Opinion

Helicopter is a lemon

Air conditioning apparently is not just an option on the UH-72A Lakota helicopter. Without it, temperatures inside the cockpit could soar to the point that the chopper shuts down.

The U.S. Army learned this only buying and receiving 12 of the Lakotas from their European manu-facturer, with orders for 322 more. The price tag is $2.6 billion.

The helicopters, built by the American Eurocopter Corp., a North American division of Germany's European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co., or EADS, are designed for use in homeland security and disaster relief. While the Army appears willing to spend millions more to take the highly unusual step of adding air conditioning to the helicopters ordered, some in Congress think it would be wiser to just scrap plans to buy the Lakotas and start over.

The helicopters were tested for nearly 23 hours in July, and no cockpit equipment failed during the tests. But the final report concluded that the aircraft "is not effective for use in hot environments."

That is an understatement. During the flight tests in Southern California in mild temperatures no higher than

80 degrees, cockpit temperatures inside the helicopters soared to more than 104 degrees. At that temperature, according to Army officials, communication, navigation and flight control systems could overheat and shut down.

It seems clear that the Lakota is a lemon. The Army should not be investing billions of dollars in an aircraft that depends on an air-conditioning system to stay aloft.

California Rep. Duncan Hunter, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a GOP presidential candidate, thinks the lightweight helicopter still will have too many weaknesses even if the air conditioners are installed.

"In my view, we would be well advised to terminate the planned buy of 322 Lakota helicopters and purchase instead additional Black Hawk helicopters," Hunter said in a letter to Army Secretary Pete Geren.

The Army is scheduled to receive continuing shipments of Lakotas over the next eight years. That is eight more years of headaches while the Army could buy the field-tested and reliable Black Hawks instead.

No sensible consumer would buy a car, much less a multimillion-dollar helicopter, that could shut down if the air conditioning goes out. This stubborn insistence on going ahead with ill-advised and enormously expensive weapon and equipment projects is why the public has lost faith in the military procurement process.

IN SUMMARY

Overheating helicopter erodes public faith in military procurement process.

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