WATERLOO, Iowa — The Iowa Army National Guard's Aviation Support Facility here has two new aircraft — emphasis on new.
The pair of UH-72A Lakota helicopters that now call the Army Air Support Facility home were unveiled to the public Thursday. The aircraft are new — one a 2012 model almost straight from the factory to the hangar.
Normal operating procedure often leaves Army National Guard units with hand-me-down vehicles and equipment. The new craft are significant upgrades for the units based in Waterloo. They replace a 1968 Huey OH-58 that was used in Vietnam.
"From what I can tell, it's the first time the Iowa Army National Guard has picked up brand new aircraft right from the factory in about 40 years," said Lt. Col. Tim Eich, AASF commander.
The aircraft will be used for domestic emergency response, emergency management, transport and supporting search and rescue operations.
"The capabilities are phenomenal compared to what we had before when it comes to search and rescue," said Col. Greg Hapgood, Iowa National Guard Public Affairs Officer.
One of the Lakotas is equipped with an equipment package that includes a thermal imaging camera, a 30 million candlepower search light and mapping and imaging screens available for use of up to three crew members.
The other Lakota helicopter is lighter, with more cargo or personnel capacity and a longer range. It also equipped with a hoist system used on medevac aircraft. Considering recent floods, the hoist could someday be people's lifeline.
"That hoist capability is really a huge asset to the state of Iowa," said Chief Warrant Officer Mike Mauss, Iowa Army National Guard flight instructor and pilot.
The thermal imaging camera has a range of about 10 miles for clear, accurate imaging but can detect heat sources from much further away.
"We were able to see a vehicle fire 40 miles away," Mauss said. From that distance the crew could detect the fire but had to get closer to get a clearer picture of the scene.
"We were able to see what was going on 20 miles away," Mauss added.
Mauss demonstrated the thermal imaging camera, at about 3,000 feet up, picking up heat signatures from deer and rabbits. Even heat transferred onto pavement from a vehicle's exhaust or tires can be detected, he showed.
"We can actually follow vehicles from their tracks even a fair amount of time after the vehicle has gone by," he said.
The helicopters aren't just eyes in the sky, but also can be ears. They are equipped with interagency communication systems. The system can relay communications to agencies that otherwise are unable to receive or transmit on each others' frequencies.
Both aircraft have a price tag of approximately $6 million. They also have more than twice the range of the Huey they replace and can reach anywhere in Iowa and beyond without refueling.
"These are a significant upgrade in every measure," Mauss said. "The technological upgrade is amazing."