Photo Information

MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. – Sgt. Ike B. Gastelum, a crew chief with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, surveys the landing zone as a CH-46E “Sea Knight” with the squadron assists Marines with the helicopter rope suspension techniques course, here Oct. 28. The course teaches Marines to properly inspect and assist with fast roping, rappelling and SPIE rigging.::r::::n::(Official U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Christopher O’Quin)(Released)::r::::n::

Photo by Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

‘White Knights’ own night skies

10 Nov 2009 | Cpl. Christopher O'Quin

Under the cover of night, a CH-46E “Sea Knight” hovered 40 feet above the ground as Marines rappelled from it one by one during a training mission aimed at preparing pilots and the Marines for night operations in combat zones.

Aircrew with Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron 165, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force, flew the Sea Knight through the darkness to improve their night flight proficiency and helped the Marines complete the Helicopter Rope Suspension Techniques course, here Oct. 28.

“It’s harder for the enemy to [detect] pick us up, and by using the night to our benefit it’s safer for us to drop off Marines,” said Capt. Ryan A. Stevens, a pilot with the squadron also known as the “White Knights.” “Different obstacles such as power lines or fences make it harder, which means we have to be more aware. Night vision goggles help immensely and we couldn’t do this if we didn’t have them.”

The students first rappelled an hour before sunset, proving they could rcomplete the training with minimal guidance. Most of the Marines were from 7th Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, to conduct this course.

While the pilots maneuvered the 45-foot aircraft, crew chiefs used their night vision goggles to keep constant awareness of the aircraft’s position and the Marines on the ground. They communicated with pilots and made sure they did not drift too far from the target area.

“We would be doing rappelling or fast roping for a shipboard assault, or visit, board, search and seizure, when you’d have a very small area to work with,” said Sgt. Ike B. Gastelum, a crew chief with the White Knights. “We have to ensure we’re not drifting around too much, making it unsafe for the Marines to go down the rope.”

This training really comes into play when you have to insert Marines onto ships hijacked by pirates or in terrain too unstable to land, added Gastelum.

Crew chiefs and pilots worked with course instructors to coordinate Marines safe deployment. One instructor in the Sea Knight and others on the ground observed the event and coordinated drops with the pilots over the radio. Instructors used chemical lights with arm signals to send messages as the sound of the Sea Knight’s engines drowned out most other noises.

“This aircraft is what they’ll use the most when they rig the helicopter and operate with these techniques in the fleet,” said Staff Sgt. Francisco J. Corona, a chief instructor with the HRST course, 1st Marine Division Schools. “This course is one more aspect that makes the Corps a force in readiness.”

After the students finish the course they will become certified HRST masters capable of assisting their fellow Marines on missions that require this type of troop insertion.

The aircrew disappeared into the night and returned home after completing the training. The White Knights demonstrated their prowess to pierce the blackness with their aircraft and work as a team with 1st Marine Division Schools.