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Spanish Helicopter School Battalion (SHSB)

The Spanish Helicopter School Battalion (SHSB) was assigned to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC; this entity replaced the US Army School of the Americas in 2001) at Fort Benning, but was attached to Fort Rucker's Aviation Training Brigade to standardize its training and take advantage of the resources at the Aviation Center. The SHSB is unique in that it was the only aviation unit in the US Army that trained and qualified Latin American pilots and maintainers, using Spanish as the primary language. In the major drug-producing nations, the bulk of the rotary-wing airmen and mechanics were trained there by the Spanish Helicopter School Battalion.

Training capable pilots to support US security assistance and counterdrug operations in Latin America was a difficult mission by any standard. Graduates of the SHSB's training programs participated in traditional and non-traditional missions in the Hemisphere, to include drug interdiction, United Nation's peace keeping operations, and humanitarian relief assistance, all requiring competent and skilled Aviation personnel to ensure success.

Since inception, the SHSB trained more than 1,400 pilots and maintenance personnel from 13 Latin American nations in 21 programs. Training included flight and maintenance courses on the UH-1 (Huey) and UH-60 (Black Hawk) helicopters.

The SHSB was organized with an Aviation Headquarters and Headquarters Company, and 3 Aviation Companies (A, B, and C). While the Headquarters and Headquarters Company, A and B Companies were located at Fort Rucker, C Company was located at the Army's Aviation Logistical School at Fort Eustis, Virginia. Between both locations, a total of 82 personnel were assigned to instruct all aspects of the highly technical flight and maintenance programs. These included 30 US Army personnel, 46 Department of the Army civilians, and 5 Latin American guest instructors.

Training at Fort Rucker concentrated primarily on the time-tested UH-1 platform, which was still in service within the military and police forces of Latin America. These courses included: Initial Entry Rotary Wing; Rotary Wing Qualification; Instrument Refresher; Transition; Night Vision Goggle Qualification; Instructor Pilot; and Instructor Pilot Night Vision Goggle Qualification Courses. Due to the recent sales of Black Hawk helicopters to several nations in Latin America, the curriculum also included 3 courses on the advanced UH-60 platform: Transition; Refresher Training; and Night Vision Goggle Qualification Courses.

Furthermore, the Aviation Safety Management, Maintenance Manager, Maintenance Test Pilot, and UH-1 Helicopter Repairer courses augmented the curriculum. Course duration ranged from 3 weeks to over 23 weeks at Fort Rucker. The bulk of the maintenance instruction was conducted at Fort Eustis, Virignia to include: Power Plant; Power Train; Structural Repair; Electrician; and Helicopter Repairer Supervisor courses. Courses taught there lasted from 6 to 16 weeks.

A snapshot of the Initial Entry Rotary Wing Course provided an inside look at the amount of training required of a candidate to become qualified to fly one of today's complex helicopters. During the demanding 23-week course, students had to successfully complete a total of 154 hours of logged flight time to include: 95.5 day; 22 hours night; 15 hours with night vision goggles; and 21 hours simulator time. Augmented by 178 hours of rigorous academics in Federal and Army Aviation Regulations, visual flight rules, instruments, communications, maintenance, and tactics, and the successful student pilot was well prepared to earn the coveted title of "Army Aviator".

To ensure those future aviators kept flying, the Spanish Helicopter School Battalion's maintenance instruction was just as demanding as the flight programs. To become a graduate of one of many courses, students must competently learn to maintain, service, troubleshoot, adjust and replace helicopter systems and components. A look into the UH-1 Helicopter Repairer Course illustrated the knowledge and skills required to keep an aircraft operational. During the 10-week course, students received 339 hours of critical academic and hands-on training in technical subjects to include: power plant systems; fuel systems; airframe; and flight control systems.

In addition to aviation-related subjects, instruction at the SHSB coincided with the USARSA's emphasis on providing human rights training to all graduates. This training was emphasized in the belief that all soldiers and police officials had to be knowledgeable on human rights issues to effectively meet the threats encountered during the conduct of their duties.

Originally activated as the US Southern Command's Aviation Platoon in 1984, the unit was redesignated as the US Army School of the Americas (USARSA) Spanish Helicopter School Battalion in 1991. In 1995, the unit was officially assigned to the US Army's Aviation Training Brigade (ATB) at the Aviation Training Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Although assigned to the ATB, the unit maintained its US Army School of the Americas' heritage as an affiliated unit. This was due to the highly specialized technical instruction, which was delivered only in the Spanish language. In December 2000, the US Army School of the Americas closed and was subsequently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). The SHSB remained a part of this organization.

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Page last modified: 06-03-2012 14:30:28 ZULU