MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. -- Three UH-1Y Hueys with Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron (HMLA) 469 battled wildfires aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, August 16.
The fires were located in a large ridgeline that was inaccessible by conventional, land-based firefighting equipment organic to Camp Pendleton.
According to Capt. Marianne Sparklin, a pilot with HMLA-469 and a native of Pasadena, Maryland, it took approximately three hours from the initial notification for the first huey to take off.
“That is considered a pretty quick turnaround time considering the aircrews were recalled from all over San Diego and Orange County,” said Sparklin. “Within three hours, three full aircrews consisting of 12 people were in the squadron spaces preparing for launch. There were also an additional 20 maintenance service members recalled from various maintenance shops to assist in preflight operations.”
A three-hour turnaround may not seem like a “quick” response in a firefighting situation, but according to Sparklin the recall of Marines to the squadron could take up to two hours depending on their location and then they have to perform all the required maintenance checks and preflight operations before the aircraft can leave the ground.
“For an operation like this, it is an all-hands effort and no one except the squadron duty officer was currently at work,” said Capt. Michael Bebow, a pilot with HMLA-469 and a native of Livonia, Michigan. “So to get 12 aircrewmen and 20 maintainers to the squadron with aircraft in the air within three hours is pretty impressive.”
During the operation, HMLA-469 conducted a total of 44 drops to complete the mission within a matter of three hours.
“The mission was hugely successful,” said Sparklin. “The ‘dip’ site was very close to the drop site and refueling capabilities so aircraft were able to respond quickly and efficiently. Drops were made every three minutes once the aircraft developed a firefighting racetrack pattern, allowing us to extinguish the fire within three hours after the initial drop.”