TERF, external lift skills put to the test

17 Jun 2009 | Cpl. Sean McGinty

Flying their helicopters close to the ground, navigating flight formations, and lifting 5,000 pound loads is only the beginning of what’s in store for many of the CH-53E pilots of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465 here.

These Marines have come to Creech Air Force Base to become proficient in TERF, which is terrain flying at low-altitudes that includes on-the-spot navigation with or without external loads.

“The purpose of this training is to get mid-altitude hot weather training, which is the same conditions as southern Afghanistan,” said Capt. Justin D. Amthor, a 28-year-old CH-53E pilot with HMH-465.  “Another purpose is for us be able to teach other pilots TERF.”

Amthor, originally from Manchester, Mich., is one of the pilots here training to be a TERF instructor so that he and other experienced flyers can ensure the squadrons’ future pilots are up to the task of terrain flying.

To qualify as a TERF instructor, the Marines have three flights during which they must display proper qualifications for the course, said Amthor. 

“The first flight is a navigation flight, where you pretend your co-pilot is a student and you keep him updated on what you’re doing. The second flight is a navigation flight with an external load, and the last flight is a check flight. The final evaluation is when the instructor tells you whether or not you’re qualified to be a TERF instructor,” Amthor said.

Once the pilots have passed the check flight, it is just a matter of administration and paperwork for the pilots to earn the title of TERF instructor.

Today, the pilots were executing the low-altitude navigation flights while lifting a 5,000 lb. concrete block and moving it from place to place in the training area.  The CH-53E is a troop transport helicopter that has the ability to carry external loads up to 36,000 lbs.

“Captain Amthor and I were training for proficiency at load work today,” said Capt. Justin A. Howe, a 28-year-old CH-53E pilot with HMH-465.  “That consists of remaining steady while a helicopter support team is working under the chopper to hook up our load.”  The helicopter support team that is supporting the operations here is from Camp Pendleton’s Combat Logistic Regiment 17’s Landing Support Company.

While conducting the instructor training, the pilots ensure that they fly under conditions that aren’t ideal for the mission they are trying to accomplish.

“We train at night and in low-light level which are the worst conditions we can fly in,” said Howe, a Chesapeake, Va., native.  “The more we practice here and now, the easier it will be for us to accomplish the mission when we go forward.”