Minnesota, Croatia partner to maintain Black Hawk helicopter safety 

The Minnesota National Guard’s 834th Aviation Support Battalion hosted a unique group of visitors this month. Members of the Croatian military and civilians from the Zrakoplovni Tehnički Centar, or ZTC, conducted a month-long maintenance exercise with Minnesota National Guard Soldiers at their Saint Paul Army Aviation Support Facility #1. 

The exercise highlights the Minnesota National Guard’s decades-long relationship with Croatia through the Department of Defense State Partnership Program. 

ZTC is a government-owned contractor that works closely with the Croatian Air Force. It performs all the maintenance required for the nation’s military aircraft and also manufactures parts. 

The Croatian Air Force acquired UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the United States a few years ago, and their first preventive maintenance inspection is quickly approaching, said U.S. Army Sgt. Maj. Shawn Schmidt, a phase team supervisor with the Minnesota National Guard. 

“This is the first major service the aircraft are going to encounter, which includes quite a bit of disassembly, inspection, and then reassembly of the aircraft to get it back in service,” said Schmidt. 

The main goal of the training is to familiarize the Croatians with the processes since everything is relatively new to them. Before the Black Hawk acquisition, Croatia’s fleet was mainly comprised of Soviet-era equipment left over from the Cold War. 

For the UH-60s, there are two separate inspections that alternate every 480 hours. For the Croatians’ training, the team performed both inspections simultaneously to maximize exposure to each procedure. 

According to Schmidt, they’ve mostly stayed out of the classroom in favor of a hands-on approach that fosters conversations with their Minnesota National Guard counterparts. 

“Hopefully, they will be familiarized with the [inspection] process from one end to a few other maintenance activities, and they’ll be ready to go home and take care of business,” Schmidt said. 

For Fran Prpić, an engineer at ZTC, the partnership is invaluable for him and his team that made the overseas trip to Minnesota. 

“It is of great benefit for Croatia because we are new to the Black Hawks, and this is a great experience for us to work with you guys and see how you do things,” he said. 

By Staff Sgt. Bob Brown 

Minnesota National Guard 
March 3, 2024