MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. -- Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 466, “Wolfpack,” 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, took to the air Feb. 28 to perform a training evolution here, where pilots, crew, and a helicopter support team practiced external lifts with a CH-53E Super Stallion.
External lifts allow HMH-466 to quickly get large cargo to their “customers” without having to land the helicopter.
“We have a max capacity of 36,000 pounds that we can lift,” said 1st Lt. Devin O’Neal, a pilot with HMH-466 and a Stafford, Va., native. “In combat, we can move anything from beans and bullets to band-aids externally across the battlefield.”
For training purposes, landing support specialists attached a 6,200-pound load to a single-point sling suspended from the belly of the Super Stallion.
“We were just picking up steel high beams today, but the object you’re picking up is not really the big deal, it’s the weight of it and how aerodynamically it flies,” said O’Neal. “Today, we were training just to do precision hovering over a load to allow the Marines underneath, the HST, to hook up the load.”
The crew chiefs observe the conditions at the front and tail ends of the aircraft to warn pilots, who have a limited range of vision from the cockpit.
“We fly a 100-foot helicopter and when we pick up the external load, it’s approximately 25 feet behind where we sit, so we really can’t see the load once we fly over it,” said O’Neal. “Our eyes are the crew chiefs. The communication between us and the crew chiefs is really vital and we couldn’t pick up the load without them.”
As for the pilots and crew chiefs, they only make it look easy.
“It’s actually pretty strenuous for us,” said O’Neal. “Flying up at 3,000 feet straight and level isn’t really tasking on the pilot or on the crew because once the helicopter is in flight, it’ll generally fly on its own. With something like this, the crew is very, very involved. They have to be eyes out 100 percent of the time. For us up front, it’s a lot of small movements and adjustments.”
The Marines inside the aircraft aren’t the only ones feeling the pressure during an exercise like this; underneath the CH-53E can often be hazardous to the HST.
“When a bird goes up and it shifts left, right, forward or back it’s going to pick the load up at the same time,” said Lance Cpl. Anthony Scott, landing support specialist and an Indianapolis native. “It’s going to drag the load toward whichever way it goes, and you don’t know if the hooks will malfunction… and it could drop the load.”
This training not only helped the HST Marines go through the motions that will keep them safe beneath the helicopters, but placed vital experience under the belts of the pilots and crew chiefs, Scott explained.
“[The squadron] was tasked about once a week in Afghanistan to move something externally from one forward operating base to another,” said O’Neal, referring to the squadron’s deployment last year. “It won’t necessarily be our daily mission, but if it does pop up, we need to have all our pilots and crew proficient and able to do that mission when it arises.”