MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. --
As the sun set over California’s colorful horizon, pilots of two steel-gray CH-53E “Super Stallions” revved up and taxied down Marine Corps Air Station Miramar’s flight line en route to Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton to transport more than 200 Marines and sailors, Dec. 2.
Once the Super Stallions landed on Camp Horno’s mountainous surface, aircrew of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 465, Marine Aircraft Group 16, 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing, I Marine Expeditionary Force were ready to commence the mission, but this time with an added incentive - the pilots were getting their aircrew qualified. One “Warhorse” pilot received his section leader qualification and two crew chiefs received their high-light level tactics qualifications after the training concluded at the strike of midnight.
“It’s always more challenging when you’re flying at night, and that’s why briefing beforehand is important, to have everybody on the same page,” said Capt. Nathan L. Robinson, a pilot for the squadron. A pilot must show in a brief and during flight he can take care of two aircraft during missions. Proper planning and execution is needed for the mission to run smoothly, explained Robinson. Before getting qualified as a section leader, pilots must go through high-light, low-light level qualifications, helicopter command qualifications and fly more than 550 hours.
“It’s a natural progression for pilots,” said Capt. Robert R. Clark, a pilot for the squadron. “We try to have as many as we can, because we do a lot of two aircraft missions when we are deployed.”
The crew chiefs must show they can complete a mission with minimal visibility. High-light missions are different from low-light because of the night’s reflection, commented Robinson. The crew chiefs must go through different progressions under these conditions, from arriving at a landing zone on time to showing proper situational awareness.
Each Super Stallion loaded 24 Marines and sailors from 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division to transport them from checkpoint to checkpoint for the mission.
It took the Warhorse aircrews five trips to transport the Marines and sailors to their desired checkpoints. The aircrews’ two-click flight tested their certifications as well as their nighttime flying and preparation skills.
The flight refreshed the rest of the aircrews’ nighttime flying, which they do about once a week. The training helps prepare the aircrew for future deployments, whether it’s with a Marine Expeditionary Unit or Afghanistan, commented Robinson.
The battalion from MCB Camp Pendleton also received essential training, as they used it as a workup for deployment next year. After the aircrews’ each inserted the last stick of Marines to their checkpoint, the ground troops reunited and carried on their mission into the night. The Warhorse aircrew flew back to Miramar, completing their mission and helping the battalion’s workup mission.