Weide hosts joint helicopter exercise
November 1, 2010
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. - Undeterred by inclement weather, a joint, total force team took to darkening skies over Weide Army Airfield on the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Sept. 29, for a tactical helicopter exercise consisting of passenger and sling loading of High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV).
Active duty Soldiers from the 9th Signal Command's 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera), Maryland National Guard Soldiers from the 29th Combat Aviation Brigade, and Maryland Air National Guardsmen from the 175th Wing participated in the exercise.
Capt. David Paolucci, operations officer for the Joint Force Headquarters, MDNG Army Aviation Support Facility, a garrison supported organization on APG, said the exercise was "very beneficial" for the air crews.
"In particular, we renewed our currency for sling-load operations for five of our pilots and four of our crew chiefs," he said. "Normally, during home-station training, we satisfy our proficiency requirement by simply self-hooking and flying a heavy concrete block. Today, though, we were able to work with trained ground crews and slingload tactical HMMWV vehicles which increased the realism of the field exercise for us."
Captain Rock Stevens, Executive Officer for the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) at Fort Meade, Md., said his team started off the day surveying the helicopter landing zone, prepping the vehicles for rigging and inspection and then rehearing once the vehicles were approved.
"Our ground crews practiced signalman duties for guiding in aircraft, and hook-up man duties for placing the reach pendant attached to the HMMWV into the helicopter's cargo hook for a successful sling load," Stevens said.
Stevens later outlined the importance of the training for his unit's Soldiers.
"This exercise develops our cameramen as combat multipliers on the battlefield - capable of their primary job and air assault operations. The mountainous terrain of Afghanistan makes sling load operations common for reaching smaller combat outposts. By continuing to develop our relationship with the Maryland Army National Guard, we look forward to conducting this type of training at least quarterly in conjunction with our own airborne operations."
After the vehicle rigging, the 26 service members were divided into three groups, called "chalks," to begin passenger load training. They included Airmen from the 175th Wing at Warfield Air National Guard Base at Martin State Airport, who were on hand to learn more about helicopter operations.
Tech. Sgt. Olen D. Smith, assistant unit training manager, 175th Security Forces Squadron, said he was excited about the day's event.
"I served as the chalk leader for my team that boarded the helicopter [and] I was responsible for personnel accountability, ensuring my team knew their mission and tasks, and ensuring that safety was practiced at all levels," Smith said. "The crew chiefs taught us about safety in and around the aircraft; approach and exit routes, danger areas like the tail rotor and standing in front of the door gunner, avoiding the engine exhaust, and emergency procedures. As the day moved on, I definitely learned some critical skills and it was just downright fun. Even though it rained, we really had a blast. The exercise was fantastic, and I look forward to continuing training opportunities. Not only do they increase inter-service awareness, they also support the adjutant general's direction for the Maryland Guard for homeland operations."
Another Airman, Master Sgt. Stephen L Gray, 175th unit training manager, commented on the potential value of the training for his unit.
"It was a tremendous day of training, and really eye-opening," he said. "The exercise demonstrated some relevant opportunities to broaden our skill sets, especially with respect to domestic operations. Having our Airmen proficient on working with helicopters allows our unit rapid access to unimproved and degraded areas for homeland operations, and prepares our Airmen for deployed areas where helicopters are one of the safest and most common means of transportation.
"The Maryland National Guard has been steadily developing its support role to civil authorities with aviation assets. We can complement those operations with ground-based security forces, for instance, if the civilian authorities request our support to establish a neighborhood cordon or entry control points. The adjutant general is very focused on improving civil-military cooperation, and this would be a step toward that."
