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A Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361 CH-53E "Super Stallion" transports a 25,000 pound bulldozer for 1st Combat Engineer Batallion at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., as part of a training exercise.

Photo by Cpl Aubry L. Buzek

Heavy hauling with Flying Tigers

1 Sep 2009 | Cpl. Aubry L. Buzek

A pair of CH-53E “Super Stallion” helicopters with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361 raced through the sky over the rocky mountains of Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, in support of a 1st Combat Engineer Battalion training excercise Sept. 1.

The mission was to haul Marines to another location on the base and transport a bulldozer to Marines at another training site.

“We are here to support the Marine Corps, whether it’s by helping troops on the ground or getting gear to them,” said Staff Sgt. Jerry Palka, a crew chief for the “Flying Tigers” and the flight line division chief. “It’s a great feeling.”

Once the helicopters reached the first landing zone, one Super Stallion hovered while the other circled the area. The pilot maneuvered the helicopter over a bulldozer and Marines on the ground swarmed it, working together to hook it up as quickly as possible. Capt. Adam Horne, the squadron logistics officer, explained that there are risks involved in an external lift. In order to keep the helicopter support team safe and prevent damage from happening to either the helicopter or the cargo, the entire crew needs to be prepared.

“Doing an external lift is one of the harder things we’ll do,” said Horne. “The patience of the crew chiefs is what allows us to do it.”

The mission is stressful for the crew chiefs because they have to properly guide the pilots to the cargo, he added.

With a lift capacity of 36,000 pounds, the Super Stallion easily carried the 25,000 pound bulldozer. The bulldozer hung like an ornament from the helicopter as it soared towards a construction site on the base. After a safe delivery onto a dusty hill, the helicopters set off for the next part of the mission - pick up Marines and deliver them to a base training site.

At the landing zone, the second helicopter settled onto the sun burned ground. Marines emerged from their prone security positions in the tall grass around the site, ran up a ramp into the tail-end of the helicopter and quickly took their seats. Within minutes, the precious cargo was settled into the belly of the aircraft and it was time for take off. Making sure passengers follow safety procedures, even in tactical situations is important, explained Gunnery Sgt. Michael Brady, a crew chief and Marine Aviation Training Systems Site operations chief.

“Part of the crew chiefs’ responsibilities are making sure the Marines weapons are unloaded, pointing down and making sure they are seat belted in,” said Brady.

After a short ride and a delicate landing, the crew chiefs guided them out the back of the chopper, and the Marines swiftly emerged from the dust cloud created by the churning blades. Some provided security around the helicopter while the others looked for cover in the grass. The helicopter quickly lifted off, and headed for its home on the air station’s flight line.

The mission was a success, but the benefits of it were more than just the safe relocation of Marines and gear for the 1st CEB. Doing these kinds of lifts at home provides experience the crews will use while deployed. It helps them build their proficiency and develop skills, commented Capt. Robert Boyce, the weapons and tactics instructor for the Flying Tigers.

“I’m happy the squadron allows the younger pilots to have the chance to do this, said Horne. “This is something we will do a lot on a deployment.”

Although it was another day and another successful mission for the Flying Tigers, it was an enormous help to the 1st CEB and the air station, explained Palka.

“Anytime the squadron accomplishes a mission, it looks good for the whole air wing,” said Palka.

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3rd Marine Aircraft Wing