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IX-514 Helicopter Landing Trainer (HLT)

The Helicopter Landing Trainer (HLT), IX-514, began operations in April 1986 as a cost-effective training vessel, greatly needed to provide student Naval Aviators with underway single-spot deck landing qualifications. The HLT relieved the USS LEXINGTON (AVT-16) of rotary-wing training requirements and provided a realistic training environment.

All helicopter pilots are familiar with the flatbed truck of a landing surface known as IX-514. This less-than-formidable, deck-landing trainer patrolled the calm waters of Santa Rosa Bay and offered aspiring aviators their first taste of a landing surface that wasn't stationary.

A former Army Yard Freight Utility Craft, originally named SKILAK (YFU-79), the 134-foot craft was used during the Vietnam War to transport equipment and supplies. At the end of the war, SKILAK was taken out of service, moved to Guam, and mothballed. In 1985, she was towed to Bender Shipyard in Mobile, Ala., for a complete renovation and conversion. The craft was stripped of all original equipment and rebuilt from the hull up. Equipped with a flight deck similar in size and appearance to that found on the OLIVER HAZARD PERRY class frigate, the HLT is certified to land and conduct flight operations with all but the largest helicopters found in the U.S. military. While the HLT generally operates in Pensacola Bay, she has conducted operations in the Gulf of Mexico. Certified to meet all shipboard aircraft requirements, the HLT arrived in Pensacola in early 1986 and assumed most of the responsibility for student shipboard helicopter flight operations. The first helicopter pilots to try out the HLT's flight deck were test pilots from Patuxent River, Md. They were followed by the certification of Helicopter Training Squadron's EIGHT (HT-8) and EIGHTEEN (HT-18) flight instructors. The first student training flights were conducted in early June 1986. Originally operating with 23 permanently assigned Navy crew members, the HLT has distinguished herself as the Navy's smallest training aircraft carrier, completing over 75,000 mishap-free deck landing qualifications. In November 1999, operation of the vessel was given over to civilian contractors, who currently man it with 15 personnel, and average about 350 deck landings per month.

The primary mission of the HLT is to provide support to the Undergraduate Helicopter Pilot Training Program of Training Air Wing FIVE (TW-5) on a priority basis, and operating units of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard on a not-to-interfere basis. During recent years, the HLT has experienced an increase in its operating tempo, including night and night vision goggle operations, and an expansion of capability to accept larger helicopters. Her underway days per year average about 90.

IX-514 set a new single-day record on 10 June 1988 with 346 landings. Since being assigned to NAS Pensacola, Fla., in 1986, the 131-foot Vietnam-era yard freight utility craft had completed 64,159 mishap-free helicopter landings. Civilian contractor Seaward Services, Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla., took over operations of the helicopter landing trainer IX-514 at NAS Pensacola, Fla., on 17 December 2000.

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