Navy revives training unit for troubled Sea Dragons

By Mike Hixenbaugh
The Virginian-Pilot


The Navy plans to resurrect a specialized training squadron for sailors who fly minesweeping helicopters, some 20 years after the unit was shut down as part of a broader consolidation.

The change, ordered last month by the chief of naval operations, is part of the Navy’s recent effort to reinvest in its MH-53E Sea Dragons, an aging helicopter program that had long been neglected until a string of crashes beginning in 2012.

According to the directive from Adm. Jonathan Greenert’s office, Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 12, or HM-12, is to be re-established next year and will be based at Norfolk Naval Station, home of the Navy’s only two active Sea Dragon squadrons, HM-14 and HM-15.

Having been disestablished in 1994, HM-12 will once again serve as a fleet replacement squadron, where new pilots and crew members go to learn how to fly their designated aircraft. The Sea Dragon has long been the only Navy aircraft without a separate fleet replacement squadron.

For almost a decade after HM-12 was shut down, new Sea Dragon pilots and crew were sent to the same squadron that trains Marine Corps pilots to fly CH-53E Super Stallions, a similar helicopter used for a much different mission.

In recent years, initial Sea Dragon training has been handled at HM-14 – an operational squadron that flies minesweeping missions here and in South Korea – in conjunction with Airborne Mine Countermeasures Weapon Systems Training School. Under that arrangement, HM-14 provides helicopters and equipment; the school provides instructors.

The re-established HM-12 will take command of five helicopters from HM-14 and will be fully staffed with its own command staff, instructors and aircraft maintainers.

Bringing the Sea Dragon training squadron back is “part of the continuing efforts to make the community whole,” said Cmdr. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for Naval Air Force Atlantic. It will allow the two operational squadrons to focus on real-world missions, Kafka said, while helping establish a stronger corporate knowledge of the aircraft within the community.

The Sea Dragon – the only U.S. military helicopter designed to sweep for underwater mines – is the oldest and most crash-prone copter in service. The Navy has spent millions of dollars the past two years to improve maintenance and safety.

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