By Nathan Pfau, Army Flier Staff WriterFebruary 23, 2017
FORT RUCKER. Ala. -- As seemingly hurricane-force winds from a CH-47 Chinook buffeted Soldiers, two units got real-world experience during a training event that had students training for what Aviation does best -- supporting the warfighter.
Flight students from B Company, 1st Battalion, 223rd Aviation Regiment, and Soldiers from the 7th Special Forces Group out of Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, conducted tandem load training Feb. 16 -- an exercise meant to prepare Aviators and Soldiers for real-world situations they'll face throughout their careers, according to CW3 Thomas Brown, B Co., 1-223rd Avn. Regt.
"(This training) is where we'll attach external loads to the forward and aft hooks for better distribution and flying characteristics," he said. "It's a practice common outside of Fort Rucker, so to be able to bring that training into Fort Rucker gets our students better prepared when they leave here."
Typically, CH-47 student pilots conduct sling-load training using cement blocks, said Brown, but the training they were involved in Feb. 16 brought an entirely new dynamic to their daily routine, Brown said.
Throughout the training event, Aviators experienced lifting different types of loads of varying weights, including a 5,000-pound ISU 90 container, a 6,500-pound loaded flat rack, 8,000-pound fuel blivets and a 9,000-pound Humvee, all while having to take into consideration the ground forces they were working with, he added.
"This training takes them out of the daily routine at Fort Rucker where they go pick up a block of cement, which connects to less consequence than an actual piece of military hardware that they'll be moving not only here, but also in real life," said Brown. "This starts that correlation of what they're going to be doing after they leave here.
"This brings a new aspect to them that they don't face when going to hook up a concrete block," he continued. "Now they're working directly with people and they're not on their own schedule anymore -- they have to think about the schedule of the ground force, their fuel management, and it's a little more dynamic environment."
"Very rarely in an actual theater environment or doing field-training exercises will we hook up a load the way we do here at Fort Rucker where the crew chief goes through the hole in the aircraft and picks up the clevis," added Capt. Forrest Neumann, B Co. commander. "Almost always there will be a ground crew that will do the hookup, either single point or dual point, so this is about as real sling-load training that we can do, and this is exactly how we would do it at an actual line unit."
For some 7th SFG Soldiers, the training was a series of firsts, said Brown.
"For most of the Soldiers hooking up the loads during the training, it was their very first time doing this, and for some of them was their first time seeing or touching a Chinook," he said. "So there was a learning process for them, too. As the day progressed, you could see the trend from where the guys on the ground had a lot of difficulty hooking up the loads … and by the end of the day it became much more rapid and their gain of experience was rather clear."
For the pilots, the training event provided them with the hands-on experience needed to be able to perform these tasks when they're downrange, added Neumann.
"They get to actually plan and put to use the things we teach them during the tactics phase of their training in terms of loading the aircraft and just how the aircraft performs," he said. "Everything they've done throughout tactics builds to this and it's an actual event where they're doing actual real-world slings, so they get a lot out of it and they really seem to love it."
The training involving the two units is relatively new, with the first iteration of training happening in November, but it is something that Neumann hopes becomes a regular event.
"We've been working to try to get something like this set up with (the 7th SFG)," he said. "This mirrors so closely what we do with our students during the tactics phase -- it makes a really good capstone-type training event for them at the end of the phase. This was great training for both the 7th Group guys and ours, because this is something for them that they train for, but never actually got to do it."