AL ASAD, Iraq -- Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463 turned over its CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopters to its replacement squadron, HMH-363, during the last few remaining days of its deployment in Al Asad.
Since the aircraft were brought into action during Vietnam in the late 1960s, they have transitioned between several CH-53D squadrons throughout the Marine Corps.
"It's hard to say how long they've been with HMH-463," said Lt. Col. Randel W. Parker, commanding officer, HMH-463, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward). "These aircraft get swapped between squadrons often, but some of these aircraft have been part of MAG-24 -- our parent Marine Aircraft Group in the United States -- since 1975."
Through the transition of turning aircraft over from one squadron to the next, the Marines of both squadrons have to inspect the entire aircraft from top to bottom.
"It's not like having your buddy take your car," said Parker, a 44-year-old Littleton, Colo., native. "These aircraft are more than just an airframe. They have engines and components on them that require logs to be made on their service life. Parts get taken off and on, and each part has its own unique service life."
The biggest element of an aircraft turnover is completing all of the paperwork and inspections that are required in order for the incoming squadron to accept the aircraft, said Cpl. Julio C. Rodriguez, maintenance administration clerk, HMH-463.
"There are about 50 to 70 components total," said the 22-year-old Dallas native. "There are some that have subcomponents. Each component on each aircraft has to be serialized. The components are also limited to hours, meaning there are a certain number of hours they can fly before they have to be changed. We have a checklist that we pass out, and everyone ensures that everything is done on.
"When we turnover, the accepting squadron needs to be able to look at any point in time and know what has happened to the aircraft and what needs to be changed," the North Dallas High School graduate continued. "It's really important for the safety of the aircraft to track everything so that they know how many hours a component has and when it needs to be changed. If the numbers are wrong on a certain component, it could be dangerous to the pilots and the crew."
Although the process of inspecting and serializing the aircraft can take several days for the Marines of various sections throughout both squadrons to complete, the aircraft turnover is still considered to be a superior method compared to its alternative.
"This is a lot quicker and cheaper than taking the aircraft back home and having the replacement squadron bring theirs out," said Cpl. Matthew A. Siegrist, flight line mechanic, HMH-463, and a 32-year-old native of West Plains, Mo. "It would exhaust a lot of funds if we had to break each aircraft down and put them in a C-5 (Galaxy) to get them home."
However, it won't be the first time these aircraft have switched between squadrons, and it probably won't be the last either.
"Over the life of one of these aircraft, it has probably been in every CH-53 Delta squadron," said Lt. Col. Allen D. Broughton, commanding officer, HMH-363, MAG-16, and a Lemoore, Calif., native. "There are a couple of these aircraft that were part of HMH-363 in the early '90s, as I have flown a few of them before."
With three of these aircraft closing in on 10,000 flight hours and several more approaching 40 years of service, the Marines become attached to them, having spent countless hours working, flying and accomplishing their missions on the aircraft.
"Something I have always said is what makes these planes work is 80 percent heart and 20 percent parts," said Parker, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University graduate. "These planes take on the personality of the Marines who fly them. You get to know how a plane flies, especially with the crew chiefs. It's their plane, and they know that plane. It's tough to give it up, but that's part of the business we do.
"These aircraft are old machines, but I think we've proven since we've been out here that even though they are the older aircraft in the Marine Corps, they will provide great support in this war against terrorism," Parker concluded. "These young Marines pour their blood and sweat into their jobs, and that is what keeps these aircraft flying."