hawks will decrease from eight to seven.
Although it’s one of the oldest in the Army, No. 305 was a fairly recent addition to Nevada’s rotary-aviation fleet. When C Company, 1/168th Aviation (Medical Evacuation) returned to Nevada from Afghanistan following its fifth combat deployment in 2014, the unit left its helicopters in the combat zone for its replacement unit.
Upon the 1/168th’s return, the Army replaced the unit’s shortfall with ancient Alpha model helicopters Nos. 305 and 346. No. 346 also entered the Army in 1981 and is just five months younger than No. 305. No. 305 and No. 346 are two of three Alpha models in the Nevada inventory; its other five are newer Lima models. In the near future, No. 346 will follow No. 305 into the BEST program.
Despite its advanced age, Nevada aviators said they had no complaints – or trepidation – about flying in the state’s oldest Black Hawk. During July’s Army Guard drill weekend, No. 305 was averaging about three hours aloft per day.
“The age of the ‘bird’ has no effect on its performance,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael Guerra before a training flight over Plumas County, Calif. “All of the helicopters are maintained to specific standards. It might require more maintenance, but it’s definitely reliable.”
In fact, Sgt. 1st Class James Silva, the UH-60 maintenance supervisor, said No. 305 faces a demanding schedule before making its last military flight to Redstone Arsenal, Ala., sometime before autumn. Because it will never have to take another maintenance phase ‘rest’ in its career, the 1/168th is free to fly No. 305 as many hours as it wishes before its retirement.
Silva, 48, himself a combat Veteran who first entered the military in the 1980s, said he realizes helicopters are just inanimate objects but he will miss the workhorse Alpha model Black Hawks when they finally disappear forever.
“Those were some well-maintained helicopters,” he said. “A lot of soldiers have put their heart and soul into their maintenance in order to keep them flying.”