Yokota deems UH-1N copters 'completely safe'
By VINCE LITTLE | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 3, 2004
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Despite three precautionary landings in the past four months, the four UH-1N helicopters assigned to the 459th Airlift Squadron will not be temporarily grounded for an extended safety inspection.
“There has been discussion of it, but no action taken,” Col. Mark Schissler, the 374th Airlift Wing commander, said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon on Yokota’s flight line. “We are sensitive to the concerns of our Japanese neighbors, but we make decisions based on our operational needs.
“We are flying completely safe airplanes, and I have full confidence in all of our practices here.”
After a UH-1N crew made a precautionary landing Nov. 23 at Tokyo’s Chofu Airfield when an abnormal transmission light indicator popped up in the cockpit, Schissler ordered a review of Yokota’s maintenance procedures. It took about two days, he said, and no lapses were discovered.
“Everything had been followed properly,” Schissler added. “I am completely satisfied with the people who perform maintenance here. Our investigation found they were doing everything correctly.”
Investigators blame the most recent problem on a faulty light in the cockpit, not a malfunction of the helicopter’s transmission, Schissler said.
Last week’s precautionary landing was the third for a Yokota helicopter crew since Aug. 19. The first took place in Yokohama after engine problems surfaced. On Nov. 2, a UH-1N team detected a leak in the helicopter’s hydraulic system and had to land on a baseball field near Numazu City in Shizuoka Prefecture.
None of the landings resulted in an injury or damage to the aircraft.
“Those precautionary landings are the safest thing to do — you look for the safest place to set the helicopter down,” Schissler said. “No one was ever in any danger, and the aircraft was under complete control the whole time. That’s quite different from being forced to land because of an emergency.”
The 459th Airlift Squadron has not had a major accident since its inception in 1993. The unit won the Pacific Air Forces Flight Safety Award the past two years.
Since 1997, Yokota’s UH-1Ns have safely flown more than 10,000 sorties — all of them transport and training missions — totaling more than 9,900 flying hours.
“Safety is my No. 1 priority,” Schissler said. “I’d also like to point out that we have a great relationship with each of our surrounding communities and that we understand the concerns of our Japanese neighbors.
“Flying helicopters is a key part of our operational mission here at Yokota Air Base. Although we operate an aging fleet of UH-1 helicopters, I have full confidence that we are properly maintaining these aircraft to safely perform our important airlift mission.”