April 24, 2024

A Bittersweet Farewell: Aviation training moves into new era with OH-58D departure

On one of the coldest days of the year so far, three OH-58D Kiowa Warriors geared up for their final flight off the installation, and Fort Rucker bid farewell to one of the most versatile airframes to grace the Alabama skies.

With the primary mission in the Army’s fleet as an aero-scout airframe, these agile birds are sights that will truly be missed over the skies of Fort Rucker, but despite their departure, Aviators will continue to be trained to top standards at the home of Army Aviation, said Lt. Col. Mark Gillespie, 1st Battalion, 14th Aviation Regiment commander.

“For me, it’s a bittersweet feeling to see these airframes go. I’m sad, but we will continue to keep that mission in the Army through the Aviation Restructure Initiative,” said the 1-14th commander who has been an OH-58D pilot for 20 years. “We won’t lose that mission, which is security and reconnaissance that is being developed into the AH-64D- and E-model Apache helicopters, as well as continue to develop pilots here at Hanchey (Army Airfield) through the UH-72 Lakota as it starts to be the primary trainer here at Fort Rucker.”

The OH-58D was built and designed as an observation helicopter. Its primary role is to provide security and reconnaissance for the ground command, explained Gillespie. Although the airframe has been around since the Vietnam era, the first OH-58D helicopters arrived on Fort Rucker in 1986 with the primary mission of aero-scout integration, and were modified in 1991 after the successful testing support of Operation Prime Chance flying armed in the Persian Gulf providing security for ships.

“We started training the current configuration of the OH-58D(I) (integrated weapon systems) in late 1991 with a heavier emphasis on observation, security and additional gunnery skills,” he added.

Beginning sometime next year, Hanchey Army Airfield will start to field more UH-72 Lakota helicopters, which are currently used at Shell Army Airfield by 1st Bn., 212th Avn. Regt. for training, said Gillespie.

“During a pilot’s training, (he or she) goes through (Initial Entry Rotary Wing) training, which is where they learn the basics on how to fly using the instruments,” said the 1-14th Avn. Rgt. commander. “Then they go through the Basic Warfighter Skills course, which is currently done at Shell Army Airfield with the 1-212th.

“As we start divesting the OH-58D and start replacing them with the UH-72, instead of putting them out of Shell, they’ll bring them out here and this battalion will start training that mission,” he added.

The final destination of the OH-58Ds that flew out of Fort Rucker is Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Arizona, where they will be prepped for storage and de-militarization. Following de-militarization, many of the aircraft can be sold to civilian entities and local law enforcement agencies to recoup the cost of the aircraft, said Gillespie.

Although these three birds were the last to fly off the installation, Fort Rucker will still be home to one OH-58D that will be housed in the U.S. Army Aviation Museum for people to enjoy for generations to come.

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Army Flier

Posted in the Army Flier – November 19, 2014
Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff Writer