Coast Guard Helicopter Fleet Made in Cedar Rapids

By Dave DeWitte, Reporter

Spectators gather to look at the MH-60T Coast Guard rescue helicopter after it landed at Rockwell Collins on Thursday, October 25, 2012. Rockwell Collins is taking part in a program to retrofit avionics on the fleet of 46 specialized helicopters. The program uses finder technology that speeds up rescue responses. (Kyle Grillot/The Gazette-KCRG)


By Liz Blood

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - The unlikely appearance of a big orange and white United States Coast Guard MH-60T helicopter in Cedar Rapids Thursday had a logical — though not entirely simple — explanation.

The big twin-engine helicopter, far from any coastline, was the 32nd of 42 Coast Guard helicopters to receive a new all-glass cockpit from Rockwell Collins to replace instrument technology more than 20 years old.

The MH-60T came to Rockwell Collins headquarters on a testing mission after an extensive overhaul that included the cockpit installation. Commander Eric Carter of the Coast Guard Aviation Logistics Center in Elizabeth City, N.C., said it's good for supplier's employees to see the cockpits installed, because it creates more "buy-in" with the modernization project.

The helicopters are far from new. If they were passenger cars, they'd be in the 200,000 to 300,000-mile range, but they'd be some of the best maintained cars on the road.

The upgrade of the Coast Guard's 42 in-service MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter fleet into the new MH-60T aircraft configuration began in January 2007.

"We have a very capable aircraft thanks to Rockwell Collins," Carter said.

The new cockpit electronics have five color display screens that replace round dials. They also put weather data, flight plans, search and rescue information, maps, and other crucial flight information right at the pilot's fingertips.

Carter said the net result of all that technology is that Coast Guard crews can spend less time focusing on flying the aircraft and more time focusing on their mission's objective.

The Coast Guard's mission includes search and rescue, homeland security, drug interdiction, and even helping maintain coastline navigation aids in remote areas.

The helicopters are probably best known in the civilian world for rescue work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. They hold more passengers or cargo than the Coast Guard's 100 smaller H-65 helicopters.

"I think the Coast Guard rescued over 10,000 in Katrina," Carter said. "After that, you get a lot of attention. I think it's starting to wane off a little bit now."

The four-member Coast Guard crew from Elizabeth City were invited to a lunch catered by Rockwell Collins, and then met with employees.

"I've been out of the Coast Guard 18 years, but every time I see one of these I feel like a little kid," said Bill Shepard, a technical project manager for the Coast Guard helicopter project at Rockwell Collins.

There were also real little kids on hand to see the aircraft.

"The kids are saying, "this is loud!" said Monik Mossman of Springville, a member of a military family who brought three children to see the big Coast Guard chopper on a cold, rainy afternoon.

The new cockpit uses Rockwell Collins' Common Avionics Avionics Architecture System, an open systems architecture that can be customized to meet a wide range of needs through software integration and upgrades. It reduces the cost of modernization, and reduces the number of spare parts that would be required for different hardware platforms.

In addition to the flight decks, the MH-60T helicopters use Rockwell Collins' DF-430 Direction Finders, which lock onto radio signals from Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons and guide the pilot in the direction of the signals.

The helicopters also use Rockwell Collins' ARC-21 VHF/UHF radios and ARC-220 high frequency radios.

The Coast Guard is working with Rockwell Collins to implement automatic position reporting technology using the ARC-220 radios, known as Blue Force Tracking. It is also working with the Coast Guard on a ARC-210-based solution that would enable the helicopters to transmit aerial video images to other Coast Guard bases, aircraft and vessels.

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