CREECH AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. - --
The CH-53E’s primary function is to be a heavy lift helicopter capable of hauling loads weighing up to 36,000 lbs. internally and externally.
So it is only natural that when the pilots and aircrew of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 came to Creech Air Force Base for a training detachment, they would get “tons” of practice.
These helicopters and their crew have been practicing doing both single and dual-point lifts, carrying concrete blocks that weigh up to 6,000 lbs., by working and coordinating with a Helicopter Support Team from Combat Logistic Regiment 17’s Landing Support Company.
“We lift everything it takes to sustain a Marine unit in the field,” said Capt. Jonathan M. Williamson, a 28-year-old CH-53E pilot from HMH-465. “Whether that be Howitzers, ammunition, humvees, or food and water. It’s important for us to be trained on lifts.”
The pilots and aircrew have been working with the HST almost daily since getting to Creech. Whether it was just training to do the lifts, or doing low-altitude maneuver flights with the extra weight, the Marines have had few days without external loads.
“This is one of our core skills,” said Staff Sgt. Michael T. Ross, a 26-year-old crew chief with HMH-465. “In order to be proficient in our job, you have to know how to perform loads -- it’s the major proponent of what we do.”
Coordination between the crew and the pilots during these loads is mandatory. Because of where the load hangs and where the pilots sit, they can’t see their haul. It is up to the Marines in the back of the helicopter to tell the pilots how to maneuver to pick up the extra weight, and what it’s doing during flight.
“You need to have complete and utter confidence in your aircrew during the missions,” said Williamson, a Bellevue, Ohio native. “These aircraft are 100 feet long, so we can’t see the load. So we put our trust in our aircrew to keep an eye on it for us.”
“We always have one guy in the back keeping his eyes down the ‘hell-hole,’ coordinating with the pilots on how to move the bird,” said Ross, a Newport, R.I. native.
While the aircrew on the helicopter do their jobs, a team of Marines work on the ground to attach the concrete blocks to the single-point hook that hangs from the belly of the birds.
“What we do is really an exhilarating job,” said Sgt. Scott W. Hayes, a landing support specialist, from CLR-17, Landing Support Co. “It’s rough and dirty, and you get pelted by rocks getting underneath the birds, but they couldn’t hook to the loads without us.”
These HST Marines wait with the loads for the CH-53E’s to show up, keep communication going with the pilots and aircrew, get directly underneath the helicopters, grab the hooks and attach the loads, sometimes 30 to 40 times daily.
“You know it’s going to be rough, but our job is important so we have to keep our cool,” said Hayes, from Phoenix, Ariz. “It’s even a little unnerving, but my Marines keep their heads on their shoulders even with a CH-53 five feet over their heads.”
External loads are the primary mission for the CH-53E series of helicopter, so all the Marines that take part in the training provide a key-piece to an important mission. But though it can be hard work, it can be just as rewarding, said Williamson.
“Artillery batteries can’t operate without their Howitzers, and ground troops can’t operate without food or water,” said Williamson. “So actually applying our trade is the most rewarding part of this job.”