EL CENTRO, Calif. --
This flight is not his first, nor will it be his last, but Staff Sgt. Franklin Williams, an aviation ordnance technician with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 “Warhorses” and a San Diego native, needed one last flight in order to help toward his end goal: earning his aerial observer wings.
The mission for the flight was a gun run, a flight where CH-53E Super Stallion crews use the GAU-21 .50 caliber weapon system to shoot at targets on the ground, much like they would in combat. Flights such as these are a crucial part of the syllabus in becoming an aerial observer.
Following his tour as a drill instructor, Williams arrived to the squadron in March 2012 and quickly set his sights on becoming an aerial observer, part of the crews who man these aircraft during flight. By November that year, he had the chance to fully immerse himself into the syllabus.
Williams wanted to see how the weapons he and his Marines maintain are used and to pass that information on to his maintainers to help them better fix the errors. The result could be a more operable weapon system with fewer stoppages and reduced miscommunication between air crews and ordnance Marines.
Just because he has a mission doesn’t mean Williams can’t enjoy what he is training to do.
“I enjoyed the flight; it’s been fun this time around,” said Williams. “My goal is to have a few of my [Marines] become aerial observers after me, so they can see for themselves how the guns are operating, raising their efficiency with their primary job, fixing these weapon systems. That, and if the air crews have questions, they can ask us questions should something happen to the system.”
Since he began the aerial observer program, Williams saw how crews treat the weapons systems, corrected some of the issues and taught crews a few tricks to ensure the weapons run a more smoothly.
“I learned a lot about cleaning the different parts of the weapon from him,” said Lance Cpl. Ray Mabin, a crew chief with the Warhorses and a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native. “Each different part of the weapon has a different inspection it has to go through and it took about two or three times taking it apart and putting it back together, ensuring each part works the way it should so the entire weapon system works more efficiently. He’s helped me a lot.”
With Williams in the aircraft with him, Mabin feels a little more at ease because he knows his original job and his new one as well.
“It helps a lot to know that if I run into a problem with the weapon system, Staff Sgt. Williams is there to ensure I can trouble shoot it properly,” said Mabin. “I feel he handled himself well, he makes all of the calls he needs to make and I enjoy flying with him. I can always count on him to do his job and do it well.
With this final flight in the syllabus behind him, Williams is set to take a few more written tests in order to ensure he is knowledgeable enough to perform the tasks of an aerial observer.
He will continue to study through the coming weeks, all while passing what he has learned to his Marines, improving his squadron’s mission capabilities with their weaponry.