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First Student Naval Aviators begin training in New Helicopter System

22 September 2022

From Julie Ziegenhorn, Naval Air Station Whiting Field

MILTON, Fla. - Twelve student naval aviators at Naval Air Station (NAS) Whiting Field in Milton, Florida, began advanced helicopter training in the new TH-73A Thrasher aircraft in early September.

NAS Whiting Field accepted the first TH-73A in August 2021 as a replacement for the 40-year-old TH-57 Sea Ranger aircraft. The TH-57 Sea Ranger provides basic helicopter training and advanced Instrument Flight Rules training to hundreds of aviation students a year at NAS Whiting Field. The current TH-57B was introduced in 1981, followed by the TH-57C in 1982, which will be phased out as the TH-73A comes onboard.

“Training students in the TH-73A has been years in the making, and I’m excited on behalf of everyone who has helped get us to this point,” said Cmdr. Annie Otten, commanding officer, Helicopter Training Squadron (HT) 8. “I’m especially excited that the HT-8 “Eightballers” are the ones helping transition the students and instructors to the new aircraft. We are all on this journey together, and I can’t wait to get the students up in the aircraft.”

Otten commented that the TH-73A will make student training more reflective of fleet helicopters, thus streamlining the training. Students in primary aviation training initially fly the T-6B Texan II aircraft, which has a glass display cockpit. If selected for helicopters, students move into the current TH-57, which has older digital or analogue displays.

Upon graduating from advanced helicopter training, students will then move out to fleet aircraft, which use glass display cockpits. Thus, they are required to transition several times using different technology during training. The TH-73A has glass screens that are representative of, and mirror more closely, what pilots will see in the fleet.

“The first thing we are going to see with the students is that the glass cockpit they have trained to and the scan they developed in the T-6 are going to flow to this aircraft (TH-73A), and we will see them picking things up sooner than in the TH-57,” Otten said.

Additionally, Training Air Wing Five and Chief, Naval Aviation Training personnel have been working over the past several years to develop efficiencies in the training program in preparation for the new helicopter.

“Academic engineers and multiple PhDs gave input, and we looked at the theory of learning to affect a more effective syllabus so the students can use the information,” said Capt. Jack Waldron, U.S. Marine Corps TH-57 & TH-73A pipeline officer. “For the instructor pilots (IPs) – we started to train on the Leonardo AW-119, which is a bit different than the TH-73A. We had to replicate maneuvers, validating and adjusting so there was a well-designed and well-thought-out, safe program. Our goal was to make this as safe and effective a program as we could.”

Getting to the point where (IPs) could fly the TH-73A and then begin training the students was a process in itself.

“First we had to learn to fly the aircraft so we could teach the IPs,” said Maj. Luke Zumbusch, U.S. Marine Corps, one of the first cadre of instructor pilots to convert to the TH-73A. “Our job was to validate and verify that we could teach the maneuvers safely. For example, a normal approach, steep approach, formations for the IPs who eventually teach students in the TH-73A. Validating that the syllabus flow is good, the pace and type of training and the media in which the training was presented was the instructors’ under training (IUT) job. Their job was to validate those maneuvers and profiles.”

Before students begin flying the new helicopter, they will complete a rigorous course of groundwork in virtual reality and flying simulators to get them ready for the more powerful helicopter.

“We took this time to do an entire cultural change (in transitioning to the TH-73A),” Waldron commented. “There is the concept of having iPads with access to course content and aviation-specific apps for flight planning, briefing or in-flight navigation. We’re not just changing the method of delivery, we’re changing the actual media they’re using. Virtual reality environment also provides a mixed reality environment. Students will ask questions. It’s a philosophy change.”

From start to finish, the aviation students spend approximately 38 weeks in the advanced training regimen at Whiting before they graduate and move to larger operational helicopters in the fleet, such as the H-60, H-53 and AH-1 helicopters.

“This transition will bring the next generation of Naval rotary aviators to the Fleet,” Otten commented. “For the students themselves, their time to train is fairly close to the TH-57. We’re hoping they are able to maintain that same time to train. With the efficiencies the team has built into the new syllabus, along with taking advantage of the new technology and power that the aircraft brings, I think we’re going to be able to produce a stronger student. The years of effort put into getting us to this point is probably what’s most exciting-- it’s actually here.”

According to Waldron, CNATRA and Wing personnel have been planning and developing the new Advanced Helicopter Training System for five years, to include infrastructure and maintenance for the new TH-73A.

“With every transition to a new airframe there are going to be challenges,” said Capt. Jade Lepke, U.S. Navy, Commodore, Training Air Wing Five. “What we’ve seen in the end is the team has really come together. I’ve been proud and impressed with how far we’ve come with the ability to affect change and improve training. We are all working together and everyone is invested in making this training program the safest and most effective in the Navy.”

Training Air Wing Five based at Whiting Field is the largest aviation training wing in Naval Air Training Command (CNATRA). It is responsible for training 60% of primary aviation students in the T-6 aircraft, and 100% of all Navy, Marine and Coast Guard helicopter students.


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