Students drill down during flight school to construct maps
July 5, 2013
FORT RUCKER, Ala. (July 5, 2013) -- For those who have attended the U.S. Army's rotary-wing flight training program, there are a few things that prospective pilots become very familiar with during hours of studying and mission preparation. This includes study "flash" cards, various Army publications and maps.
To the uninitiated, this may not sound like anything surprising until one begins to comprehend the amount of time dedicated to studying and constructing maps for use in the basic warfighter skills portion of the training.
"You're talking non-stop during the week and through the weekend," said WO1 Jack Richardson, a flight student assigned to 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment, of the time it takes to build a BWS map. "It takes about 40 hours just to build your map."
Prior to beginning BWS training, each student is required to link 30 1:50,000-scale maps together using glue and tape. In addition, students must trace all potential obstacles they could encounter onto their maps and bind the maps together in a manner that is similar to a book. Student pilots in this phase of training are expected to fly lower than earlier phases of training and navigate to various points near Fort Rucker. For these reasons, accuracy of the maps is paramount.
"Basic Warfighting Skills, as the name suggests, teaches the fundamentals of scout reconnaissance and Army Aviation tactics," said Capt. Zachary J. Keefer, commander of Troop A, 1st Battalion, 212th Aviation Regiment. "Many of the lessons taught here at Shell Army Airfield were developed under fire in the jungles of Vietnam. The same fundamentals that were learned in blood 50 years ago are just as relevant now."
Keefer added that map preparation is the biggest requirement prior to starting the BWS portion of flight training.
WO1 Chad Counsel, a B Co., 1st Bn., 145th Avn. Regt. flight student, said some sections of the map book are easier to create than others.
"It took me about three hours to complete the (tracing for the) Ozark section," said Counsel. "It gets easier the further away (from Fort Rucker that) you get."
Richardson describes the map-creation process as making a carbon copy of the planning room map at Shell Army Airfield, the location where BWS students begin their training daily. The difference between the map the students create and the one at Shell AAF is the student's map must be folded to fit inside the cockpit of a helicopter. All together, one student-constructed map measures about 10 feet by 12 feet, specially folded so that it can be read in an area about the size of the front seat of a small sedan.
In order to make the map fit in the cockpit, it must open like a book. Maps aren't always compliant when they're receiving new creases and being folded in new ways. Students work to overcome this in a variety of ways.
"I've seen people park their cars on their books (to flatten them)," said Richardson. "It's really an art putting them together."
Richardson said members of his class found this method of compression has mixed results.
"Too much weight can push the glue out from between the pages and you're left with a big sticky mess," explained Richardson. "Uneven weight makes for a lopsided map book."
He said other methods used by his classmates for flattening maps included stacking books on top of the joined maps or using woodwork clamps.
Even joining the pages together is a process that must be handled with care, said Richardson. If one uses plastic cement, too much can saturate the pages so they are unintelligible, while too little adhesive can result in a book falling apart.
The most creative portion of the process is designing a cover for the maps. Richardson said it's important for BWS students to have a sturdy cover and pages because moisture and wind forces can quickly destroy paperwork while flying without doors in the training helicopters.
"A lot of people customize (their books), like with their favorite football team," said Richardson. "The (instructor pilots) like this. It creates a lighter atmosphere."
Even with digital maps built into the most-modern Army airframes, Richardson said building the paper maps, while time consuming, is an important part of becoming familiar with the terrain and the books become useful planning tools in later phases of flight training.
Keefer, the commander at Shell AHP, seconds these thoughts and added that the skills learned in training will be useful to current students in the future.
"Map preparation is a critical skill that students will fall back on one day," said Keefer. "Interpreting a 1:50,000 map, navigation, tactical flight planning are essential skills for future-combat Aviators. Many students say BWS is their favorite phase of flight school."