U.S. Army helicopter training takes flight after Covid grounding

The U.S. Army on April 20 resumed basic flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama, after a two-week grounding enacted when at least people on base tested positive for novel coronavirus.

As of April 20, initial entry rotary wing training — sometimes called the “common core” flight school — is back up and running, MGen David Francis, commanding general of the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, told Vertical. Initial flight training is done on the Airbus UH-72 Lakota trainer before pilots learn to fly a particular fielded fleet helicopter.

US Army training helicopters
Two U.S. Army UH-72 Lakota helicopters, assigned to 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment, await a space for parking on the flight line at Toth Stagefield Army Heliport, Fort Rucker, last November. U.S. Army Reserve / Staff Sgt. Austin Berner Photo
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About 800 student pilots were grounded while procedures that include sanitizing aircraft between flights, remote learning and social distancing were put in place.

“That pause is over now and as of this Monday, we’re back up to full flight training here,” Francis said. “Covid has affected all of us. What we have done here at the institution is put control measures into place to allow us to continue to operate in this environment. We believe that Covid will be an enduring problem for us into the foreseeable future.”

In the preceding weeks, the base redesigned some of its training curriculum to include distance and virtual classroom instruction, social distancing, mask wearing and enhanced hygiene initiatives, Francis said. A quarantine facility has been set up in an old barracks building to screen incoming soldiers for the virus.

“Because of our continued requirement to produce aviators for the readiness of our Army, we have had to work really hard to make sure that we can continue to conduct training in a way that protects our people, our civilians, that protects our contractors and our families,” he said.

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Top of the list of anti-Covid measures was establishing a testing capability at Rucker, which is now in place. Base officials can return test results in about an hour. Where feasible, training is now done virtually to prevent soldiers from gathering in classrooms, Francis said.

Large mission briefings have been discontinued and instructor pilots are going directly to training aircraft with students, Francis said. Both pilot trainees and instructors are flying with face masks while in the cockpit.

“I can’t change the size of a cockpit, so we’re mitigating the risk there,” Francis said. “We have sterilization procedures for our cockpits and for every change of crew and every maintainer who goes through that process.”

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