MARINE CORPS AIR STATION MIRAMAR, Calif. -- Two CH-53E Super Stallions fly in low circles across vegetation and dry terrain and hover just above an unpaved landing zone. The heavy winds from the two helicopters’ rotor wash kick up clouds of dust and debris as one aircraft slowly lowers itself to the ground below.
Marines with Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron (HMH) 361 “Flying Tigers” conducted section Confined Area Landings (section CALs) aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, and Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLPs) drills aboard Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California, Dec. 2.
The pilots and aircrew conducted section CALs at MCB Camp Pendleton first and familiarized themselves with landing and taking off in close proximity to another aircraft. This prepared them to conduct FCLPs, which simulated landing on the flight deck of a Navy ship, said Capt. John Fout, the Assistant Operations Officer with HMH-361 and a Springfield, Ohio, native.
“For normal section CALS, there’s a little bit more room for error,” said Fout. “When on a boat, there’s a very tight, confined area ... It’s not only moving away from you, but it’s also pitching and rolling with the seas. We have deck markings so we have to land precisely.”
According to Sgt. Anthony Ordway, crew chief with HMH-361 and a Hillsborough, New Hampshire, native, FCLPs prepare the pilots and aircrew for landing aboard an aircraft carrier.
“The entire crew benefits from the training,” said Ordway. “Each aircraft will take lead different times to facilitate different scenarios, different landings [and] different positions to facilitate training. We all benefit from the training.”
According to Ordway, conducting section CALs and FCLPs are not only a sensible practice, but also a requirement prior to landing aboard a Navy ship.
“An aircraft carrier can have a super structure in the way [and] potential hazards,” said Ordway. “You’re [potentially] going to have ... aircraft in front of you and aircraft behind you with a minimum distance in between those aircraft. It’s really, really tight. Everything has to be perfect.”
Each Super Stallion possessed a crew consisting of a pilot, co-pilot and three crew chiefs, all of whom worked to maintain effective communication while flying and landing the aircraft, said Ordway.
“[The crew chiefs in the back], are a very valuable asset for us,” said Fout. “The pilots can only see so much ... so I need a crew chief back there. Once I get over the spot ... they’re the ones that are telling me ‘come right,’ ‘come left,’ et cetera.”
The pilots and aircrew practiced section CALs and FCLPs for several hours before returning to the flight line aboard MCAS Miramar.
“Just like anything else, it’s a skill,” said Fout. “The benefit of doing any training with the [Super Stallion] is guys are filling out their flight hours. You have to ... practice in order to maintain proficiency and be an adequate asset.”