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News | Oct. 28, 2020

Leader Interview: COL Lane, Utility Helicopters PM

By SFC Blade

SFC Blade: Sir, thanks for making time to speak with PS Magazine. You’re responsible for leading the project management office responsible for utility helicopters. Many of our readers may not know what a PMO is. What is the role of a project management office?

COL Lane: In short, a project management office takes validated requirements from the field and designs, develops and delivers solutions back to them. In our case, we design and develop utility helicopters (Black Hawk and Lakota) and deliver them to the field.

Following the Army acquisition management process, the Utility Helicopters Project Office—or UHPO—is responsible for overseeing and directing all aspects of cost, schedule and performance of the “products” under our authority. The Project Manager, or simply PM, interprets and tailors the application of DoD 5000-series regulations to ensure high-quality, affordable, supportable, and effective utility helicopters are delivered to the warfighter. The PM is accountable to the milestone decision authority—a higher-level office responsible for making critical decisions at specific times in the development process—but has the delegated authority to accomplish program objectives for development, production and sustainment of systems to meet the Army's operational needs. In order to accomplish these goals and meet established objectives, the PM must understand and integrate: systems engineering; contracts; legal; financial management; test and evaluation; logistics and supply management; production, quality and manufacturing; risk management; and configuration management.

UHPOs' products are requirements-driven, and it’s the work of the UHPO to identify and leverage resources to bring products to market. UHPO’s products include the UH/HH-60 Black Hawk and the LUH-72 Lakota utility helicopters produced for the DoD, Department of State, other government agencies and authorized allies through foreign military sales. If a materiel product is identified as the desired solution to fill a capability gap, it is the job of the PM to provide guidance, standards and structure in the execution of designing, developing and fielding that product. We do that by building relationships with industry partners as we look for solutions and work to complete a project from beginning to end.

I know that’s a lot, but as you can imagine, the acquisition process is complex. And rightfully so. We’re dealing with high-dollar value items, technology and contracts. Another reason we exist is to have the necessary expertise to deal with this complexity so the field can focus on fighting and winning America’s wars.

SFC Blade: The mission of PEO Aviation is to “serve Soldiers and our nation by designing, developing, delivering, and supporting advanced aviation capabilities for operational commanders and our allies.” How do you “build in” readiness into your platforms to ensure these advanced capabilities stay ready and are more resilient once fielded?  

COL Lane: Readiness is the foundation of sustainment and is a function of reliability, availability and maintainability. Reliability, in the sense of how often a system fails or how often a system causes a mission abort. Availability, both material and operational, is somewhat self-explanatory: it’s whether a system or platform is available and performs as needed, when needed. Maintainability, as measured in downtime minimization and optimization, is essentially ease of repair. Readiness is designed into capabilities through robust requirements development, system engineering, integration, qualification and testing. Reliability, availability and maintainability are accounted for throughout all the major acquisition phases and are key performance parameters for major weapon systems.  

SFC Blade: Does your office have a role in fleet sustainment once your systems are fielded and, if so what is the nature of this support?

COL Lane: Absolutely! We’re involved from cradle to grave in lifecycle sustainment and system configuration management. The UHPO Readiness and Fleet Management Team (R&FM) serves as our face to the field. The team provides Black Hawk units critical support that includes identifying, planning and executing fielding actions, aircraft divesture and inventory management. It also includes tracking readiness rates and flight hours across the H-60 fleet and all units; data movement in support of H-60 fleet health tracking and parts monitoring; conducting maintenance task analysis to reduce maintenance burden on Soldiers; and serving as the point of entry into the UHPO Office for H-60 fleet issues and concerns.

SFC Blade: What do you consider good maintenance practice?
COL Lane: Maintaining accurate records on all maintenance actions is critical to ensure aircraft are repaired and operated correctly, with complete quality inspections at all times. Accurate readiness reporting assists the PM with identifying readiness issues early to preserve the health and safety of the H-60 fleet. There are no short cuts in our business. Reading the manuals, taking time to train, holding one another accountable and being responsible is important in performing maintenance.

SFC Blade:  Safety is another critical component to how you design, develop and build utility aircraft. Would you briefly discuss how safety factors into your mission and what Soldiers and maintainers need to keep in mind when it comes to safety in and around aircraft?
COL Lane: Safety is a top priority as a materiel developer and we have a very high standard. New systems are put through a rigorous system safety process to identify hazards and outcomes from the component level up to the system level. The intent is to always increase safety on the aircraft as we incorporate new technology or new capability into the platform. From a user's perspective, safety is documented in the operator’s manuals and airworthiness releases. Mitigations to safety issues can come in the form of Aviation Safety Messages, Safety of Flight messages or notes, cautions and warnings published with airworthiness release—or AWR—revisions and eventually rolled into the appropriate manuals. It is imperative for users to know the limitations of the systems installed on the aircraft and adhere to published procedures while operating the aircraft.

SFC Blade: What advice would you give to junior officers and Soldiers about their role in aviation readiness?
COL Lane: Maintain accurate records. Don't chase the numbers; make sure you have sound training, standardized maintenance practices, and tools in place to support the Soldier and the readiness rate will take care of itself. These practices will ensure a sound maintenance program and keep the morale of the Soldiers high. Aviation readiness is always resource-limited. Bottom line is: readiness begins once responsibility for the equipment is accepted or assigned. It is not rank-dependent but mission-dependent.