1st Air Cav conducts rare sling load operation in Afghanistan
July 11, 2011
CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan -- Soldiers from the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, conducted a rare sling load operation July 6, utilizing a CH-47F Chinook helicopter to transport another Chinook helicopter from Camp Kunduz to Camp Marmal.
Hovering over the airfield at Kunduz, the transporting Chinook helicopter gradually lowered. As a cloud of dust lifted, crew members stationed on top of the other helicopter stood ready to bond the two airframes together, setting the stage for the pending sling load to commence.
The realization of what was about to occur imbued one of the crew members with emotion as he waited to execute his task.
"It was an adrenaline rush for sure," said Sgt. Shawn Hartford, a Chinook helicopter mechanic, assigned to Company B, 615th Aviation Support Battalion, 1st ACB, originally from Elko, Nev.
Aside from the adrenaline rush, Hartford said that as the aircraft lowered and he did his part to join the two airframes together, his main focus was on utilizing the basic skills required to conduct the sling load procedure in a safe manner.
Hartford, along with the other crew members involved, had a considerable amount of experience conducting sling load operations, although an operation of this magnitude and in this type of environment was a first for the vast majority of them.
"I couldn't begin to fathom how many sling loads I've conducted in my career," said Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Vann, Company B, 615th ASB, 1st ACB, originally from St. Hedwig, Texas. "This is the first time that I've taken part in a sling load operation like this."
He added, "This particular mission was unique also because all of the logistics that went into the operation to make this happen."
To ensure smooth and safe execution, the crew members went through vigorous preparation drills that acted out different scenarios that could possibly come about during the actual sling load procedure.
The preparation drills paid great dividends in the end, according to Hartford.
"After the drills, everyone knew where they needed to be, what they needed to do and when they needed to do it," said Hartford.
Vann agreed with that assessment.
Not everything went according to plan during the process, he added.
"When we predicted the aircraft would act a certain way as it lowered and it didn't, all of the crew members reacted accordingly as a result of the training we did prior to execution," said Hartford.
Transporting the Chinook across the northern Afghan landscape required extensive pre-mission planning as well, according to Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jeremy Rossi, a CH-47 Chinook pilot with Company B, Task Force Lobos, 1st ACB, originally from Syracuse, N.Y.
Rossi touched on the challenges this unusual mission presented.
Rossi explained that at certain airspeeds, the sling-loaded Chinook with its aerodynamic structure could in essence deviate from the helicopter above and create its own flight path: an issue that wouldn't arise during most other normal sling load operations.
"The main challenge for us was keeping our aircraft in trim (balancing the flight controls) so that the sling-loaded aircraft wouldn't move back and forth or sway side to side," he said.
Once the flight arrived at Marmal, crew members on the ground helped carefully guide the sling-loaded aircraft down toward its final landing spot.
The sling-loaded aircraft, which was transported to Marmal for maintenance purposes, finally touched ground safely.
Roughly 100 feet above, cargo hooks disengaged as the bond between the two airframes finally broke. The transporting helicopter took off amid another brilliant cloud of dust that had engulfed those within the vicinity.
Vann, summing up the whole experience, noted that preparation and teamwork saved the day, and that being part of this operation was a hallmark accomplishment for everyone involved.
"It was absolutely amazing and the highlight of my career to see an operation like this executed in such a successful manner," he added.