Schumer calls on air force to retain helicopter safety function
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer demands responses from the Air Force after the department canceled funding for a program that helps helicopter pilots avoid in-flight obstacles that was put in place after an accident in Iraq in 2018 killed seven servicemen, including three based in Long Island.
The Air Force’s 2022 budget request to Congress cut funding for the Degraded Visual Environment program, which equips rescue helicopters with sensors that help pilots navigate dust, snow, clouds of smoke and hard to see electrical wires.
The program was put in place after an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter assigned to the 106th New York Air National Guard Rescue Wing crashed in March 2018 near the Iraqi-Syrian border after hitting a steel cable.
All seven servicemen on board were killed, including two FDNY members – Christopher Raguso of Commack and Christopher “Tripp” Zanetis of Long Island City – and Dashan Briggs of Port Jefferson Station, a former All Division football star at Riverhead High School. All three were stationed at the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard base in Westhampton.
Schumer (DN.Y.) wrote to Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall last week asking him to slow down the cancellation of the program until Congress investigates the decision and determines how the department plans to redeploy funding.
“I urge the Air Force to consider the lessons learned and the need that still exists before making rash decisions on limiting [Degraded Visual Environment] installing solutions, “Schumer told Newsday in a statement Friday.” Even the Air Force has already said this equipment “will significantly minimize the risks of DVE operations, prevent accidents and fatalities.” We must do all we can to give the brave men and women who serve the latest and greatest technology. ”
Air Force officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Schumer’s letter.
In a June 30 hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Tactical Air and Land Forces, ministry officials said the decision to drop the DVE was made due to an internal delay. accelerated to replace the HH-60G helicopter with a more recent model.
Major General Richard Moore, director of programs for the Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for plans and programs, said installing the DVE on an aircraft that will soon be out of service ” just doesn’t seem like a good use of taxpayer dollars. That doesn’t mean we don’t believe in the system, and that doesn’t mean it’s not very productive for pilots and very useful for them. It just didn’t make sense in the particular case of this particular aircraft. ”
But Moore said eliminating the system would not put pilots at risk.
“I don’t know if this is a requirement for a safe aircraft,” he said. “It’s an improvement of the plane. It improves safety. But we don’t think it’s a flight safety issue not to have it on the plane.”
But in his letter, Schumer asked if the Air Force was creating an “unnecessary and unacceptable” risk by canceling the program.
“Military members across the country who have dedicated their lives to undertaking the most dangerous and skilled rescue missions with these planes deserve the best equipment and resources to do their jobs,” said Schumer, who wants reassurance. that the Air Force will purchase a similar system. for its new combat rescue helicopter.