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News | April 17, 2023

Lithuanian Partners Complete U.S. Army Flight Course

By Maj. Travis Mueller, Joint Force Headquarters - Pennsylvania National Guard

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – Lithuania air force Capt. Matas Leckas and Capt. Valius Urbonas became the first Lithuanian pilots to graduate from the UH-60M Aviator Qualification Course at the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence at Fort Novosel, Alabama, April 4.

The Pennsylvania National Guard has partnered with Lithuania since 1993 as part of the National Guard Bureau’s State Partnership Program. Regular engagements and exchange training are crucial to that partnership.

“The Pennsylvania National Guard will see the fruits of its labor every time a Lithuanian counterpart graduates from an aviation training school,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Nathaniel Curtis, a State Partnership Program coordinator with the Pennsylvania National Guard. “The ongoing rotary wing engagements with Pennsylvania ensure Lithuania is prepared for their incoming UH-60M Black Hawks, which may lead to future pilot and maintenance training exchanges for both partners.”

The Lithuania air force will soon add UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters to their fleet. The UH-60M is a newer, more advanced model of the UH-60. Sikorsky Aircraft began producing M models in 2006 to fulfill the U.S. Army’s goal of replacing its aging UH-60 fleet.

Army Maj. Michael Bertsch, commander of the Army Aviation Support Facility, said Pennsylvania Army National Guard aviators are helping Lithuania prepare to reduce the friction they could face when they field the new airframe.

“In spring of 2022, a Pennsylvania Army National Guard aviation enterprise team comprised of UH-60M subject matter experts visited Lithuania to tour the aviation maintenance facilities and offer suggestions on how to prepare for fielding UH-60M Black Hawks and assist in developing training strategies,” said Bertsch. “This trip laid the foundation for future visits and events with our partner nation.”

In addition to attending Leckas and Urbonas’s graduation on April 4 to show their support, Pennsylvania Army aviation leaders have regularly traveled between the two countries and around the United States to advance the partnership.

Since 2022, Soldiers with Pennsylvania’s Army aviation community attended UH-60M program management reviews in Lithuania and Huntsville, Alabama, with another planned in Lithuania this year. They also hosted the Lithuanian air force commander at Fort Indiantown Gap for a tour and briefing. 

Curtis said that although Lithuania will conduct formal helicopter training at Fort Novosel, additional on-the-job training with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard may supplement Lithuania’s training objectives and help keep their aviators’ certifications current. 

“Lithuania’s steadfast and motivated approach to aviation matches their Pennsylvania counterparts,” said Curtis. “The Lithuanian air force is ready and prepared for their incoming aircraft. Rather than wait, the Lithuanian air force is proactively sending their aviators and maintainers routinely to Army aviation schools in the United States to ensure they are ready to begin operations immediately when their UH-60M Black Hawks arrive.”

The Lithuanian air force features a robust aviation maintenance program and has much in common with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. 

“I believe offering these types of opportunities to our Lithuanian partners is mutually benefiting and invaluable to both nations,” said Bertsch. “The Pennsylvania Army National Guard stands ready to provide aircraft maintenance and training recommendations, lessons learned, best practices, training opportunities and support as the Lithuanian air force fields the UH-60M. We will continue to strengthen the relationships and offer to provide guidance and training in the aviation maintenance realm.”