August 24, 2009
FORT RUCKER, Ala.--(Editor\'s note: This is the second in a series about flight school training.) Flight school students entering phase two of the training program here soon find themselves dressing in full flight gear, acquainting themselves with their instructor-pilots (IPs) and controlling a TH-67 Creek helicopter. This 22-week portion of flight school - comprised of Initial Entry Rotary Wing (IERW) and Basic Warfighter Skills (BWS) - provides the foundation for helicopter flying.
Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment commander Capt. Jesse Blanton called IERW "kindergarten for Aviation," because the basic TH-67 precedes advanced aircraft training. Before boarding helicopters, students spend two weeks in classrooms and simulators. Aviation Medicine, also known as "Aeromed," is the first class they encounter and teaches the effects of flight on the body. Students then spend time in simulators during systems class where they practice starting a TH-67, handling it and obtaining general Aviation knowledge.
Students then learn to fly real TH-67s at Cairns Army Airfield. Students spend the final four weeks in the TH-67 at Shell Army Heliport, where they learn Aviation navigation skills during BWS, Blanton said. Following physical fitness tests, students select their aircraft and potential duty stations. Aircraft assignments are based on Army needs along with an order of merit list. National Guard students typically already know what aircraft they will fly based on their home unit.
Active-duty students also select their top three duty stations at this time. Blanton said IERW teaches students basic helicopter equipment, terms and maneuvers. IERW is split between eight weeks of contact, or primary, which teaches students how to fly the aircraft, and eight weeks of instruments. This second portion requires students to fly using only gauges and no outside visual reference. Lear Siegler Services, Inc. (LSI) IP Kyle Smith said students fly a total of 53.4 hours in the two months he works with them. One of his students, 2nd Lt. Cassandra Perkins, D Co., 1st Bn., 145th Avn. Regt., said primary is a challenging but rewarding experience.
"You learn something new every day," she said while performing TH-67 pre-flight checks Aug. 11. She said the most difficult part for her has been learning the mechanics of the aircraft. LSI instruments IP Tim Brown taught WO1s Erik Allen and James Byler, both of B Co., 1st Bn., 145th Avn. Regt., to fly using only gauges last week. The students wore blinders over their visors and a black curtain covered the aircraft windshield. Brown said the biggest challenge for his students is ignoring their sense of balance, which can be misleading while flying blind or through clouds.
Allen said studying and learning to trust himself and his instruments have helped him become successful during IERW. Byler said he believes instruments is the most beneficial "real world training" he has received during his time here. He advises incoming students to learn gauges thoroughly. Brown said instruments students spend 30 hours training in simulators before conducting 16 hours of actual flight training. Once students complete phase two, they are proficient in the TH-67 and ready to move on to another aircraft.
Most students experience a hold time of several months between IERW and phase three. During that break, officials encourage students to study in anticipation of boarding their dream helicopters.