The balance of the morning was spent on the landing zone conducting sling load operations. With each lift, the ground crew's signal man and hook-up man worked in tandem with the aircrew to attach the HMMWV to the cargo hook. As one troop stood in front of the vehicle and braced against the full force of the helicopter's rotor wash, another troop stood on top of the HMMWV as the 11,500 pound aircraft hovered a mere four feet above his head. Confidently, the first Soldier gave hand-and-arm signals to the aircrew to guide the helicopter over the vehicle, while the second Soldier kept his eyes on the aircraft's cargo hook to initiate a successful sling load. With the hookup complete, the howl of the dual General Electric T700-GE-700 turboshaft engines drowned out all other sound as the HMMWV-- weighing almost 3 tons -- was lifted toward the sky
and became airborne.
Ground crew members were supervised by Sgt. Nathan L. Bieniek, Company C (Air Ambulance), 1/169th General Support Aviation Battalion, a unit non-rated crewmember flight instructor.
Bieniek served as ground safety during the multiple airlifts and was tasked with checking and double-checking the sling loads to ensure they were rigged correctly.
"As the safety, I stayed in communication with the aircrew, and I made sure that everyone on the ground was in the right place at the right time, so that everything went smoothly," Bieniek said. "The sling load ground crews were very perceptive. Our initial coordination was very good; and once we started flying, we all worked really well together."
"This was excellent training, added MDNG Chief Warrant Officer 5 Daniel B. Chapman, a Joint Forces state standardization instructor pilot. Chapman pointed out that the organization's aircrews also benefitted from the exercise.
"We have an assault company and a medical evacuation company, and all of the pilots have to
train on sling load operations," he said. "We always look forward to training with a unit on a tactical load, rather than self-hooking concrete blocks. Unlike a static concrete block, the HMMWV is a dynamic load that can spin or oscillate. It's a good experience for us to maneuver the aircraft to correct the load, as needed and to use power management since a HMMWV comes so close to the maximum power of the airframe. The personnel under the aircraft usually find their experience pretty exciting."
One ground crew member who worked beneath the helicopter, Spc. Mark L. Salazar, a multimedia illustrator in the Special Missions Platoon of the 55th Signal Company, offered his perspective.
"Under the hook, it's kind of a rush," he said. "You have a giant aircraft hovering over you, and you feel small. But you stay focused and it goes by fast, because once you hook up you're watching the bird do its thing and fly the load. I was prepared, though. It was definitely what I was expecting after having been to Air Assault School.
"I personally find it very rewarding to put that specialized training to work," he added with a smile. "I wouldn't mind doing it a couple more times."
Smith said he saw the benefits of sling loading for his security forces unit, as well.
"Just observing the sling load phase taught me how involved the procedure is -- calculating the load plan for the HMMWV, safety taping the surfaces, calculating rigging length, and compliance
with regulations. The effort definitely paid off, though. The vehicles were rigged; the crews
performed signaling and hookup duties, and executed safe and effective cargo retrieval. With our
civil response missions, which commonly include movement of emergency personnel and supporting
equipment, sling loading external cargo would give us the capability to rig our equipment and move it rapidly over great distances, and give us greater access to unimproved areas."
Later in the day, the three chalks put their new passenger skills to work while tactically loading, riding aboard, and exiting a helicopter.
"For the training in the afternoon, I flew as the crew chief for all three assault-style lifts with the passengers," Bieniek said. "They did everything the way they were supposed to; they listened,
were flexible and adjusted to my guidance. It went really well. The Combat Camera teams got all of the pictures they needed, and unloaded and loaded the aircraft just as we had practiced ... without a hitch."
Paolucci explained the strategic value of the day's activities. "Having people under the aircraft conducting the hook-up and in front of the aircraft giving hand-and-arm signals, requires our aircrews to raise their level of awareness, maintain communications, and plan their actions very deliberately," he said. "And anytime we train with an external unit, it exercises our pre-planning
and coordination processes to ensure that the mission executes successfully.
"From an aviator's perspective, that makes the training more valuable and directly applicable to situations we'll face in an overseas contingency operation or in support of domestic response activities."
Editor's note: Lt. Col. KjAfA$ll Gopaul is the deputy director, Joint and Air Staff Liaison Office, LeMay Center for Doctrine Development and Education. He also was the onsite approving officer for the
sling loading exercise.