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COLUMBUS -- Take a peek into a circa-1986 Black Hawk helicopter and you'll see a lot of gauges and low-tech-looking buttons and levers.
"We lovingly referred to them as 'steam gauges,'" said Maj. Will Chadwick, an operations officer at the Ohio National Guard based in suburban Columbus. " All the lighting for the emergency panels, the systems information, everything was more of a piecemealed system. As we increased technology, stuff was added to aircraft that was not originally designed into it."
Those systems have served airborne military men and women for decades, but they're not the latest high-tech equipment that's available today. Which is where the new UH-60M Black Hawk comes into the picture for the Ohio National Guard.
Earlier this month, the state's adjutant general department cut the ribbon on the first of 20 of the new helicopters that are headed to the Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base between now and the end of 2018.
The new aircraft will transport Ohio military men and women as they are deployed for everything from combat duty to disaster assistance.
"Not a day goes by that the sun doesn't set on the Ohio National Guard somewhere in the world," Maj. Gen. John C. Harris Jr., assistant adjutant general of the Ohio National Guard, said during the ribbon-cutting ceremonies. " We deploy and we put our men and women in harm's way every single day."
Chadwick, a Hudson native with nearly two decades of military service, is one of the Ohio National Guard members who will be flying the new aircraft, which he described as the minivan of the military, capable of transporting cargo and crews.
"I like to call it a Ferrari with trunk space," he said. "Because it is one of the most highly capable, maneuverable aircraft. -- high performance, but it has cargo space and can do any mission role Its capabilities are unlimited. There is no mission that we have not done."
The new Black Hawks are a big deal for the Ohio National Guard, with updated, high-tech flight control systems and $11 million-plus in avionics per unit. It has wider blades to lift more weight, easily adjustable crew seating, shock systems to deal with vibrations and make for a smoother ride, and radio communications on multiple bands, Chadwick said.
The updates make for safer transport of Ohio's National Guard members, with auto-pilot capabilities that allow flight in any weather. That's important in high-dust, desert areas, like the ones Chadwick has served in in Kuwait or Iraq.
"It's a very rough landing [in those areas]," he said. "This gives us the capability now that the autopilot could land this thing to the ground without my interaction at all."
He added, "It is [an] improved, battle-hardened [and] immensely capable aircraft When you can't see, this gives us an added later of protection and safety."
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.