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A CH-53E Super Stallion with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, carries a humvee during an external lift exercise aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., Dec. 5. Super Stallions commonly carry loads that cannot fit into the cargo hold to transport to different locations quickly.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Melissa Eschenbrenner

Wolfpack howls with Marines on ground during external lift

12 Dec 2012 | Lance Cpl. Melissa Eschenbrenner

MARINE CORPS AIR GROUND COMBAT CENTER TWENTYNINE PALMS, Calif. – When Marines have to train high in the mountains of Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif., they are often unable to get their equipment through the rough terrain. This is when Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, the Wolfpack, comes to their aid.

The rough terrain makes it impossible to land, but CH-53E Super Stallions have the ability to carry a load externally hanging from beneath the aircraft.

“External lifts are one of the things we do most,” said Sgt. Christopher Montes, a crew chief with the Wolfpack, 3rd MAW and an El Paso, Texas, native. “External lift training is so important, because we need to know when we’re under fire that we can get the job done.”

Lifting up to 20,000 pounds is not easy, however regular training and pre-flight preparation can help make the task easier for pilots, crew chiefs and Marines on the ground, regardless of the conditions.

“When flying in high altitudes, like around mountains, more power is needed.” said Capt. Trevor Tingle, a pilot with the Wolfpack and a San Diego native. “When you’re doing externals in high altitudes, pilots need to be especially careful because of possible winds and rough terrain that make it difficult to hover.”

Pilots and crew chiefs plan their flight paths before the exercise to ensure the mission runs smoothly. Practicing external lifts in rough terrain helps ensure Marines are ready for anything because external lifts are more difficult with unpredictable terrain.

Pre-mission planning presents difficulties because locations to drop gear cannot be predicted. Training like this ensures the readiness of pilots and crew chiefs during missions with obstacles, added Tingle.

Crew chiefs communicate to the pilots as to where the load is swaying and can watch the cargo by looking through an open hatch in the floor called a “hell hole”.

“The main difficulty is directing the pilots and getting them exactly where you need them to be.” said Montes. “It’s harder than it sounds. Trying to control the aircraft without having the controls can be difficult, because the pilots can’t see everything the crew chiefs can.”

Crew chiefs guide the pilots by telling them which direction to move, ensuring they are in a position where the cargo can be connected or disconnected.

Crew chiefs work with pilots to ensure they have a clear sight of the aircraft’s surroundings.

“Safety for everyone is extremely important,” said Montes. “We watch everything at all times to make sure everyone is staying safe.”

Crew chiefs communicate the location of ground Marines to pilots as the ground Marines prepare the cargo for loading and unloading to ensure safety, explained Tingle.

“You have a good view of what’s underneath you [when you’re looking through the hell hole], but you can’t see what’s on either side.” said Montes. “We have the other crew chiefs and pilots to help direct the aircraft to a good spot. “

Whether flying over rough terrain or over flat land, training prepares pilots and crew chiefs to complete the mission in any condition at hand. Team work and coordination of every Marine involved ensure the mission is completed safely.


3rd Marine Aircraft Wing